UAA hopes to bore into win column

Aaron Kirscht

Alaska-Anchorage coach Dean Talafous has heard it all before. During his first head coaching stint, at Division III Wisconsin-River Falls in the mid-80s, fans criticized Talafous for coaching a slow-down, low-scoring style of hockey.
And with his Seawolves in last place, Talafous, now in his second year in Anchorage, is hearing it even more. His answer, however, is simple.
Just wait.
“It’s easy to kick people when they’re down,” Talafous said. “The first two years at River Falls, everybody was saying that stuff. Then all of a sudden — boom — we win the national championship and average five goals per game.
“It’s just the players get a little older, we get some more talent. One day everybody’s saying `Gol, you got a great team, this is some exciting hockey.’ But we didn’t change a thing.”
The WCHA got a peek at what the Seawolves are capable of accomplishing in mid-November, as they ran their defense-first game to near-perfection and shocked a pair of wins out of the Gophers.
Things haven’t improved much for either team since mid-November. Co-league champions a season ago, Minnesota followed up the sweep at Alaska-Anchorage with six straight losses and has since fallen to seventh place in the WCHA.
The Gophers are the picture of inconsistency, beating the tar out of one first-place team (Wisconsin) two weeks ago and losing in bizarre fashion at another, North Dakota, last weekend.
After flirting with the upper division early this season, Alaska-Anchorage is where most observers expected, alone in last place. The Seawolves have won only three games since beating Minnesota three months ago, and six all season.
But Talafous remains pleased with his team’s progress. He says that a winning system is in place — it just needs the right players to help it emerge.
Alaska-Anchorage is short on talent and experience, Talafous admits, but can boast enviable amounts of patience and discipline. When wins are sporadic, it’s often easier to fall back on an all-encompassing concept than hope an individual player will find the hot hand.
“Discipline is the best foundation to build on,” Talafous said. “There are going to be years when you don’t have the players or the depth you’d like. But that shouldn’t prevent you from going out and trying to win the game. That’s all we do.”
When it works, the Seawolves’ system can stymie an opponent. They clog the neutral zone like hair in a bathtub, waiting for the occasional errant pass on which to pounce.
And when a team can’t get the puck out of its zone, frustration is the most common result. Few teams enjoy playing the Seawolves.
“They certainly make it hard for you,” Gophers coach Doug Woog said. “They’re very, very patient and they play a great style, and you have to be just as patient to beat them.”
On the rare occasions when the Seawolves have a lead, their style becomes even more effective. That was the case in November, when Alaska-Anchorage scored early in the first period of both games. When the Gophers were able to get on the board, the Seawolves quickly answered back.
Alaska-Anchorage is the least-penalized team in the WCHA, and is among WCHA leaders in penalty killing. Both stats are a testament to the Seawolves’ fortitude under pressure.
“Do we try to frustrate the other team?” Talafous said. “Well, I hope so. I hope it isn’t easy to play against us. I hope it isn’t just a cakewalk.”