Apr 292016
 

College hockey realignment is heating up again. Fortunately, this time UAH hockey isn’t looking for a conference slot to save its life, but could it find itself in a better deal than it is now?

The first move in this round of conference shuffling started a month ago when the Big Ten accepted Notre Dame as a hockey affiliate member starting in the 2017-18 season, bringing the conference’s hockey membership up to seven.

Now the question is where will the Big Ten get an eighth hockey member (because leagues love even numbers). It was speculated that they could get Division I-newcomer Arizona State.

That’s not going to happen, according to reports on Monday, cutting the Sun Devils’ options between the WCHA and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Reports from College Hockey News and USCHO.com on Friday have the NCHC trending toward a deal with Arizona State, although NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said nothing was imminent, while WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson has reiterated openly that they are pursuing the Sun Devils.

Arizona State is an interesting prospect. It just finished its first season as a varsity program, playing a mix of Division I, III, and club teams. The Sun Devils went 5-22-2 against NCAA opponents — three of those against WCHA opponents (one against Alaska-Fairbanks in Anchorage, and two in a sweep at Lake Superior State). They will play a full Division I independent schedule this coming season, and have been intending to play in a conference starting in 2017-18.

In the WCHA, ASU would hands down be the largest university in terms of attendance, with over 69,000 students, over four times more than the league’s current leader, Bowling Green. Arizona State would also join Bowling Green as the only full Division I athletic programs in the WCHA.

But there are questions. A big one is where ASU plays, or will play. The Sun Devils’ primary home has been Oceanside Ice Arena, which was renovated to a capacity of only 840, which would be the smallest in the WCHA. ASU played four games this season at Gila Bend Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, drawing over 5,000 twice. The Coyotes could partner with ASU on a new arena.

Then there’s travel. Arizona State would be added to a conference that’s primarily in the Midwest but already has two teams in Alaska and one in Alabama. ASU should be good with chipping in on the subsidies UAH and the Alaska schools provide to the rest of the league to cover the additional costs of visiting those areas, but how much extra mileage can the WCHA handle?

The current membership must be OK with the answers to these questions if Robertson is this public about pursuing them.

But if the WCHA adds Arizona State, where will it go to find a 12th member? (Again, leagues love even numbers.) Does it try to get Robert Morris or Niagara from Atlantic Hockey?

We’ll continue to monitor this during the summer. Meanwhile, there are a couple of realignment ideas that would be interesting from a UAH point of view.

Modest proposal: Fixing the WCHA

Drew Evans at BGSUHockey.com wrote a column last week about fixing the WCHA in three steps. The second step was the conference expanding to 12 and going into divisions. Arizona State wasn’t one of the two teams he’d add, which is understandable given the questions above and, at the time, how unlikely ASU joining would be.

Evans suggests adding Robert Morris and either Mercyhurst or Niagara from Atlantic Hockey, and splitting the league into Western and Central divisions. Each division would have one Alaska school to spread the travel there, and UAH would be in the Central with Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Robert Morris, and Mercyhurst/Niagara.

The primary reason for this suggestion is travel management. Save for the Alaska team, most of a club’s travel within the division would be bus rides of no more than 12 hours (between Ferris State and Huntsville).

It’s an interesting idea, especially if the WCHA fails to get Arizona State.

More modest proposal: Return of the CCHA?

Chris Dilks at SBN College Hockey goes further, going beyond the WCHA. His plan to fix the Western conferences includes the formation of an 8-team conference with many members from the old CCHA, plus UAH:

  • UAH
  • Bowling Green
  • Ferris State
  • Lake Superior State
  • Miami
  • Michigan Tech
  • Northern Michigan
  • Western Michigan

There are few scenarios that would benefit UAH more than this setup, particularly in terms of travel. Sure, we’d lose rival Bemidji State as a conference foe, but to help the Chargers’ bottom line, it would be crazy for UAH not to accept this if it were presented.

With eight teams, this conference could play a 28-game schedule with every team playing each other home and away. It also leaves the door open for future expansion, perhaps including Robert Morris, Niagara, and/or Mercyhurst as Evans suggested. (Any of those three would still not be the furthest away from UAH in such a league.)

