It's that time of year again. Hockey time. Fresh from months off, returners and newcomers alike join together with hopes of making the 34th season of Seawolf hockey not only memorable, but historic. It will be the Seawolves' final year to make a splash in the 'old' Western Collegiate Hockey Association, before welcoming new members to the league in 2013-14.
    UAA will hope to use a close-knit group for the road less traveled - a showing at the WCHA Red Baron Final Five in March - as well as defending its titles at the Kendall Hockey Classic and the Brice Alaska Goal Rush in Fairbanks. Lastly, UAA will look to get its hands on the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup for the first time since 2009.
    "Our team has a good balance between the classes," said eighth-year bench boss Dave Shyiak. "We have upperclassmen that have played a lot of minutes, which should help us as the season progresses. We also have a large freshman class that we think will provide for some strong competition at every position."
    Leading the Seawolf charge will be senior forward Chris Crowell. Crowell, from Williams Lake, B.C., becomes UAA's first standalone captain since 2009-10, and will use his influence to motivate the team on and off the ice. A two-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete, Crowell will be joined by junior forward Matt Bailey (Oakbank, Manitoba), who will serve as assistant captain.
    UAA returns 60 percent of its point production from last season, including seven of the top-10 scorers. Topping the charts last season for the Seawolves was Bailey with 17 points and a team-high 10 goals and four power-play strikes. Bailey will be aided by senior Jordan Kwas, who hails from Cochrane, Alberta. Kwas managed 4-10-14 totals in just 21 games after being UAA's second-leading scorer in 2010-11 with 24 points. Senior Daniel Naslund and junior Brett Cameron will also be called upon to contribute, each with 13 points last season.
    "Up front at the forward position our team will have more speed than in years past," said Shyiak. "This should help us in both our attack on the rush and in transition play. We will need every one of the returning forwards to contribute offensively. Secondary scoring will be a key for us in order to increase our goal production."
    The blueline will be largely held down by veteran Scott Warner. An Anchorage native, Warner was UAA's fifth-leading scorer with 15 points, while starting in 13 games for in 2011-12. Sophomore Derek Docken will likely be Warner's linemate after dressing in 31 games as a rookie and posting 10 assists.
    Another duo to watch is junior Quinn Sproule and sophomore Austin Coldwell. Coldwell, UAA's seventh-leading scorer, registered 14 points, while Sproule chipped in 10.
    "Our defensemen look to be more mobile and active than last year's," said Shyiak. "We have a group that will be more effective at manufacturing offense, creating strong competition to play as a regular. Warner, Docken, Sproule and Coldwell will provide some valuable experience for us on the blueline."
    Much like the past two seasons, the Seawolf who gets the starting nod between the will depend largely on who has the hottest hand. The junior pair of Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal registered almost identical numbers in the crease last season, with Kamal (21gp) edging Gunderson (20gp) by a slightly better save percentage (.877) and goals-against average (3.46).
    The competition will be even stronger this season with the addition of rookie Michael Matyas, who has the potential to put up some good numbers.
    "Both Kamal and Gunderson have two years' experience in the league and we need to stabilize that position," said Shyiak. "Both have been very good in the past, but we'd like to have more consistency night in and night out."
    The Seawolves will add eight freshmen to the roster in 2012-13 - four defensemen, three forwards and one goaltender. In addition to three Anchorage natives already on the roster, UAA collected three more in Ben Matthews, Bobby Murphy and Hayden Trupp. Also making their collegiate debut will be three from Alberta - Blake Leask, Matyas, and Austin Sevalrud - while Blake Tatchell and Chris Williams hail from Saskatchewan and Pennsylvania, respectively.
    "This year's freshmen class has addressed some of our areas of concern," said Shyiak. "They add to our overall team speed and provide more mobility on the back end. We think that the incoming players will compete for regular spots in the lineup and help us put more pucks in the net."
     The final season of the current 12-team league starts off as one of the toughest in recent memory. The Seawolves' 34-game schedule will include 17 home dates and two in-season tournaments. UAA will play six non-conference games against five opponents, ending with the annual Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup against in-state rival Alaska Fairbanks in a home-and-home series on March 1-2.
    The 34th season of Seawolf hockey starts with the 22nd edition of the Kendall Hockey Classic on Oct. 12-13. This year's field will include Air Force and Canisius from Atlantic Hockey, UAF, and defending champion UAA. From there, the Seawolves will visit their northern neighbors in Fairbanks for the fifth installment of the Brice Alaska Goal, where they take on North Dakota and Merrimack on Oct. 19-20.
    The 20th season of the WCHA for the Seawolves starts with a trip to Grand Forks, N.D., to take on UND, which was predicted to finish second in the WCHA Preseason Media Poll. UAA then returns to Anchorage for the 30th anniversary of Seawolf hockey at the Sullivan Arena, when they host the nearly unanimous pick to win the league, Minnesota.
    "We have a tough schedule right from the start with the two tournaments and opening WCHA play with two of the top teams in the country," said Shyiak. "Our goals are to have a good start by winning both tournaments, followed by gaining some early points in the league."
    The Seawolves will also travel to Bemidji State (Nov. 23-24), Minnesota State (Dec. 7-8), UM (Jan. 25-26), Wisconsin (Jan. 25-26), Michigan Tech (Feb. 8-9) and Denver (March 8-10). UAA's other home conference series includes St. Cloud State (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), Minnesota Duluth (Dec. 14-15), UW (Jan. 4-5), MSU (Jan. 18-19), Colorado College (Feb. 1-2) and Nebraska Omaha (Feb. 15-16).
    The WCHA First Round will take place on March 15-17, followed by the WCHA Red Baron Final Five on March 21-23.
    "Obviously, we want to develop our team into a Final Five participant and play for a championship down at the Xcel Energy Center," said Shyiak. "In order to do that, we have to get back to being a tougher team to play against defensively, while putting more pucks on the net to capitalize on scoring."