For a few tantalizing hours Saturday night, the UAA hockey team gave itself a glimmer of hope, a slight chance to remedy something in a season of woes.
In a matter of 3 minutes and 9 seconds in the third period, UAF extinguished those thoughts and continued a decade’s dominance as the state’s premier NCAA Division I squad.
Propelled by a pair of third-period power-play goals from juniors Tyler Cline and Kylar Hope, UAF churned out a 2-1 victory in the final game of the Governor’s Cup series. The Nanooks won the best-of-four series 3-1.
A season-best Sullivan Arena announced attendance of 3,429 watched the Nanooks skate away with the Cup for the 10th straight time, although three of those wins (2010, 2011, 2012) were forfeited because of NCAA rules violations.
UAF players and staff didn’t bother with those particulars when flashing all 10 fingers as pictures were taken in the rink’s southwest corner.
“Both programs emphasize that we want to win the Governor’s Cup,” Hope said. “It means so much to both communities, and it was great to see a large UAA crowd here along with a lot of UAF fans.
“We wanted to get it done for them.”
Among those at the game was Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who was booed when he was introduced. Dunleavy has proposed a budget that will slash state funding of the University of Alaska by nearly 40 percent, and among those protesting his proposed budget cuts was a group of fans standing side-by-side wearing T-shirts that spelled out FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION.
Things are rough these days for the Seawolves too, who last won the Governor’s Cup on ice in 2009.
First-year coach Matt Curley has always acknowledged how challenging the 2018-19 campaign would be, and the struggle was oh-so-real. The Seawolves lost 28 games to tie a school record for their most single-season losses in 35 seasons as a Division I program, finishing 3-28-3 overall and 2-23-3 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“Ten years of losing to (UAF) has been tough,” UAA junior Jordan Renouf said. “Seeing that Cup go to them every single time. We had (this game) for a while, a chance to win it and let it slip away.”
Down 2-1 in the four-game Governor’s Cup series after UAF’s 4-0 penalty-filled victory Friday, UAA needed to win Saturday’s finale in regulation or in a 5-on-5 overtime, and then win a decisive three-round shootout to claim the Cup. The Seawolves came into the game with a scant 39 goals in 33 game, and they finished the season with a minus-75 goal differential.
UAA freshman goaltender Kristian Stead served notice early that he was on his game, stopping 17 UAF shots through two periods. Junior Corey Renwick spotted the Seawolves a 1-0 lead with his first goal of the season at 2:13 of the second period. He deflected Dimond High grad Drake Glover’s centering pass from the left corner.
“We knew UAA was going to come out hard,” Hope said. “They played great the first two periods and we were lucky to get those two power-play goals.”
UAF tied the game when Cline neatly stuffed a shot inside the near post at 11:31 of the third. Hope scored the game-winner from near the right circle at 14:40.
“After the second period, it really set in that we needed to find a way,” Hope said. “We had to do whatever was needed. Those power plays came and we cashed in.”
Stead left the UAA net for the extra attacker at 18:40 of the third and the Seawolves spent the last 80 seconds of their season trying to mustering any kind of scoring chance.
Matters got a little interesting when UAF goalie Anton Martinsson looked to have knocked the net off its moorings and was whistled for delay of game with 7.3 ticks left.
The Seawolves pleaded for a penalty shot. Nope.
UAF jubilation set in moments later, although Hope was quick to point out that he and the Nanooks (12-19-3, 12-14-2 WCHA) don’t necessarily cheer their nemesis’ misery.
“The Governor’s Cup is a great way to bring the state together,” Hope said. “There is no love loss on the ice, but we want what’s best for UAA.
“At the end of the day, we want these programs to be strong and continue to play one another.”
As for the Seawolves, what seems like a never-ending rebuild rolls on.
“Everybody loves playing for Curley and I think we played with a lot more jam,” Renouf said. “A lot of the guys are fired up.
“Yes, people have heard ‘wait and see’ for a long time here. The administration and the players are behind Matt. We’ll turn the corner. It’s just a matter of time.”
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.