Many questions surround the UAA hockey team. What to do about another subpar season? How to change perceived community apathy? What about the program’s future in a state rife with fiscal challenges?
Despite the strife, known or rumored, the Seawolves left the Sullivan Arena ice after a spirited practice earlier this week with a single focus.
“The Governor’s Cup, winning it is the only thing that matters,” senior Nils Rygaard said.
UAA needs to end the season with its first and only two-game winning streak to claim the Cup for the first time on the ice since 2009. UAF leads the all-time Cup series 14-11, a record that reflects forfeitures in 2010, 2011 and 2012 for breaking NCAA rules.
The Seawolves host archrival UAF in Games 3 and 4 of The Governor’s Cup series Friday and Saturday. The teams split two games in Fairbanks four weeks ago, with UAA opening with a 4-1 victorious salvo before dropping a 2-1 Game 2 decision. If the squads are tied after Saturday, the Cup will go to whichever team collected the most WCHA points in the four-game series.
The Seawolves have won three of their last four meetings against the Nanooks but enter their final two games of the season with only three wins and a minus-70 goal differential through 32 games.
“Coming into the season, we kind of knew it would be a long year, and we’re not necessarily talking only wins and losses,” said first-year coach Matt Curley, who was hired after three other coaches reportedly turned down the job. “This program was going to see a lot of changes.”
Right from the start, Curley’s team approached the Governor’s Cup as something of a season within the season.
“The series, this event, I don’t believe has gotten the notoriety it deserves the past few years,” Curley said. “Maybe that’s rightfully so since we haven’t won the thing in a decade. But we put a whole lot of emphasis on these games from Day 1, the first time we got together.
“This would be a real nice way to end things. We’d kind of consider it a successful season.”
Although the Seawolves have struggled to score goals this season, they’ve played most games with an aggressive, entertaining style.
Eleven times they played games that either ended in ties or were decided by single goals, and they are 2-6-3 in those. Another four games were decided by two goals.
“Yes, you can look at our record,” said defenseman Drayson Pears, who leads UAA freshmen with seven points (two goals, five assists). “We’re almost always there, playing in mostly close games. We’re going to keep working hard and find the way to turn losses into wins.”
This weekend’s Governor’s Cup games come two weeks after Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed a budget that would cut more than 40 percent of state money from the University of Alaska system. The cuts could imperil almost everything that happens at UAA, UAF and the University of Alaska Southeast.
No one knows how hard a hit athletics will take. All the Seawolves know is they’re playing two important games against UAF. Everything else is out of their control.
“I care about my guys, my staff and doing right by this university,” Curley said. “We’re a small cog in this whole system, so whatever the governor has going on is his prerogative.
“Frankly, it’s none of (our) concern. These two games are.”
Rygaard joins Cam Amantea, Nicholas Erb-Ekholm, Malcolm Hayes and Jeremiah Luedtke as UAA’s five seniors appearing in their final collegiate games.
The five have accounted for 40 of the team’s 107 points this season. Luedtke leads the team with seven goals this season and Erb-Ekholm, who passed the 100-games-played mark last week at Michigan Tech, leads in points with 13 (six goals, seven assists).
“I have no clue what my reaction will be when all is said and done,” said Rygaard, who has registered nine points (three goals, six assists). “I’m sure the idea of putting on the UAA jersey for the last time will be emotional.
“We all have our share of ups and downs, but that is part of life. You can never stop the hard work and fighting against adversity. You want to get better every day.
“All the hard times never made me second-guess being part of this program.”
Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup
UAF (10-19-3 overall, 10-14-2 WCHA) at UAA (3-26-3, 2-21-3)
Friday and Saturday, 7:07 p.m., Sullivan Arena
Tickets — GoSeawolves.com
Live Video — FloHockey.tv
— The Governor’s Cup series began in the 1993-94 season.
— This year’s series is tied, 1-1 after a 4-1 UAA win and a 2-1 UAF win in Fairbanks earlier this season.
— On paper, UAF leads the series 14-11. The Nanooks forfeited Cup wins in 2010, 2011 and 2012 because of NCAA rules infractions.
— UAA last won the Cup on the ice in the 2008-09 season.
— The all-time series between the teams dates back to Nov. 16, 1979. UAA leads 92-67-12 and is 49-26-7 in Anchorage.
UAA current leaders against UAF
* Goals: Nicholas Erb-Ekholm, 3
* Assists: Jonah Renouf, 6
* Points: Jonah Renouf, 7
* Goaltending Wins: Kristian Stead, 1
UAF active leaders against UAA
* Goals: Colton Leiter, 6
* Assists: Steven Jandric, 6
* Points: Colton Leiter, 9
* Goaltending Wins: Anton Martinsson, 7
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7. Find him on social media at @MNevala9.