UAA hockey coach Matt Curley doesn’t quote Wayne Gretzky when he exhorts his players to shoot the puck because he figures they know about the Ovechkins, Kanes and McDavids of the hockey world but not the ones from last century.
Still, every day he preaches a truth Gretzky practiced while becoming hockey’s most prolific scorer.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” Gretzky is famous for saying, and Curley is drilling that sentiment into his young team.
“We’ve made a real conscious effort this year, and it’s something we’re going to hammer on every day and before every game, and that’s shot attempts,” Curley said. “The game is played at such a fast pace (that) it’s tough to get a puck on net, but if we attempt to shoot six to eight pucks per player each game, two or three of those are going to find the net.
“It’s not going to be something I let off the pedal with. The focus will be right back on Monday — we want to continue with the effort of getting pucks on net.”
Through six games this season, the effort seems to be working, although the Seawolves only have one victory to show for it.
Led by a freshman class with a nose for the net and a senior on track for his most productive season, the team is putting up some of its best early season numbers in recent years.
The Seawolves have made 168 shots on goal for an average of 28 per game. If they can maintain that pace, it will be their highest average in years.
After a 3-3 tie Friday and a 4-3 loss Thursday in a nonconference home series with Nebraska Omaha, they are 1-4-1 with 13 goals scored and 18 goals allowed. You have to go back a few years to find better numbers through the first six games — in 2015-16, the Seawolves were 4-1-1 with a 21-18 scoring edge. They finished 11-20-3 that season.
This is all encouraging stuff, given that Curley and the Seawolves are coming off a season that produced record lows for wins and goals.
In Curley’s first season as coach, UAA finished with a program-worst 3-28-3 record and set two of the wrong kind of school records — most scoreless games in a season (11) and fewest goals in a season (40).
This season’s freshmen are Curley’s first real group of recruits, and so far five have scored goals and seven have scored points. Freshmen have accumulated nine of UAA’s 13 goals and 22 of its 36 points.
Leading the way for UAA are freshman Nick Wicks (2 goals, 6 assists) and senior Tomi Hiekkavirta (1 goal, 6 assists), who skate together on the penalty-kill unit. In Friday’s draw with Omaha, they assisted on UAA’s first two goals and Wicks finished with helpers on all three goals.
Hiekkavirta is a defenseman from Helsinki, Finland, who is one point away from equaling his career-best output of eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) as a junior.
Other top scorers include Rylee St. Onge (2 goals, 1 assist) and Alex Frye (a team-high 3 goals), freshmen who have fired 18 and 17 shots on goal, respectively. Six others have double-figure shots on goal.
“Of course we want the guys making plays to find the best shooting option, but at the same time we have to have a conscious effort to get pucks on net,” Curley said.
The Gretzky theory seems like a no-brainer — you have to shoot the puck if you want to score — but Curley said that as players mature, some become less apt to shoot.
“Somewhere as kids, there’s some shift in the mentality where maybe you think you have to make pretty plays to score a goal,” he said. “You see goals on TV and typically they’re not the garbage goals, they’re the highlight-type goals we all dream of scoring. Coupled with that and guys trying to do too much, (shooting the puck) gets lost.”
And so the mantra for the Seawolves this year is elementary: Shoot the puck. Force the goalie to make saves. Make the opponent make plays.
“I’m not saying every shot’s going to go in,” Curley said, “but sooner or later you’ll be rewarded.”
The Seawolves, who went 1-2-1 in a four-game homestand that ended with Friday’s tie at the Seawolf Sports Complex, head south Wednesday for a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Alabama Huntsville.
UAA scoring through 6 games (goals-assists—points)
Nick Wicks, freshman, 2-6—8
Tomi Hiekkavirta, senior, 1-6—7
Taylor Lantz, freshman, 0-4—4
Tanner Schachle, sophomore, 2-1—3
Rylee St. Onge, freshman, 2-1—3
Alex Frye, freshman, 3-0—3
Brayden Camrud, freshman, 1-1—2
One goal apiece — Trey deGraaf (sophomore), Marcus Mitchell (freshman).
One assist apiece — David Trinkberger (senior), Eric Sinclair (junior), Troy Robillard (freshman), Jared Nash (sophomore).
Early season scoring comparisons
2019-20 — 13
2018-19 — 9
2017-18 — 10
2016-17 — 4
2015-16 — 21
2019-20 — 18
2018-19 — 25
2017-18 — 22
2016-17 — 23
2015-16 — 18
Shots made per-game
2019-20 — 28.0
2018-19 — 22.3
2017-18 — 21.9
2016-17 — 21.8
2015-16 — 23.9
Shots allowed per-game
2019-20 — 29.5
2018-19 — 31.8
2017-18 — 34.9
2016-17 — 32.4
2015-16 — 29.7
(2019-20 shots-per-game averages are through six games. Averages for previous seasons are season-long averages)