Hockey welcomes Seawolves in early-season matchup

David La

Minnesota hosts enigmatic Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, a sound, disciplined yet beatable team.
The Seawolves are 2-2-0 after losing a pair of one-goal games to Michigan State and Michigan, then defeating Alaska-Fairbanks twice.
Alaska-Anchorage plays with savvy. Like a skilled boxer, the Seawolves patiently move around the rink, looking for the chance to throw a big punch.
“Anything is possible when you play Alaska,” Gophers center Johnny Pohl said. “They just wait, wait, wait all game and then, bang — it’s one to nothing. Then they’ll sit back and say, `Let’s see you beat us now.'”
While punishing opponents who slip-up, Alaska-Anchorage rarely gets the favor returned by taking penalties. The Seawolves averaged just 8.22 penalty minutes per game last season, the fewest in the NCAA.
Speaking of low numbers, no Seawolves were named to an all-WCHA team last season. But junior forward Steve Cygan is quietly establishing himself as a top player in the league.
“He’s a small guy with tremendous quickness,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Their top line is very good.”
Along with the 5-foot-6, 145-pound Cygan, linemates Gregg Zaporzan and Mike Scott have compiled five goals and eight assists this season.
A marked man, Cygan has scored three times but seemingly takes two lumps for every one goal.
“He was mauled last weekend,” Alaska-Anchorage coach Dean Talafous said. “Fairbanks had their 6-foot-4 defenseman everywhere Steve was, just running him over.”
Like their ever-persistent leader Cygan, the Seawolves keep coming. The team won 15 games last season, the most since 1993-94.
Among their victories was a 5-2 win over the visiting Gophers, a game in which Minnesota got a scant two power-play chances.
“It really gets down to how well we play five-on-five,” Pohl said. “Good teams can’t rely on the power play. Good teams have to win straight-up five-on-five, and that’s what Alaska makes you do.”
When the Seawolves did concede the man-advantage last year, they allowed only 14 goals — a school record. They will need more of the same against the Gophers, who are a sizzling 12 for 24 on the power play.
“You don’t kill penalties out of fear, you do it with confidence,” Talafous said. “And if they’re just too good you pat them on the back.”
Talafous said he is unsure exactly what his team will face at Mariucci Arena this weekend. The only game tape his staff possesses contains barely discernible footage from the Bemidji State game.
“We just know they’re blowing everybody off the rink,” Talafous said. “Maybe its better that we haven’t seen them. Maybe we wouldn’t have got on the plane.”
Of course Alaska-Anchorage will make the trip. It’s the only thing to be certain of in this series.

Senior forward Stuart Senden will not play this weekend after injuring his knee in practice Wednesday. He is listed as week-to-week. Senden, who has missed 14 games in his career with injuries, has two assists in four games this season.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]