Apr 262018
 

With the USHL recently wrapping up its regular season, it’s time to recap the seasons of all the future Chargers. In this piece, we’ll focus on the incoming 2018-19 recruiting class, which recently grew with the commitments of defensemen Dayne Finnson, Bailey Newton, and Simon Chen. All in all, another solid recruiting class for Coach Mike Corbett:

Forwards

Bauer Neudecker, 5’7, 160, 1998, St. Louis Park, MN, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) – Following a mid-season trade to Sioux City from Dubuque, Neudecker really took off. In 36 games with Sioux City, he put up over a point per game with five goals and 15 assists, improving his point totals to conclude the season with a respectable 60/5/21/26 slash-line on a below-average Sioux City team. All things considered, his numbers really don’t reflect how good of a season he had. Buried on the depth chart in Dubuque and flanked by younger and less experienced players in Sioux City, Neudecker became a legitimate force in the country’s top junior league by season’s end. His speed, hockey IQ, and creativity served him well in his first (and only) full season of junior hockey, and suggest he’ll continue to get better as he gets bigger and stronger. I expect him to step into a top-nine role immediately and be asked to contribute offensively to a team that’ll have lost its top three point getters up front. Arguably the crown jewel of this recruiting class, Neudecker’s signing is major boon for the program – akin to Max McHugh’s four years earlier. He’s a leader who’ll quickly become a fan favorite.

Jack Jeffers

Jack Jeffers, 6’0, 185, 1997, Oakville, Ontario, Markham Royals (OJHL) – Jeffers had a superb final season of junior hockey scoring 23 goals, 56 assists, and 79 points in 54 games played – good for fifth overall in the OJHL. He was a fixture on Markham’s top line all season long and factored heavily in the team’s success. After he suffered an injury during Markham’s second playoff game, the squad was quickly eliminated from contention. A Second Team OJHL All-Star, Jeffers still exhibits many of the same attributes that had him on NHL Central Scouting’s radar in 2016: exceptional speed, lateral quickness, offensive instincts, and playmaking ability. These skills, combined with four years of high-level junior hockey experience, should result in a quick transition to college hockey. Like Neudecker, he’ll be counted on to help fill the void left by departing seniors Josh Kestner, Tyler Poulsen, and Brennan Saulnier.

Tyr Thompson, 6’0, 180, 1998, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Whitecourt Wolverines (AJHL) – The long-time commit will finally be heading south this fall following three successful seasons in the AJHL. In 2017-2018, he had 16 goals, 30 assists, and 46 points in 54 regular-season games to go along with a goal, seven assists, and eight points in 14 playoff games for a strong Whitecourt team.  Tyr, who is originally from Alberta, played youth hockey all across the continent as his father, Rocky, a former NHL tough-guy and current head coach of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, worked his way up the coaching ladder. The ever-changing hockey melting pot that he grew up in is reflected in his play: He’s a versatile playmaker who does everything well and can contribute up and down the lineup. As the son of a former enforcer and current coach, it should not come as a surprise that he also has a good hockey IQ and an edge to his game when needed. I anticipate Tyr will be a jack-of-all-trades for Coach Corbett, providing a steady presence both on the ice and in the locker room.

Ben Allen, 5’9, 170, 1997, Allen, TX, Melfort Mustangs (SJHL) – The Texan began the season with the vaunted Penticton Vees in the BCHL, but was traded midseason to the Melfort Mustangs, a team in the neighboring SJHL, where he’d get more playing time. The trade paid dividends, as Allen plotted seven goals and seven assists in 16 games down the stretch for Melfort. He’s another guy whose got a high hockey IQ, really understands the game, and can skate. Similar to Tyr Thompson – who was ironically a teammate of Allen’s in minor hockey – his versatility, leadership qualities, and mature approach make him a welcome addition to the 2018-19 Charger squad.

