Walk-on Duwe is playing his best hockey for UAA in crunch time

Doyle Woody

In the last two weeks of NCAA Division I men's hockey conference playoffs, 13 series stretched to a decisive Game 3 and produced six players who scored at least one goal in all three games.

That group included four senior forwards with deep experience and a junior forward so prolific he was immediately signed by the New York Rangers.

The other is a largely unheralded freshman who entered college after stepping away hockey for most of the previous two seasons, couldn't crack his team's lineup in the first six games, wasn't a regular until after the holiday break and now finds himself a second-line winger with a burgeoning rink resume.

This guy not only scored in all three playoff games, but delivered the game-winning strike in the last two matches, both of which were elimination games, to help propel his team into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals.

Meet UAA's Brad Duwe -- he's having a great time.

"I had no clue what I was getting into,'' Duwe said by cellphone Tuesday from Chicago, where the Seawolves stopped on their way to Grand Rapids, Mich. "I was into it for the adventure, and it's been an adventure.''

Duwe, 21, of Soldotna, originally committed to the Seawolves as a walk-on -- that was just days before Dave Shyiak was fired after eight seasons last March. First-year coach Matt Thomas said he made sure every player on this season's team received some scholarship aid to give them a stake in the team. In any event, Duwe was a late signing, and initially seen as a depth forward.

Thomas said that when the Seawolves started practicing in September, he thought Duwe needed to sharpen his game and get stronger. A month later, Thomas said, Duwe began showing promise -- good hands, good shot, solid instincts. Finally, Duwe pushed his way into the lineup, almost exclusively on the third or fourth line.

"He was chipping pucks in, chipping pucks out, and he wasn't turning pucks over,'' Thomas said. "As he did that, he got more responsibility, then he became more confident, and then he got more responsibility.''

Early in the second half of the season, an injury briefly sidelined junior winger Scott Allen, and Duwe was promoted to the top line to play with senior center Matt Bailey and red-shirt junior winger Brett Cameron.

When Allen returned to the lineup Feb. 7 at Lake Superior State, playing with Bailey and Cameron, Thomas put Duwe on the second line with sophomore center Blake Tatchell and senior wing Jordan Kwas, who the coach rates as his two best passers. To that point, Thomas had tried five different right wings with Kwas and Tatchell.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Duwe scored a goal in each game that weekend, and cemented his place on Tatchell's line. In the 11 games since Duwe began playing with Tatchell and Kwas, he has scored six of his seven goals this season. Only Bailey, the club's leading scorer, has more goals in that span with seven. Duwe credits his linemates for his production.

"I'm a simple player -- get the puck over the red line, get it in deep and go get it, then get to the front of the net,'' Duwe said. "(Tatchell and Kwas) are smaller guys, they're really nifty with the puck and have great hands. They'll get you the puck.''

Thomas said Duwe earned his spot on Tatchell's line.

"I wouldn't sit here and say it's a line made in heaven -- ideally, you'd like to put each great passer (Tatchell and Kwas) with a shooter on different lines,'' Thomas said. "But we found a lot of chemistry with Bailey and Allen, and Tatchell's line was the next best fit.''

Duwe's ascent at UAA is also notable because he spent a season and a half out of hockey.

As an 18-year-old in 2010-11, he furnished the North American Hockey League's Kenai River Brown Bears with a strong season, generating 17-33--50 totals in 50 games. He said he sat out the next season for personal reasons, including a close friend enduring medical problems. Duwe said he spent much of the next year and a half working at a Peninsula elementary school as an independent social provider for special-needs children. He called the work "a life-changing experience.''

In midseason of 2012-13, Duwe said, "I missed having 25 brothers,'' and decided to give hockey another chance in his last season of junior eligibility. He said Kenai River coach Oliver David welcomed him back -- "he was very understanding,'' Duwe said.

Duwe put up 8-9--17 totals in 26 regular-season games and 2-3--5 totals in five playoff games, and committed to UAA.

Maybe the timing of Duwe's rise at UAA makes sense. He found his niche with the Seawolves after playing almost exactly a year of hockey following that year and a half away from the game.

What is clear is that Duwe found his stride, and his production helped send UAA to Friday's semifinal against league champion Ferris State.

"Ultimately,'' Thomas said, "what he's doing is playing to a large part of his potential.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.



vs. No. 4 Ferris State


Friday, 3:07 p.m. ADT

Radio: Live AM-650 KENI