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Ask an Expert: Anchorage Edition

The next expert I mercilessly grilled was Donald Dunlop of the UAA Hockey Fan Blog. Donald is British, though as far as UK imports go, I've always considered him much more like Richard Dawson than, well, anyone else who has ever come over here from there.

Also, did you know that Alaska-Anchorage's natural rival is Minnesota State? To me, that's kind of like saying the walleye's natural enemy is the toaster. And if you say that, you soon won't be allowed to edit Wikipedia pages anymore. Trust me.

WCH:This is Dave Shyiak's third year in Anchorage. He's had time to shape the team in the image he wants and a good portion of the players on the team will be guys that he recruited. What type of team can people expect from a Dave Shyiak-coached team?

DD:Since Coach Shyiak's arrival he's mentioned a few things that could characterize his philosophy. He's talked about playing an uptempo game and he has recruited with that first in mind. From a guy like Ken Selby (certainly one of the fastest skaters in D1) all through the lineup there is some speed. The surprising thing is that he's accomplished this without sacrificing size. The recruits he's been bringing in are pretty much all big; there are 16 players that are 6ft 1in or taller and statistically the Seawolves rank around 5th nationwide in size. The team statisticians and staff count the number of hits during a game and make that part of their regular focus. The freshman this year that look to have an impact are McCabe, Parkinson, Grant and Daychief all of which fit the mold I described above. Another part of his philosophy that is clear to me, is that the green light is always on for defensemen to join the offense. I'm sure Dave stresses responsibility in selecting when to join the rush as I didn't see many mistakes in that area last season. This years freshman class pretty much all look to fit into that mold; don't be surprised if these rookie forwards match the output of last years freshman class. On the back-end Kane Lafranchise and Luka Vidmar are excellent prospects with the above attributes who'll both likely skate in all the Seawolf games this season. I was impressed with both of their skating, passing and shot selection in the one exhibition contest they played.

WCH: Jon Olthuis showed promise last season, but his statistics weren't great, and actually ended up being worse than Nathan Lawson's statistics. How do you think Olthuis will hold up over the course of a full season? Will Matthew Gordon push him for playing time?

DD:I'd expect Matt Gordon to start something like 10-12 games this season. Jonny O's stats were a result of being placed into some difficult mop up situations coming in after games were out of control. In games he started his numbers were decent. After watching Jon last season I'm confident he can handle the workload. He is almost stoic compared to Nathan Lawson and his stand up style is a nice contrast. I've called him unflappable and that will be a change for the guys skating in front of him since Nathan could sometimes get rattled. If his save percentage doesn't stay above .900 all season I'll be very surprised.

WCH:
Anchorage hasn't had a player score 35 or more points since, well, before USCHO started keeping track of those stats in the late '90s. Forwards Josh Lunden and Paul Crowder both scored 11 goals as freshmen last year. Do they have the potential to score 35 points this year playing together?

DD:I'd put four players on the list as potential to have those sort of numbers this season. In addition to Lunden and Crowder; Kevin Clark and Merit Waldrop have the sort of skills to accomplish that. Kevin is a gritty playmaking center (between Lunden and Crowder) and is in the mold of a guy like Ken Linseman. At times Merit Waldrop can control play on the ice with his stick-handling and skating. I know Merit has worked harder this off-season than any of his previous three years and has said he is "looking to make a name for himself" as a senior.

WCH: Is Luke Beaverson worthy of All-WCHA consideration this season?

DD:I anticipate Luke's captaincy will give him some additional confidence this year. Knowing your teammates value your play will certainly be a steadying influence on him. Defensively, Luke has always taken care of business in his end. He has played with his current partner (Mat Robinson) for the past two seasons. Mat is the smartest defenseman on the team (as well as best passer and puck rusher) and their experience together will allow Luke to focus exclusively on his own game. If his offensive numbers improve over his numbers from last year (5g,4a) he'll certainly get more consideration. Whether he'll see enough PP time to make that happen might be a question since there is lots of competition for the PP "quarterback" role. That aside, his quality work in his own zone and leadership on the ice should be enough to at least put him in the minds of those choosing the All-WCHA teams. He is underrated but I think he'll get recognized in his final year.

WCH: Anchorage has finished last in the WCHA the past two years, and is predicted to finish there this year. What will it take for Anchorage break out and finish higher in the standings?

DD:
Last year saw a higher degree of parity in the WCHA in more than a decade. It was the reason that only 3 WCHA teams made the NCAA's. UAA's overall record of 13 wins last year was the best it had seen since it's appearance in the Final Five yet it wasn't enough to get out of the basement primarily because they flat out gave away at least 5 WCHA games. If they hadn't given away 4 of those games they could have finished 6th. So obviously with that in mind to improve this season they can't give away games. I'd anticipate the parity in the league this season will be equal to last season so the critical nature of every conference game can't be overlooked by any team hoping to improve. Coach Shyiak talked about improvement over last season and realizes that it might be a tall order but he has expressed a confidence and belief in the team that he's putting on the ice can attain it. His stated goal at the team picnic was that he thought the team could have the best WCHA record since the team joined the league. I don't think a 20 win season (overall) is out of the question.