In a space of perhaps 10 minutes Friday night, UAA's playoff positioning in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association absorbed a staggering 1-2 combination of punches.
The first blow landed was the Seawolves' 3-2 home loss to Lake Superior State, which delivered the game-winning strike on J.T. Henke's power-play goal with less than five minutes to go at Sullivan Arena.
That left hook to the body stunned the Seawolves.
What followed was the equivalent of a follow-up right cross — host UAF beat Bowling Green, 2-1, on Tayler Munson's short-handed goal with 8.8 seconds left at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.
While Munson's goal — a Charmin-soft wrister from the high slot, by the way — was not a knockout blow on UAA and came from 360 miles away, it nonetheless left the Seawolves reeling.
Only the top eight teams in the 10-team WCHA make the playoffs, and after Friday's results, UAA (10-16-3, 7-14-2 WCHA) finds itself locked in an eighth-place tie with UAF. Both teams have five games remaining, including a regular season-ending series in Fairbanks that doubles as the Governor's Cup finale.
Seventh-place Lake Superior State (11-18-4, 8-11-4 WCHA), meanwhile, gained more cushion — the Lakers own a four-point advantage on UAA and UAF.
Once again Friday, special teams pierced the Seawolves. Henke bagged the game-winner on the power play, and UAA failed on a power play shortly before surrendering Henke's goal, then failed on a power play in the last two minutes.
The Lakers went 1 of 2 on the power play and the Seawolves went 0 for 3.
"Those numbers aren't worthy of winning a hockey game,'' said UAA coach Matt Thomas.
In the last three months, over a span of 19 games, the Seawolves have converted 4 of 71 power-play chances (5.6-percent efficiency). Opponents in that stretch have gone 15 for 73 (20.5-percent efficiency).
Particularly distasteful for the Seawolves was the manner in which they lost for the ninth time in the last 11 games. They trailed 2-0 after one period of a critical game — at home, no less — forged a tie with consecutive goals in a span of 42 seconds inside the opening 90 seconds of the second period, and then didn't muster much after that.
The Lakers used Josh Nenedal's goal about nine minutes into the game to take a 1-0 lead. He was left completely unattended in the UAA slot and Seawolves sophomore goaltender Olivier Mantha (26 saves) didn't have much of a chance.
Scott Patterson pushed the Lakers' lead to 2-0 about seven minutes later when he split UAA's flat-footed defenseman and sneaked a weak wrister off Mantha's stick and through his pads.
"Defensively, we just weren't aware, and that cost us,'' said UAA senior Blake Tatchell.
After Thomas lit into his team during the first intermission, it responded in a hockey heartbeat. Tatchell just 50 seconds into the second period deflected defenseman Wyatt Ege's shot and became the 23rd player in UAA history to reach 100 career points. Matt Anholt followed 42 seconds later when he took a drop pass from Ege and beat Gordon Defiel (22 saves) from the slot for a 2-2 tie.
That prompted Lakers head coach Damon Whitten, the former Seawolves assistant, to burn his timeout and settle down his club. The Lakers promptly reeled off several strong shifts and regained their footing.
"The use of the timeout there is clutch — get the team together and rally back up,'' Henke said.
Thomas lamented his team's failure to maintain momentum after Whitten's timeout.
"We didn't take over the game,'' he said. "I told them, 'They're on the ropes and we have to come out swinging harder,' and then we got outworked.''
Henke's game-winner came when Mitch Hults, stationed at the top of the right circle, fired a pass to Gus Correale at the top of Mantha's crease. Correale gathered the pass and backhanded the puck to Henke, who was stationed just above the goal line on left wing. Henke fired a shot behind Mantha for his team-leading eighth goal, which doubled as his team-leading fifth power-play marker.
"It's a play we work on in practice,'' Henke said. "To execute it in a game felt great.''
UAA's loss Friday makes Saturday night's series finale even more critical for the Seawolves, who next week entertain league-leading Minnesota State-Mankato before closing the regular season on the road against UAF.
"You've got to go and have a fresh mind,'' Tatchell said. "It's a must-win.''
Tatchell, who leads UAA in scoring with 8-13—21 totals in 29 games, owns 31-69—100 totals in 137 career games.
Ege's two assists marked the freshman's second two-point game. Anholt's goal and assist was the fourth career multiple-point game for the sophomore.
Captain Austin Sevalrud returned to UAA's lineup after missing six games with an upper-body injury.
LSS 2 0 1 — 3
UAA 0 2 0 — 2
First Period — 1, LSS, Nenadal 5 (Correale, Hayes), 8:53; 2, LSS, Patterson 1 (Chatham), 16:10. Penalties — McArdle, LSs (cross-checking), 9:17.
Second Period — 3, UAA, Tatchell 8 (Ege, Anholt), :50; 4, UAA, Anholt 5 (Ege, Conti), 1:32. Penalties — Van Allen, UAA (holding), 12:07; Nellis, LSS (holding), 12:07; Duwe, UAA (interference), 16:20.
Third Period — 5, LSS, Henke 8 (Correale, Hults), 15:14 (pp). Penalties — Correale, LSS (tripping), 12:08; Van Allen, UAA (tripping), 14:22; Hults, LSS (hooking), 18:01; Kozun, UAA, minor-misconduct (roughing), 20:00 Torrel, LSS, minor-misconduct (roughing), 20:00.
Shots on goal — LSS 12-11-6—29. UAA 7-10-7—24.
Power-play Opportunities — LSS 1 of 2. UAA 0 of 3.
Goalies — LSS, Defiel, (8-11-3) (24 shots-22 saves). UAA, Mantha, (9-14-3) (29 shots-26 saves).
A — 1,403. T — 2:11.
Referees ?— Chris Perrault, Dan Kovarik. Assistant referees — Travis Jackson, Dan Colliander.