King's 44 saves lift UAA in WCHA play-in game

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2004

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Trailing by a goal in the second period, Alaska Anchorage scored twice in 50 seconds en route to a 4-1 win over Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five play-in game Thursday.

Alaska Anchorage, which entered the WCHA playoffs having never won a league playoff game, have now won three of four since finishing the regular season eighth in the 10-team league.

Alaska Anchorage will face league champion North Dakota on Friday in the tournament's first semifinal game.

The game will feature a couple of names familiar to Kenai Peninsula hockey fans. Lee Green, the captain for the Seawolves who had an assist in Thursday's victory, played for three years for Soldotna High School's hockey team. Meanwhile, Brian Canady, who played for Kenai Central for two years, will play forward for North Dakota.

''Every night is a new experience for us, and we're just having fun,'' said Alaska Anchorage goaltender Chris King, whose team was clearly favored by the 12,000-plus in attendance. ''We saw all those fans and felt the energy right away and just fed off it.''

The Seawolves were dominated offensively throughout the game, but got a 44-save performance from King in the victory.

''The difference tonight was goaltending, and that's probably an understatement,'' said Seawolves coach John Hill. ''Chris proved tonight that he's one of the best goalies in the country.''

After Trevor Frischmon gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead at 9:21 of the second period, the Seawolves responded 30 seconds later when defenseman Brandon Segal netted his first collegiate goal to tie the game. Less than a minute later, the Seawolves went ahead to stay with Vladimir Novak's third goal of the season.

Brett McMann gave the Seawolves a two-goal lead in the waning seconds of the middle period, sending a rising wrist at the Colorado College net and beating Tigers goaltender Curtis McElhinney on the stick side.

''We're disappointed to come here and not play our best,'' said Tigers coach Scott Owens. ''We didn't get the job done in the most important game of the year.''

The Seawolves added an empty-net goal by Dallas Steward in the final seconds of the third period.

Matt Zaba started the game in goal for Colorado College, but he was lifted for McElhinney after the Seawolves' second goal.

North Dakota does not need to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five to advance to the NCAA tournament. But the Sioux have every reason to believe they'll leave St. Paul, Minn., as the champion.

UND (28-6-3) heads into its first game Friday against Alaska-Anchorage as the top-ranked team in the nation, and with the longest winning streak in the country, at eight games.

The Sioux also hold the MacNaughton Cup, given to the WCHA regular season champion.

''We're healthy, we're confident and we're rested,'' coach Dean Blais said.

Even if UND loses in St. Paul, the Sioux are virtually assured of being a No. 1 regional seed in the 16-team NCAA tournament. They most likely will be sent to the West Regional in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The scenario is far different from a year ago, when UND had to battle Denver for three games winning two of them in overtime to even make it to the Final Five.

''Last year we were fighting for our lives,'' Blais said. ''This year, we're fresh. We've played at home two weekends in a row, and we finished off Michigan Tech in two games in the WCHA playoffs.''

The Sioux also had a first-round bye in the Final Five, while Alaska Anchorage did not. The Seawolves beat Colorado College 4-1 on Thursday in a tournament play-in game.

''Even in practice, you can feel the excitement, the electricity, where it was kind of missing last year,'' Blais said. ''I think our schedule last year was grueling, to say the least. This year, we didn't go to Alaska and we didn't go to Colorado Springs. The only places we flew to were Wisconsin and Denver.''

UND's ultimate goal is to win the NCAA title April 10 in Boston. Of the 33 national championship teams to come out of the WCHA, only 10 won the league title, the WCHA playoff title and the NCAA crown in the same season. The last to do it was UND, in 1997.

Sophomore center Zach Parise, a Hobey Baker finalist for the second year in a row, said the Sioux are confident.

''We feel a lot better going into the playoffs being the No. 1 seed rather than playing in the Thursday night game like last year,'' he said. ''We feel better about ourselves, especially with the way we've finished the season.''

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