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UAA hockey team nixes 9-game losing streak, stays alive in WCHA

  • Author: Doyle Woody
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 28, 2015

UAA's 6-1 romp over No. 11-ranked Bowling Green on Saturday night begged questions: Namely, who were those guys? And where have they been hiding most of this season?

After all, the Seawolves rolled into Sullivan Arena riding a nine-game losing streak that tied for the fourth-longest in the hockey program's 36 seasons.

They had been shut out twice in that span – that included a 10-0 home-ice humiliation to Michigan Tech – and held to two goals or fewer in seven of those games.

And though many of the Seawolves didn't know it, and the ones who did kept it to themselves, they entered the game needing victory merely to stay alive for a possible Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff spot after Lake Superior State's 3-0 win four time zones away at Northern Michigan.

What the Seawolves inexplicably delivered was their most comprehensive performance of the season. There was Olivier Mantha's uplifting goaltending (27 saves), two power-play goals, a short-handed strike, two goals and an assist from Austin Azurdia, three assists from Zack Rassell and leads they did not squander.

This was a team that hadn't owned a two-goal lead in a month and a half, hadn't raced to a three-goal lead for more than three months and hadn't scored more than four goals in a game all season.

"Everything came together for us,'' said UAA coach Matt Thomas.

Azurdia, the freshman winger, cut to the chase in explanation.

"As bad as this may sound, we finally drew the line in the sand: It stops here,'' Azurdia said.

All sophomore winger Dylan Hubbs, who scored his third short-handed goal of the season, knew was he could finally exhale.

"Just pure relief,'' he said. "Such a weight lifted off our shoulders. Even when it was going so bad before, we weren't fighting in the room.

"We kept it positive, knowing if we fixed things, a night like this could happen.''

UAA's six goals were the most it has scored in a game since a 6-1 win over Alabama-Huntsville on Nov. 9, 2013, which was also the last time it won by a five-goal spread.

Still, the Seawolves' postseason situation is precarious. To reach the WCHA playoffs, UAA (8-20-4, 5-19-2 WCHA) must sweep visiting UAF in its last regular-season series Friday and Saturday and have Alabama-Huntsville get swept at Bowling Green and Lake Superior State get swept at Ferris State.

That's asking a lot. Then again, anyone have a pregame notion the Seawolves would hand the Falcons their most lopsided loss of the season?

"It feels great, but in the back of our minds, it's like, 'We could have done that three months ago,'" Azurdia said. "Maybe we're not the most talented team, but we're not a bunch of slugs.''

In Thomas' mind, a turning point Saturday came in the opening minute of the second period when Bowling Green appeared to open the scoring on a strike from Brandon Hawkins. But referees upon review ruled Mark Cooper interfered with Mantha just before Hawkins' shot, so the goal was waved off.

"If they allow the first goal, the game could change, especially in the shape we're in because we've been a fragile team,'' he said.

Four minutes later, UAA defenseman Chase Van Allen scored on a power-play shot from the point that was aided by Tad Kozun's screen. Azurdia followed less than two minutes later, taking a short pass from Anthony Conti in the left corner, walking out front and slipping a shot through Tommy Burke's pads.

Matt Pohlkamp cut Bowling Green's deficit to 2-1 later in the second, but Blake Tatchell and Hubbs scored 77 seconds apart late in the period to stake UAA to a 4-1 cushion.

"To find a way to get two big-time goals was huge,'' Thomas said.

Hubbs' three short-handed goals are the most by a UAA skater in a single season since the century turned and two shy of matching Dan Gasperlin's school-record of five in 1983-84.

Conti and Azurdia rounded out the scoring with third-period goals.

Hubbs said it was probably for the best that he and most of his teammates didn't know ahead of game they needed to win to avoid elimination from playoff contention. Thomas said he knew, but didn't tell the players.

"It's good,'' Hubbs said on his way out of the arena, "because it's just another thing to think about and we've got enough things running around our heads.''

For a pleasant change, the Seawolves left a rink Saturday night savoring victory for the first time since a 3-2 overtime road victory over UAF on Jan. 17.

Reach Doyle Woody at dwoody@alaskadispatch.com, check out his blog at adn.com/hockey-blog and follow him on Twitter at @JaromirBlagr

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