Surprise! UAA Seawolves make it to St. Paul to play in the WCHA's Final Five

Posted: Thursday, March 18, 2004

ST. PAUL, Minn. - While many of the players in this weekend's WCHA Final Five are prepping for the games by studying the opposition, University of Alaska Anchorage goaltender Chris King has other concerns.

"I packed plenty of shirts and other clothes, but I'm getting a little concerned because I'm running out of clean socks and underwear," said King, whose team expected to be back in Alaska right now with its season completed.

The Seawolves, however, pulled off an improbable upset by winning twice on Wisconsin's home ice and advancing to their first Final Five.

Last weekend was the first time the team had ever won a WCHA playoff game. Instead of flying home on Monday, they took a bus to the Twin Cities to prepare for tonight's play-in game against Colorado College (today's game will be broadcast live at 4 p.m. on KJUD, Channel 8 in Juneau).

Playing in a big arena, Xcel Energy Center, will be a change for UAA, and its coach expects his team will take some time to adjust to the surroundings.

"We'll probably be nervous and might make some mistakes early, but after that we'll settle in and play," said coach John Hill, whose team was a dismal 1-28-7 last season. "We'll be aggressive and we'll take some chances. We're not supposed to be here, so we've got nothing to lose."

Their opponent might have the most to gain.

Colorado College, which upset archrival Denver to get to St. Paul, is currently 14th in the computer rankings that determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field. The Tigers host the NCAA West Regional, and a win or two in St. Paul would give them a better chance to play at home in the postseason.

The winner of the play-in game will face WCHA regular season champion North Dakota on Friday afternoon. The Fighting Sioux have won eight straight and feature one of the top contenders for the Hobey Baker Award in senior forward Brandon Bockenski.

The nation's top-ranked team, North Dakota is all but assured the top seed in the West Regional when the NCAA pairings are announced on Sunday.

In Friday evening's semifinal game, Minnesota Duluth will face NCAA champion Minnesota. The Bulldogs finished second in the WCHA during a regular season in which they beat Minnesota four times - a first in school history. A fifth win over the Gophers would give Minnesota Duluth its first trip to the conference title game.

Minnesota beat Colorado College for last season's Final Five crown en route to its second consecutive NCAA championship. The Gophers entered the playoffs as the fifth seed and were expected in the play-in game, but they moved up thanks to the upsets by Alaska Anchorage and Colorado College.

While preferring not to adopt the "we're just happy to be here" attitude, Hill, a former assistant coach at Colorado College and Minnesota, admits that just being in St. Paul is quite an accomplishment for his program.

"I'm so excited for the players," he said. "I know what a huge event this is because I've been there before, but they haven't. They're in for a great time."

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