The boys are back. I repeat, the boys are back.
The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (3-8-2 overall, 2-5-0 WCHA) never trailed in this hockey game, scoring in the first two minutes and holding the lead for the next 31:08. The homestanding Ferris State Bulldogs (6-6-0 overall, 3-4-0 WCHA) pulled even midway through the second, but two third-period goals pushed the home fans to the brink, and the Chargers held on for a 3-2 win at the Robert L. Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids, Mich.
The Chargers are now 3-1-1 in their last five games. Their last two-game win streak against Division I opponents came when that Cam Talbot guy was in net, backstopping the Herd to the 2010 CHA Championship. The last stretch of at least 3-1-1 was also in 2010, when UAH won the replacement game from the Amy Bishop shooting at Niagara, lost by one goal and tied Bemidji at the VBC next weekend, and then beat Robert Morris and the Purple Eagles for that NCAA berth.
If you want to look at the last three-game winning streak, it also comes that season: two wins at home against Niagara, a road win there before being called home, then a home win against the Colonials. Oh, and last night, Talbot shut out the Flyers and Bemidji alumnus Matt Read. #CHAForever
There are three major stories to the evening’s proceedings. They are: junior forward Chad Brears (Cold Lake, Alta.), an overtaxed but strong penalty kill, and sophomore netminder Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Que.), who made his fourth start in five games.
Brears hadn’t lit the lamp all season, but he did it twice tonight on five shots-on-goal. His first goal came at 1:48 of the first, when a splendid feed across the goal mouth from freshman forward Max McHugh (Seattle, Wash.) and an entry pass from senior defenseman Graeme Strukoff (Chilliwack, B.C.) gave him the time, space, and angle that he needed to rip the puck hard past Ferris senior goaltender CJ Motte (St. Claire, Mich., 6-6-0, 15 sv). The primary assist put McHugh temporarily atop the team’s scoring chart.
Brears would score the game-winning goal on the power play in the third, when a point shot rattled from freshman defenseman Brandon Parker (Faribault, Minn.) around and found his stick after touching that of junior forward Jack Prince (Leicester, England). The assists for Parker and Prince pushed them to six points, alongside McHugh. It was a fine night for Chad. Cheers, buddy.
After giving up three, third-period power play goals against Air Force, the Chargers limited Lake Superior to one on Friday and none in ten on Saturday. Tonight, the Chargers again had problems staying out of the box, committing nine minor penalties resulting in eight power play chances for the homesteading Bulldogs. The Chargers nearly killed them all, but the Bulldogs struck gold on their seventh when sophomore forward and New York Islanders draftee Kyle Schempp (Saginaw, Mich.) scored to make it a 3-2 game.
A late-period interference penalty by Strukoff led to the Bulldogs pulling Motte for an extra attacker with around :50 left. While you hate to see them get all the opportunities, the fact is that the Chargers have killed 21 of their last 23 penalties, a 91.3% clip that’s well above their season rate of 84%.
One concern that I (and I’m sure that many of you as well) have with all the penalties is that you take Prince off of the ice. Anyone who’s watched UAH play even-strength hockey for any length of time has come away with good impressions of Prince and his freshman linemates Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and Josh Kestner (Rocket City, U.S.A.). Prince leads the team in shots on goal (30) despite losing ice time every time that his team is down by a man or more. Saluter is second with 24 and Kestner fifth with 19. With UAH mired at 1.92 goals per game, you want your volume shooters out there as often as you can.
What is there to say about Guerriero? Last year’s squad struggled with puck possession, and when they did finally get it across the center line, they were often there just to dump, change, and chase. What we’re seeing right now is a lot better than that, but it still starts between the pipes for the Chargers. CG35 made 36 saves as the Bulldogs outshot UAH 38-18. If he wasn’t the best player in blue out on the ice tonight — you could argue that Brears was — he was in the top two or three.
The confidence that exudes from Guerriero radiates out through his teammates, and it’s really clear to me that Parker and fellow freshman defensemen Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) and Richard Buri (Nitra, Slovakia) know what to do with the puck when they get just a little room to move it out of the zone. Combine their work with that of Strukoff, senior Ben Reinhardt (Arnprior, Ont.), junior Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) ,and sophomore Brandon Carlson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and the Chargers have a solid D core that feels like it improves every weekend.
But it’s always going to stop and start with the fantastic Québécois, who pushed his GAA down to 2.23 and his SV% up to .939. The WCHA is clearly a goalies’ league, what with Motte (8th), Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlström (Smedjebacken, Sweden, 1st), and Michigan Tech’s Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont., 2nd) all in the top ten of Division I net minders in terms of goals-allowed average. Guerriero currently stands at 31st, but more outstanding efforts from him that are coincident with his teammates limiting shot opportunities and strongly possessing the puck could see him pick up his first collegiate shutout. (I’m sure that folks in Bemidji might start in here by saying something about small sample sizes, but the only people that take that course at Bemidji are math majors, and …)
- The go-ahead goal from junior forward Alex Carpenter (Portage, Mich.) was a fantastic workmanlike goal. He and Saulnier worked to corral a bouncing puck low. Carpenter hasn’t gotten to play competitive hockey since 2010-11, his final year in the USHL. After not getting ice at Western Michigan, he came to Huntsville and seems to have found a place to play after sitting out a transfer year. Alex, we’re excited for you.
- Sophomore forward Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) just kept popping off of my TV screen tonight. He had two shots on goal, stick-checked a number of pucks, and was really active on the PK. The Shattuck St. Mary’s product should be joined next season by his brother Joey.
- Carlson (3), Brears, and Marooney were the only Chargers with more than one SOG. I’d do something with ±, but they don’t have that for our players.
So the hopes for tomorrow:
- Six or fewer minor penalties, no majors.
- Fewer than 30 SOG.
- At least 28 SOG.
- A road sweep.
Keep up with the game tomorrow night, and we’ll be back then.
Oh, one last thing: while the Chargers are 3-1-1 in their last five matches, the hated Bemidji State Beavers are 0-5-0. The teams are tied for sixth in the WCHA standings with four points apiece.