After earning an exhibition victory over Vancouver Island University on Friday, the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey team will officially open the 2023-24 regular season this weekend, hosting the University of Massachusetts at Lowell for a two-game series Saturday and Sunday at the Avis Alaska Sports Complex.
The Seawolves won or tied five of their final seven games last season in their inaugural campaign since being fully reinstated. Now they’re hoping to carry that momentum from a strong finish into their new season, returning most of their roster and adding some promising new recruits.
“Everybody that’s returned got a nice season under their belt,” UAA head coach Matt Shasby said. “We experienced success at the end of the year last year, and hopefully it carries over to the start of this year.”
He and his staff are really excited about their freshman class and what they can add to their solid group of 22 returners, who got a lot of valuable experience playing together last year.
The returning players who began the process of establishing a new culture in the program’s first year of reinstatement know what Shasby and the other coaches expected of them, and he said that they’re “setting the tone and getting us ready for this first weekend.”
Senior forward Connor Merritt and graduate student forward Adam Tisdale were key contributors last year and were selected as the two captains for this season.
“We’re going to lean on that group early on to make sure our guys are falling in line and we’re excited to see what the leadership does here early on,” Shasby said.
Since the only players they lost were a few graduate transfers, the Seawolves are optimistic about their continuity carrying over and translating into even greater success this year.
“I think we’re going to be very tight,” senior forward Matt Allen said. “All of our forwards are returning this year except for two guys, and we added a bunch of freshmen that are really skilled.”
He believes that last year’s momentum coupled with everything they’ve learned along the way, the Seawolves are poised to have a “big impact on college hockey this year.”
Getting another crack at payback
Allen, who played two seasons at UMass-Lowell, was selected as one of the assistant captains. He’s hoping that he’ll be able to lead the Seawolves to victory over his former team for the second year in a row.
“I’m excited, last year we had a couple of games against them and took two from them,” he said. “They’re gonna be coming in looking to get those games back from us, but we have a good team this year and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do against them.”
Allen and fellow senior forward Matt Kinash both transferred from UMass-Lowell prior to last season and helped hand the River Hawks, who were nationally ranked at the time, a pair of losses late last December.
“They were two guys in the transfer portal that we were looking at last year to add pieces when we’re building the team,” Shasby said. “They had good resumes from junior hockey and they were just kind of looking for a fresh start.”
The opportunity to help rebuild the Seawolf hockey program was part of the allure.
“Rebuilding is being a part of building a culture, and building a culture is a really unique experience to be a part of,” Allen said. “I thought it would be a good thing for myself and hopefully for people that come in after me.”
Kinash was the first of the two to commit to UAA, doing so at the end of the fall semester in 2021. Allen committed in the spring semester of 2022.
“We transferred at different times, but it’s cool that we ended up together again,” Allen said.
Targeting top local talent was a high recruiting priority
Shasby said a huge part of the Seawolves’ recruiting strategy during this past cycle was to try to “get the best Alaskans in the lineup.”
One of the transfers they added this year was Wasilla’s Porter Schachle, from the University of Vermont. He has two years of eligibility left, and the coaching staff is going to be looking for him to “lead the emotional charge.”
“He is able to produce offensively for us as well and on top of that, we were able to add the top players out of the Anchorage Wolverines (NAHL) program,” Shasby said.
Anchorage’s Aiden Westin will continue his hockey career going from his hometown’s junior hockey franchise to its college program.
“We’re going to look to him to bring a lot of offense in our lineup as well,” Shasby said. “At the end of the day, we want as many Alaskans as we can. This is an Alaska team and we’re hoping to continue to add more.”
Even though last week’s victory over Vancouver Island University was an exhibition that didn’t impact the record of either team, Shasby said the atmosphere and excitement from the home fans in attendance was loud and lively.
“It was great to see people back in the building,” Shasby said. “Just the energy that this community brings to this team helps a lot, and we’re hoping that it carries over into this weekend’s games.”