Dilks’s plan hinges on North Dakota joining the Big Ten as a hockey-only member, and the rest of the WCHA/NCHC and Arizona State coming together in a 10-team, two-division league. I don’t know if UND would go for joining the Big Ten, although North Dakota as a hockey-only Big Ten member makes more since than Rutgers and Maryland as full-time Big Ten members.

Realignment has been rumored to return from the moment the current league setup was agreed upon. Now we see if that time has come, and whether UAH can be all the better for it.

Apr 252016
 
Chad Brears

Chad Brears was this season’s Charger of the Year. (Photo by UAH Athletics/Doug Eagan)

On Thursday, the Chargers held their end-of-season banquet at Spragins Hall, honoring the 2015-16 squad and looking forward to next season.

The Chargers’ Most Valuable Player was Max McHugh. The sophomore led UAH in points for the second straight season, scoring 22 points on seven goals and 15 assists.

Senior Frank Misuraca was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. The alternate captain was second on the club with 63 blocked shots. He had an even plus-minus rating and scored one goal with four assists for five points.

The Freshman of the Year was Adam Wilcox. In 33 games played, Wilcox was tied for the team among freshmen with four goals, including one power play and one shorthanded tally. He finished with nine points on the season.

The Charger of the Year award, which goes to the player who exemplifies what it means to be a UAH Charger, went to Chad Brears. The senior and alternate captain from Cold Lake, Alberta led the Chargers in goals this season with nine, and was third on the team in assists (10) and second in points (19). He also led UAH in plus-minus (+6).

Sign up for the Frenchy Open: The 2016 UAH Hockey Frenchy Open will tee off at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 25 at Hampton Cove Golf Course.

The golf tournament is the program’s biggest summer fundraising event. The tournament layout will be a four-player scramble with prizes going to the top three teams. Raffle and door prizes will be available.

Register online to reserve your spot. Registration per player is $150, which includes 18 holes of golf, a cart, a UAH Hockey shirt and hat, refreshments, and dinner. Full four-player teams can register for $600.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available. For more information, can call 256-824-2485 or email Nick Laurila.

In addition, there will be an UAH alumni hockey game at the Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex in Huntsville on June 24 at 7 p.m.

“The Frenchy Open” is named after Charger left wing Jean-Marc Plante, who died in 2001. Also known as “Frenchy,” the Laval, Quebec, native played for UAH from 1988-92, scoring 16 goals and 19 assists in 94 games. Plante worked at the front office of the Florida Panthers and became the athletic marketing director at UAH. A memorial scholarship is awarded in his honor to the Charger hockey player who demonstrates leadership, sportsmanship, and team spirit, and who participates in community and university volunteer service.

Rappleyea commits: Sean Rappleyea of South Amboy, N.J. committed to the Chargers for the 2016-17 season last week. The defenseman was an alternate captain this past season for the Ottawa Jr. “A” Senators of the Central Canada Hockey League.

This past season, Rappleyea led the Senators in 35 assists in addition to three goals scored. The CCHL Defenseman of the Year was scored a goal and eight assists in 16 playoffs games as the Senators reached the CCHL championship series.

Mar 102016
 

The UAH hockey program will have its post-season banquet at Spragins Hall on the UAH campus on April 21 at 6 p.m. Come join the Chargers as they celebrate the 2015-16 season, their third in the WCHA.

Cost is $25 per person, and you will have the opportunity to sponsor a player’s dinner at the banquet for $25.

There will be several silent auction items at the event as well as the opportunity to sit with your favorite player at dinner.

Payments will be accepted at the door upon arrival. You can RSVP online or email questions to Nick Laurila, UAH Director of Hockey Operations, at nick.laurila@uah.edu.

Mar 072016
 
Chad Brears (Photo by UAH Athletics/Doug Eagan)

Chad Brears (Photo by UAH Athletics/Doug Eagan)

There are two ways to look at evaluating the Chargers’ season, which ended Saturday with a 7-21-6 overall record, a 5-17-6 WCHA record, and no WCHA playoff berth from a last-place finish.

One is the fact that we didn’t win as many games as last season, when UAH went 8-26-4 and made the WCHA playoffs as the 7th seed (finishing 8th in the standings). Going with that, it’s easy to assume that the Chargers regressed when many expected to continue an upward trend toward greater competitiveness.