Defensemen

Dayne Finnson, 5’10, 190, 1997, Arborg, Manitoba, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) – Make no bones about it, after losing three of his top six defensemen, Coach Corbett had to sign an impact defenseman who could step in and play top-four minutes. Fortunately, he was able to do just that when he secured Dayne Finnson’s commitment back in March. Finnson, a farm boy from rural Manitoba, plotted an impressive 41 points, including five goals and 36 assists, in 56 games played for the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL. His point total was first among defensemen on the Grizzlies, and good for sixth overall in the entire league. He continued his strong play on into the postseason, with two goals, five assists, and seven points in 12 playoff games before the Grizzles were eliminated in the second round.  In sum, this past season was Finnson’s second with the Grizzlies, who brought him out west following a 2-year stint of prep hockey with the New England powerhouse Salisbury School in Connecticut. An excellent skater with good vision and a strong first pass, Finnson will remind many Charger fans of outgoing senior Brandon Parker given his stature and ability to jump up into the play from the back end. Don’t let his height fool you, though: Finnson is tough as nails and can dish out absolutely bone-crushing hits like this one back in November of 2016:

 

Drew Lennon, 6’2, 180, 1998, Bloomington, IL, Lone Star Brahmas (NAHL) – Given the Chargers’ aforementioned need for defensemen, it likely came as a huge relief to the coaching staff when Lennon announced his commitment to UAH towards the beginning of the season. As noted when he first committed, Lennon, who is originally from Illinois, has played junior hockey all over North America these past few years. After a year in Connecticut playing for the Connecticut Oilers (EHL), Lennon went to the opposite coast with Prince George in the BCHL in ’16-17, and then to Texas this season. Regardless of where Lennon’s gone, he’s put up solid numbers and continued to improve. Although the two goals, 16 assists, and 18 points he notched for Lone Star in 58 games this year may not jump off the page, they’re pretty good considering the shutdown role he often played for his team. In keeping with the theme of this class, Lennon is also a strong skater who works hard and plays a heady game. As one scout put it, “his value lies behind the red line,” but he still has some serious upside offensively. It’ll be up to Coach Corbett and whoever replaces Matty Thomas as the defensive assistant coach to unlock Lennon’s offensive potential. In any event, expect Lennon to get playing time early and often as a freshman.

Bailey Newton, 5’11, 190, 1998, Halton Hills, Ontario, Oakville Blades (OJHL) – Newton, a physical blueliner who served as Oakville’s captain this past season, recently pledged his commitment to UAH where he’ll be reunited with former Blade Christian Rajic. Widely lauded for his work ethic, leadership qualities, and character, Newton is bona fide defensive defenseman who does a lot of little things on the ice that are necessary for a hockey team to be successful. The former draft pick of the OHL’s Erie Otters shadows other teams’ top players, kills penalties, and stands up for his teammates, as evidenced by the 124 PIMs that he piled up during the regular season. He wasn’t tasked with being an offensive contributor, and his goal, 16 assists, and 17 points in 53 games reflect that. However, Newton could very well develop into more of an offensive threat, as he – like everyone else in this recruiting class – is a good skater with ample hockey smarts. Hockey abilities notwithstanding, this is a kid who’s been team captain just about everywhere he’s played and is revered by both teammates and coaches alike. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case in college.

Simon Chen, 5’10, 180, 1997, Beijing, China, Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL) – This kid has to have the most unique background of any UAH recruit, ever. Born in China, Chen played minor hockey there until his desire to develop his game exceeded his country’s limited hockey resources. Not knowing that New England prep schools typically recruit their players, he enrolled at the Brooks School and ended up being the only “walk-on” to make the team. Later, after playing for a couple of different U18 teams in the Northeast, he headed out to British Columbia to play for the Cowichan Valley Capitals in the BCHL, where he spent the past two seasons. After his first season with Cowichan, he was invited to attend the Vancouver Canucks Development Camp, where he got a chance to compete with a number of top NHL draft picks and prospects, as well as share his unique hockey background with a larger audience.

His 52/2/9/11 line this year belies the improvements he made in his second season of junior hockey. And given the fact that Chen has really only played top-flight hockey for a few years, he’s got a tremendous amount of room to grow as a player. It’ll be fun to watch him get better, and, hopefully, achieve his goal of playing for China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. For more detailed info on Chen’s background, check out these other pieces done on him:

That all for this year’s incoming recruiting class. Stay tuned for a write-up about UAH commits for 2019-20 and beyond.

Hoof Beats: Updates on Talbot and other Charger pros

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Apr 112018
 

Cam Talbot and the Edmonton Oilers finished a disappointing season on Saturday, missing the Stanley Cup playoffs after a run to the Western Conference final a year ago.

