The University of Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey team’s recent struggles getting the puck in the back of the net continued Friday night in the first game of a two-game series with rival University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The Seawolves moved the puck well and had several prime scoring opportunities, but they weren’t able to muster a goal against the Nanooks as UAF claimed a 5-0 shutout win Friday at the Avis Alaska Sports Complex in the third game of the annual Governor’s Cup series. UAA found the net on Saturday, but was still topped 3-1 by UAF as the Nanooks took a 4-0 lead. With just two more games remaining in the series, the Nanooks secured the Cup for the 2023-24 season with the win.
“We’ve struggled now, getting shutout in three of our last four games,” UAA head coach Matt Shasby said after Friday’s game. “We’re just not able to find the back of the net. There were times in the game where we could’ve got some momentum back by scoring a goal and we’re just not able to.”
The Seawolves are searching for their rhythm on offense, but Shasby also commended UAF for playing tough defense on the road.
“They committed to blocking shots and committed to the hard areas of the game,” he said. “They scored on their special teams and that’s how you win on the road.”
Special teams definitely proved to be the difference in the first game as the Nanooks were able to capitalize on half of their power play opportunities, going 3-for-6, and prevented the Seawolves from scoring on any of seven power-play chances.
“I think special teams is a big piece of this game,” UAF head coach Erik Largen said. “Being able to score and limit them on their power play was big. It comes down to making sure we’re getting pucks behind their defensemen, and I thought the guys did a good job of that.”
Shasby said that special teams has been his team’s downfall in each of its games against UAF this year, and for the Seawolves to earn a win in the 2023 Governor’s Cup that will have to change going forward.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to flip that if we’re going to get one,” he said. “It’s a team that has a lot of chemistry, and it carries over to their power play, and they do the right things to kill off their penalties.”
Despite dropping their 10th straight game to the Nanooks since being fully reinstated, the Seawolves are hungry and highly motivated to try to notch their first win over their rivals since Oct. 26, 2019.
“You never like getting shut out at home and we got that tonight,” Shasby said Friday. “We have to get a win to continue to fight.”
They’ll get two more opportunities as UAF hosts a series game on Jan. 13 and the Seawolves host the final of the six games in early February.
By taking the first four of the six-game series, UAF took the series for the 2023-24 season.
“Just clinching the Governor’s Cup is huge,” Largen said after Saturday’s win. “That’s a big thing for our campus and community but obviously the next two games (against UAA) are going to be important and whenever we face off against each other, they’re going to bring a great effort. It’s going to be another battle when we play back in Fairbanks.”
Largen was proud of the way his team played from start to finish, but especially early on Friday, when the game was much closer before UAF pulled away in the third period.
“I thought the first period was really even back and forth, but we happened to capitalize on the power play to make it 1-0,” he said. “Second period, I thought we did a better job of just not giving them a lot of chances and were able to capitalize on two goals.”
Largen commended UAA for giving them a “good push” in the final period and was glad that his goalie, senior Pierce Charleson, was able to stand his ground despite being under siege at times.
“There were a couple breakaway stops there that could’ve got them back in the game, but fortunate for us, we came out on the right side of it,” he said.
Charleson earned the win Saturday as well, giving up his lone goal on a UAA power play.
Even though they’ve gotten the better of their rivals over the past year and a half, the Nanooks respect the threat that the Seawolves present and know what their opponent is capable of.
“They know that Anchorage is a good team,” Largen said. “Sometimes you happen to get some bounces or kind of get on a streak, but at the end of the day, that’s a good hockey team. You don’t go in and beat Wisconsin and Penn State by accident.”
On Saturday, after a scoreless first period, UAF scored a pair of goals in the second period. Both were scored by Brady Risk as the Nanooks took that 2-0 lead into the third period. Risk also scored Friday giving him three goals for the weekend.
UAA closed the gap in the final period as Max Helgeson cut the UAF lead to 2-1 at 13:54. The Seawolves had opportunities to tie the game late, but UAF scored the final goal on an empty net in the closing seconds.
The goal put the Seawolves within striking distance in the final minutes, but Shasby said getting a goal early may have provided UAA with some momentum. Prior to this weekend, the Seawolves played on the road against two top-15 teams: Arizona State and Wisconsin.
“We’ve had a pretty tough schedule and haven’t had much time off,” he said. “The legs aren’t there. The brains aren’t quite there. The finish isn’t quite there and I attribute some of that to wear and tear but at the end of the day we have to find a way to score some goals. We needed one early and I think that would have given us some life.”
Even though their team was down on the scoreboard, the home crowd brought the noise over the weekend, which helped motivate UAF as much as it did UAA.
“It’s a great environment here and they’ve done a really good job of building this up,” Largen said. “Our guys enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun, and the rivalry is great for both communities.”
UAF improved to 8-5-1 with the win and UAA is 6-11-1 following the loss.
ADN’s Chris Bieri contributed to this report.