The other is going deeper into the numbers to see where UAH specifically improved and specifically faltered. Basically, the team improved overall and in parts, but not as much as was hoped or expected.

Record:
2013-14: 2-35-1 (.066)
2014-15: 8-26-4 (.263)
2015-16: 7-21-6 (.294)
Change from 2014-15:+.031

Let’s start with the team record. UAH had one fewer win, but they had five fewer losses and two more ties. The Chargers’ overall win percentage (.294) is higher than last season’s (.263). And in WCHA play, UAH had one more conference point (16) than last season (15). It just so happened that 16 wasn’t enough to make the playoffs this time.

Scoring margin:
2013-14: -3.29
2014-15: -1.55
2015-16: -0.97
Change from 2014-15: +0.58

UAH had six ties this season, a program record, with eight games going to overtime, one shy of the program record. The Chargers were in more close games this season, and that’s reflected in the scoring margin.

Offense:
2013-14: 1.08 goals per game
2014-15: 1.63
2015-16: 2.15 (WCHA rank: 9th; Division I rank: 52nd)
Change from 2015-16: +0.52

UAH’s offense grew by another half goal per game. Again, 2.15 goals per game isn’t much, ranking UAH only 9th in the WCHA, although the conference hardly has any offensive juggernauts (only Michigan Tech is averaging over three goals per game). The Chargers scored 73 goals this season, surpassing their 2014-15 total of 62 with four games to spare. They were shut out only three times this season (one coming against North Dakota’s Cam Johnson, who was shutting out everybody en route to that prestigious program’s scoreless streak record), compared to eight times last season and 12 times in 2013-14.

There is a caveat, however. A chunk of those 73 goals — 22 of them, in fact — came in the first six games of the season, where UAH started 3-2-1. Thirty percent of the goals came against Connecticut, Alaska Anchorage, and Lake Superior State. The Chargers then could not score more than three for 26 games, going 3-18-5 in that span, before exploding for seven in their win over Bowling Green on Friday.

Sophomore center Max McHugh led the team again in points with 22 on seven goals and 15 assists, compared to the 12 goals and 11 assists from last season. It was senior right wing Chad Brears who scored the most goals for UAH this season with nine, including a stretch of five in seven games from late November through December. Sophomore left wing Brennan Saulnier had six goals in five games to start the season, earning him WCHA Offensive Player of the Month honors for October, but could not find the net the rest of the way. Thirty percent of goals and 32 percent of points came from this line.

If there is to be further improvement in this area, it’s going to come from consistency and depth.

Matt Larose

Matt Larose (Photo by UAH Athletics/Doug Eagan)

Defense:
2013-14: 4.37 goals allowed per game
2014-15: 3.18
2015-16: 3.12 (WCHA rank: 10th; Division I rank: 43rd)
Change: +0.06

Very slight improvement here, and the average goals allowed would have been a little better if the Chargers hadn’t given up 16 goals in the final three games (it was down to 2.90 before that).

Last season, Carmine Guerriero became the Chargers’ No. 1 netminder. He didn’t have the strong season in 2015-16, and when Matt Larose posted UAH’s first shutout since 2010 at Lake Superior State, UAH returned to the rotation used in 2013-14. When Larose stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 3-1 rebound win against Alaska on Jan. 9, Larose became the primary netminder the rest of the season. Larose had the hot hand (glove) that Guerriero had last year, and went on to post the fourth-best single-season save percentage (.921) and goals against average (2.60) in UAH’s modern Division I era.

UAH reduced the number of shots on goal allowed per game from 37.58 last year to 33.18 this year, and it was the usual suspects, the top skill teams like Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, who would put the most rubber on net.

The Chargers also continued to block a lot of shots. Their 15.24 blocks per game is the most in the WCHA and 9th-highest in Division I, lead again by Brandon Carlson (65) and Frank Misuraca (63). Brandon Parker also made the top 50 among defensemen in the nation in blocked shots.