The former Charger (2007-10) had a career-low .908 save percentage and a career-high 3.02 goals against average in 67 starts, compiling a 31-31-3 record with one shutout.

Josh Kestner has played three games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies during his amateur tryout, scoring a power play goal. The playoff-bound Marlies finish the regular season on Sunday.

Tyler Poulsen scored a goal in two games for the ECHL’s Allen Americans, and was able to turn his amateur tryout contract into a pro contract. He is not on the Americans’ postseason roster.

Brennan Saulnier was released from his amateur tryout contract with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators after three games.

Matt Salhany (2013-17) scored a goal and three points in 25 games for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.

Cody Dion (2010-11) had 12 goals and 24 points in 38 games for the Peoria Rivermen of the SPHL.

On Tuesday, Graeme Strukoff (2011-15) signed with the Sydney Bears in Australia for the 2018 season.

Chargers in the Pros page

Chargers pick up transfer goaltender: Jake Theut, a goaltender from Northeastern University, will be a graduate transfer to UAH for next season.

Theut was the third goaltender for the Huskies this season, playing in two games. In 2016-17, Theut played in three games, getting a shutout in his only start.

Theut gives UAH three goaltenders this season. Mark Sinclair, who started five games this season, and Josh Astorino will be returning sophomores.

Club hockey returns: A student hockey club is being formed at UAH.

UAH has not had club hockey since 1985, when the original club team, created in 1979 and winners of club national championships in 1982, 1983, and 1984, was elevated to varsity status in preparation for the university to join the NCAA.

It’s not uncommon for schools with NCAA Division I or III varsity hockey programs to also have student club teams, although this would be the first such situation in the Southeast. The team will play other southern club teams in the American College Hockey Association (ACHA).

UAH students interested in playing can email the club at clubhockey@uah.edu. Off-ice memberships are also available.

West a finalist for Alaska job: UAH alum Lance West is a finalist for the head coaching job at Alaska.

West, an assistant with the Nanooks for nine seasons prior, was the interim coach this season after Dallas Ferguson resigned. Alaska was 11-22-3 overall and 9-17-2 in WCHA play, finishing in eighth place.

West played for the Chargers from 1991-95, scoring 113 points in 108 games.

Improvement may stall unless UAH boosts program support

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Mar 252018
 

It’s been five years since the UAH hockey program found new life in the WCHA.

The program continues to improve on the ice. UAH had 12 overall wins this season, the best in eight years, and a program-high 10 wins in the WCHA. Since joining the league, the Chargers have improved their record each season, even if incrementally.

But there is a problem, and it starts at home.

UAH Avg. Home Attendance
2013-14 2,007
2014-15 1,921
2015-16 1,835
2016-17 1,601
2017-18 1,684

The Chargers’ average home attendance this season was 1,684, which was a slight increase from last season (1,601), but the second-lowest in the five seasons UAH has been a member of the WCHA. Attendance has not kept in line with the performance on the ice, as one might expect, but instead has slowly gone the other way.

The best weekend was the first against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 10-11, when the Chargers drew 3,128 and 3,072. That weekend was a combination of opening night, homecoming, and the popular Military Appreciation Weekend.

The Chargers won the first game handily 5-1, and needed a goal in the final second of regulation in a 3-3 tie. I noted at the time that it was entertaining hockey that could boost crowds for the rest of the season. But it didn’t happen.

After that first series, UAH drew above 2,000 only once, and barely at that (2,071 against Bemidji State on Jan. 26). That weekend against Bemidji was the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1998 NCAA Division II national champions, and it was the second best series attendance-wise this season. The Chargers had 1,989 the second night, when the players from the ’98 squad were honored.

The Chargers had six home games to finish the regular season, and only twice did they get above 1,500. The other home games from the first half of the season supposedly have to go up against college football, but the rest of the second half home games didn’t fare much better.

It’s not like the Chargers were playing badly at the VBC. They went 6-7-1 at home this season, one of their best home marks in a decade. UAH was able to take some wins against three of the top teams in the WCHA as well (and was 2:10 away from beating the best in Minnesota State).

It doesn’t have to be like this. Those 3,000-plus crowds against Anchorage? That should be the average, not the season high.

