As a walk-on freshman on the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey squad in 2013, Brad Duwe had little in the way of big expectations.
The 6-foot-1 forward from Soldotna was working hard just to stay on the Seawolves’ roster of 28, and was trying to adjust to the faster pace of college hockey.
Fast forward a few short months, to a point where the Seawolves fell just short of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship berth. Duwe had two game-winners under his belt already in the WCHA playoffs, and had solidly earned his way onto the team.
“Honestly, words can’t describe it,” Duwe said on the phone from Anchorage. “It’s been an amazing experience.”
Duwe ended his first season at UAA last Friday when the Seawolves were handed a 5-4 overtime loss from Ferris State in the WCHA semifinals.
With eight points (seven goals, one assist) in 27 games, the most noteworthy of those tallies from Duwe were the final two games in a three-game quarterfinal series with in-state rival University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Against the Nanooks, Duwe provided the go-ahead goals in the two elimination games that pushed UAA into the WCHA semis against Ferris State.
Not a bad way to end a season.
“It was a whole other level of hockey,” Duwe said. “But it brought the fun back into it. The challenge to make the lineup, it was a battle every day to stay in and have to make the travel team.”
Duwe’s pair of game-winners could not have come at a better time for UAA. The Seawolves fought through a season of change that saw head coach Dave Shyiak ousted in March 2013 and Matt Thomas step up to the vacated role.
“Knowing that the season was coming to an end, and with the hard work the seniors had, we didn’t want to stop there,” he said.
A team-first mentality kept Duwe on the squad, and when he began to steadily increase his consistency of play, he earned a spot on the team’s third and fourth lines, and eventually took advantage of a few injuries suffered by the starters to briefly take a spot on the top line.
As a product of the North American Hockey League’s Kenai River Brown Bears, Duwe was familiar with the pressure, but not as much with the pace of the game.
“First off, you’re going up against kids 21 and under,” Duwe said of his time with the Bears. “Now it’s guys 24 and 25 years old. They’re pretty much NHL guys, I mean, a guy on my team just signed with Anaheim.
“It’s the highest level you get to before making money.”
Earning a spot on a college team is not easy, but the kicker was that Duwe had stepped away from the world of hockey for a year, before returning to the Brown Bears last season.
“It was just heart and determination to achieve my goal,” Duwe said. “I was just working that much harder, harder than others.”
The 2009 SoHi graduate also still keeps up with his old clubs. Duwe said if the Brown Bears can grab a playoff spot in the North American Hockey League, he plans on making the trip to Soldotna to watch his former team fight for a playoff series win.
When the Soldotna Stars high school hockey team won the Northern Lights Conference championship that put them in the state tournament in February, Duwe had his eye on the action constantly.
“The whole Ice Hawks organization is where I started,” he said. “Watching the kids win is part of what kept me going.
“SoHi won a region title this year, and the last time they did that was when I played, so it’s nice to see that.”