Seawolves bring stingy defense to U

by Tim Nichols

The Gophers men’s hockey team will face a series of extremes in the first round of the WCHA playoffs this weekend against Alaska-Anchorage.
The Gophers’ (12-17-9 overall, 10-12-6 in the WCHA) newfound scoring attack will go up against the league’s stingiest defense, while their recent propensity to give up odd-man rushes and breakaway plays right into the Seawolves’ (12-16-5, 10-13-5) opportunistic hands.
“They play well and work so hard,” coach Doug Woog said of Alaska-Anchorage. “You don’t want to fall behind. They are well-disciplined and well-coached. It’s just going to be very tight. Goaltending will be a big issue.”
The Seawolves come into the series with the conference’s statistical goaltending champ in freshman Gregg Naumenko. On the other end of the ice is Gophers freshman Adam Hauser.
Although Hauser hasn’t put up the numbers that Naumenko has this season, he has played a ton of minutes. Hauser was second in the league in minutes played this season, 56 behind Wisconsin’s Graham Melanson.
On paper, Naumenko looks to be the better goalie in this series, but it is nearly impossible to predict how goalies — especially freshmen net-minders — might perform in the pressure-cooker of the playoffs.
Hauser has spent the last week trying to get himself in a playoff state of mind.
“It started last week in Wisconsin,” Hauser said. “When you go into the playoffs you just want to stand tall, be strong and not let anything get to you. The game is played just like the other games, so all you can do is play the best you can.”
Alaska-Anchorage coach Dean Talafous gave his team five days off to recuperate physically and mentally. The Seawolves last series was two weeks ago when they lost a pair of hard-fought games to Colorado College. In those games, Alaska-Anchorage played without two of its leading scorers — freshman Gregg Zaporzan and junior Rob Douglas.
Now, Talafous is trying to get his team to concentrate on the game, not on who they are facing.
“I’m trying to get the team not to worry about Minnesota,” Talafous said. “We’ve worked long and hard trying to be the best. We made a lot of progress with the 4-3 loss in North Dakota and two one-goal games in Colorado College. We were competitive. A first round win would be a big step for our program.”
Alaska-Anchorage is one of the most defensive-oriented teams in the conference. Instead of attacking their trapping defense, Minnesota must be patient bringing the puck up the ice and finding spots to exploit.
Gophers junior forward Aaron Miskovich said the best offense might be a better defense.
“We just need to concentrate on defense,” Miskovich said. “We’re scoring goals, we need to limit the other team’s goal production. We’re just going to try to tighten up our defense.”
Minnesota is looking for a return to the WCHA Final Five, after Minnesota-Duluth took out the Gophers in the first round with five unanswered goals in the deciding game of the series.
But making it to the Target Center might be more difficult than in seasons past. Minnesota has been plagued by defensive mistakes, which is exactly where the Seawolves make their money.
But can the Gophers finally play a full 60-minute defensive game and go back to the Final Five?
“We need to know who we have everywhere on the ice,” Hauser said. “Everybody needs to do their own job. As soon as people try to do other people’s jobs, that’s when we get in trouble. Everybody needs to concentrate on what they need to do, who’s their guy. If we do that, we’ll be alright.”