The average crowd at a Havoc game this season would be in the top 15 all-time for a UAH game.

Meanwhile, the Havoc shows that the market for hockey is good in Huntsville, drawing over 4,700 per game and setting the single-season SPHL attendance record. They are engaging the community at a pace that is leaving UAH in the dust. I don’t think UAH has to necessarily compete with the Havoc for fans, but UAH could do more to get a better share of hockey lovers among the half-million people in the Huntsville metro area.

To be clear, the hockey program is not in danger of being cut again. But now that UAH has re-established itself in Division I, it needs to take the next step, which is putting in the framework that will make the Chargers serious contenders for WCHA championships.

These are the things that the UAH administration, including athletic director Dr. E.J. Brophy and president Dr. Robert Altenkirch, need to figure out. (I offer some possible ideas, but there may be better ones offered by people more qualified than me.)

  • We need a better marketing plan. The only promotion that I know of is getting Blue Line Club members to post about an upcoming home series on Facebook, which is what UAHHockey.com has been doing. How visible is the team on local TV and radio? Or targeted online ads? UAH did commission a fan survey for hockey. I urge every Charger fan to partake in the survey if you haven’t already.
  • We need better promotions. This season appeared to take a step back compared to previous years. Most of the giveaways were hockey trading card sets, which doesn’t seem to be a good hook. The free general admission to kids 12 and under by Huntsville International Airport is always nice, but won’t matter much if parents aren’t drawn.
  • We need more variety in ticket plans. We need Friday-only and Saturday-only partial season ticket plans. Offer season tickets for general admission as well as reserved with a discount off the per game rate.
  • We need to expand the Blue Line Club. We need to reduce the minimum donation to join from $1,000, which appears to be by far the highest among WCHA booster clubs. Create a level for all season ticket holders. Perhaps add a special level for UAH students. Enrollment should be made online a la UAH’s current online giving program.
  • We need more student involvement beyond homecoming and the UAH Pep Band. We need the Blue Crew to put as much energy into getting students at and involved in hockey games as they put in for basketball.
  • We need our hockey games on the radio, just like our basketball games, which have been on WZZN (97.7 The Zone) for several years now. How does the university’s Division I sport not have this? It feels like a missed opportunity that the Havoc is getting some games on The Zone and not UAH.
  • We need better production value on WCHA TV. We need our primary camera better focused on the action and our second camera not just fixated on the UAH bench. We don’t need all the bells and whistles of a major TV network, but compared to the rest of the WCHA, the current production looks amateur.
  • We still need new banners, including our CHA titles and NCAA tournament appearances in Division I. We also need banners of Jared Ross and Cam Talbot, the two Chargers who have played in the NHL, at the VBC. These are things recruits look for and fans show pride in.

This is just for what we see on the surface. The program also needs boosts in its recruiting budget, academic support, and facility upgrades. These are things UAH is falling behind in compared to the rest of the WCHA.

Some strides are being made. The Doug Ross Suite at Spragins Hall is in planning and is expected to be ready by the fall, as well as a redesigned weight room. These projects were possible with the generosity of Charger hockey supporters.

Of course, extra financial investment will be needed. This is why growing the Blue Line Club, or season ticket base, and attendance is so important. This is where the fundraising prowess of Dr. Brophy and his team must come through.

If UAH is serious about calling itself the Hockey Capital of the South, it must find these solutions.

Kestner makes Second Team All-WCHA

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Mar 082018
 
Josh Kestner

Josh Kestner (Photo by Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography)

Josh Kestner was named to the All-WCHA Second Team on Thursday, becoming the first Charger to reach that high in all-league honors.

Kestner tied the UAH modern Division I era record with 24 goals this season. The senior’s 32 points were the most by a Charger since the 2006-07 season. Kestner tied for the WCHA lead with 19 goals in conference play, while scoring a league-best nine goals on the power play.

Kestner finished his UAH career with 44 goals, sixth most in the modern Division I era.

It marks the second straight year a Charger made the all-WCHA teams. Kurt Gosselin became the first with third team honors last season, and Max McHugh made the all-rookie team for 2014-15.

Kestner signed an amateur tryout contract with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, the Maple Leafs’ top affiliate.