Power play efficiency:
2013-14: 12-137 (8.8%)
2014-15: 19-124 (15.3%)
2015-16: 15-140 (10.7%) (WCHA rank: 9th; Division I rank: 58th)
Change: -4.6%

Here is where the Chargers regressed, returning to being one of the least inefficient power play units in the country (only Alaska Anchorage was worse in the WCHA). Only once (at Bowling Green on Nov. 20) did the Chargers score more than one power play goal. Not surprisingly, McHugh and Brears combined for five of the 15 PPGs from the top line. Freshman Jetlan Houcher got three of his four goals this season on the power play, and Josh Kestner and Madison Dunn each had two.

Penalty killing efficiency:
2013-14: 117-166 (70.5%)
2014-15: 164-201 (81.6%)
2015-16: 119-145 (82.1%) (WCHA rank: 8th; Division I rank: 33rd)
Change: +0.5%

“Streaky” might be a good adjective for the penalty kill this season, and the rankings may look a little odd being near the bottom of the WCHA yet in the middle of the pack in Division I. It turned out to be an overall slight improvement, which was necessary as yet again the Chargers were in the top 10 in the country in penalty minutes per game at 15.3. (Perhaps not coincidentally, half the WCHA was in the top 10 in penalty minutes per game, all at fifth place or lower in the standings.)

Like the overall defensive numbers, the penalty killing faltered in the final three games, as Bemidji State and Bowling Green went scored six power play goals in that stretch. Michigan Tech and Bowling Green also exploited the penalty killing unit back in November to the tune of eight power play goals in four games against UAH. Against these top power play clubs, the Chargers struggled.

But after that, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the Chargers killed 33 straight penalties, the team’s longest streak in 13 years. It included a 9-for-9 weekend at Minnesota State.

Mar 052016
 

UAH completed its 2015-16 season in ugly fashion Saturday night, losing to Bowling Green 5-0 at the Von Braun Center.

The Chargers (7-21-6 overall, 5-17-6 WCHA) were shut out for the third time this season. The Falcons (20-12-6 overall, 16-7-5 WCHA) host a first-round WCHA playoff series against Bemidji State next week.

BOX SCORE

The first period saw a few penalties and a few power plays, but that was just the beginning.

UAH could not convert on its first two (including a two-man advantage for 1:14), but Bowling Green did on its first. Brett D’Andrea beat Charger goaltender Carmine Guerriero from just in front of the crease for a 1-0 Falcon lead with 8:00 left in the first.

Bowling Green got another power play with 4:23 left after Brandon Parker gets called for slashing, but UAH killed that along with a shorthanded breakaway chance by Adam Wilcox.

Then with 1:38 left in the first, the Falcons got a two-man advantage of their own after Brent Fletcher was given a minor for charging, and Anderson White got a major for kneeing on a collision with Mitch McLain that required McLain to be helped off the ice and to the locker room.

The hard-hitting, penalty-inducing play continued into the second period. UAH killed the remainder of the two-man advantage and the major power play, then got two more advantages itself on a holding penalty on Sean Walker and an interference call on McLain, who was able to return to action.

UAH still couldn’t score on BG netminder Chris Nell, and had to survive another penalty kill after having too many men on the ice.

With all that, Bowling Green didn’t need any power plays to extend its lead. John Schilling made it 2-0 at 6:47 of the second, firing the puck alone in front of Guerriero, who made the save. The rebound came right to Schilling behind Guerriero, and Schilling buried it.

On UAH’s fifth power play of the night, Nell stoned Josh Kestner after a nice pass from Chad Brears. That was the Chargers’ best scoring chance at that point.

The Falcons took a 3-0 lead with 56 seconds remaining in the second when Stephen Baylis beat Guerriero high from the slot.

At the end of the second, Frank Misuraca hit BG’s Tyler Spezia high at center ice. Spezia was slow to get up, and Misuraca, one of the four seniors playing his last game for UAH, only got a minor penalty.

The third period was all Bowling Green. The Falcons outshot the Chargers 20-6 for the period, finishing with a 36-24 advantage for the game.

BG made it 4-0 on a Brandon Hawkins goal at 7:10, and Baylis got his second goal of the night on the power play at 13:16.

Nell rebounded from allowing six goals in UAH’s 7-5 win on Friday night to posting his fourth shutout of the season. He made 24 saves.

Guerriero stopped 31 of 36 shots for UAH.

The Falcons were 2-of-8 on the power play, while the Chargers where 0-for-7.