In addition, 15 UAH players made the 2017-18 WCHA All-Academic Team. These Chargers have a grade-point average of at least 3.0 for the previous two semesters, or an overall GPA of at least 3.0 for all terms:

Austin Beaulieu (So., F, Coral Springs, Fla.); Richard Buri (Sr., D, Nitra, Slovakia); Cody Champagne (Sr., D, Brookfield, Conn.); Hans Gorowsky (Jr., F, Lino Lakes, Minn.); Kurt Gosselin (Jr., D, Brighton, Mich.); Connor James (So., D, Wainwright, Alberta); Josh Kestner (Sr., F, Huntsville, Ala.); Cam Knight (Jr., D, North Reading, Mass.); Max McHugh (Sr., F, Seattle, Wash.); Brandon Parker (Sr., D, Fairbault, Minn.); Sean Rappleyea (So., D, Sayreville, NJ); Teddy Rotenberger (Fr., D, Huntsville, Ala.); Brandon Salerno (So., F, Toronto, Ontario); John Teets (Jr., D, Fairbanks, Alaska); Jordan Uhleski (Sr., G, Flint, Mich.); Adam Wilcox (Jr., F, Alpharetta, Ga.).

Chargers’ season ends with 5-2 loss to NMU

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Mar 042018
 

Two quick power play goals in the second period were the difference in UAH’s 5-2 loss Sunday to Northern Michigan in the deciding third game of the WCHA quarterfinal series.

The Chargers, who were trying to become the first seventh seed to upset the second seed in the current WCHA playoff format, finish the season at 12-23-2. The 12 victories were the most by UAH since the 2009-10 season.

BOX SCORE

The 19th-ranked Wildcats (23-13-3) move on to the WCHA semifinals, where they will host third seed Bowling Green next weekend.

Northern Michigan scored the first goal for the third time in the series. Denver Pierce, who scored twice in game one, drove into the UAH zone on the right side and beat Jordan Uhelski high and glove side just 2:45 in.

The Chargers did not panic, and was able to generate some scoring chances themselves. They tied the game 1-1 at the 10:54 mark, when Tyler Poulsen skated around a Wildcat defenseman, tapped it to a trailing Josh Kestner, who deposited the puck past Atte Tolvanen’s right for his third goal of the series.

It was Kestner’s 24th goal of the season, tying the UAH modern Division I record held by Bruce Mulherin from the 2004-05 season.

For Poulsen, it was his 17th assist of the year, the most by a Charger since Brandon Roshko had that many in the 2007-08 campaign.

UAH took the lead at 2-1 right off the bat in the second period, when Max McHugh tipped in a Kurt Gosselin blast on the power play seconds only 53 seconds in. It was McHugh’s third goal of the year.

Mitchel Slattery tied the game at 2-2 with 6:41 left in the 2nd, and then the Wildcats took the lead after a questionable call.

Cam Knight made contact to the head with the elbow on NMU’s Robbie Payne. It didn’t look egregious by any stretch, but Knight was called for a five-minute major and a game misconduct anyway.

The officials have little if any room for discretion, according to the NCAA rulebook (45.1): “Any contact directly with the player’s head and neck area must be penalized with a major penalty and a game misconduct or disqualification.”

NMU quickly scored twice on the major power play to take a 4-2 lead. First a one-timer by Troy Loggins, then Pierce on a rebound. The Chargers called time out to regroup.

Two minutes of the power play were cut by a Payne tripping penalty, and UAH was able to kill the rest of the penalty, but the damage was already done.

The Chargers managed only two shots on goal in the third period, albeit not for lack of attempts. They had one final stand in the final minute when Pierce was called for slashing and UAH had pulled Uhelski for the extra attacker with under a minute to go.

However, Loggins was able to mount a breakaway toward the empty net. Kestner hauled him down, which immediately gives the empty net goal to Loggins for the final 5-2 score.

Uhelski finished with 28 saves.

It marked the final games in Charger uniforms for Richard Buri, Cody Champagne, Kestner, McHugh, Brandon Parker (who tied the UAH record with his 139th game played), Poulsen, Brennan Saulnier, and Uhelski.

Saulnier returned to the lineup after sitting out game two for getting his fourth game misconduct of the season in game one.