LSSU goaltender Nick Kossoff was a big reason for the Lakers’ victory. He stopped 26 of 27 UAH shots, making big stops to prevent the Chargers from completing a rally.
UAH could only get a Madison Dunn goal late in the second period, and its power play could not convert on seven opportunities.
Game two of the series at Propst Arena is Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
The struggling UAH penalty kill struggled some more in giving the Lakers the early lead. Following a Josh Kestner boarding penalty, LSSU had numbers and allowed Diego Cuglietta to score at the 5:18 mark of the game.
It was the fourth straight goal allowed via the power play for UAH going to last Saturday’s 3-3 tie with Alaska Anchorage.
The Chargers tried to answer on their first man advantage, and made some nifty passes, but could not find the net. They had four shots on net, including three by Kestner, who was denied by Kossoff going post to post.
The Lakers extended their lead during 4-on-4 hockey after coincidental minor penalties to UAH’s Christian Rajic and LSSU’s Brayden Gelsinger. Jake Hand put in a rebound with 1:27 left in the first for a 2-0 score.
UAH came out of the second period with more aggressiveness, but it didn’t result in any scoring right away. Much of that had to do with Kossoff, who made some big saves, including a close-range shot by Christian Rajic and another robbery of Kestner during a major power play late in the period.
The Chargers outshot the Lakers 17-6 in the second period.
UAH finally got its first goal with 53 seconds remaining in the second, but not without a little controversy. Tyler Poulsen put a shot on net, but then made impact with Kossoff. The rebound went to Madison Dunn, who buried his second goal of the season to cut LSSU’s lead to 2-1.
The Lakers wanted goaltender interference called on Poulsen, but after a couple of minutes of video review the goal was confirmed.
The Chargers kept plugging in the third period, but Kossoff was still there. He made another big save early on Levi Wunder, who was all alone in front.
Fortunately the UAH penalty kill was perfect the rest of the way. UAH survived a two-man advantage for Lake State as the minutes started to dwindle, staying one goal behind with five minutes to go.
UAH had one final shot after Aiden Wright went off for tripping with 1:25 left. However, after Uhelski was pulled for an extra attacker, Max Humitz scored on the empty net with 8.6 seconds remaining to seal the Laker win.
Charger goaltender Jordan Uhelski made 19 saves on 21 Laker shots.
Christian Rajic had a goal and an assist vs. UAA last week. The freshman has 3 goals and 3 assists so far. (Photo by Todd Thompson)
Charger update: UAH (3-6-1 overall, 2-1-1 WCHA) took four of six points against Alaska Anchorage in its first home series of the season last week.
The Chargers dominated the first game 5-1, with Brennan Saulnier scoring two goals. They rallied from two goals down in the third period to tie the second game 3-3, with Connor Merkley getting the equalizer with 0.9 seconds remaining in regulation. UAA won the extra point in the WCHA standings in a shootout.
Josh Kestner scored twice in the second game. He and Saulnier have six goals, tied for the team lead and fourth in the WCHA overall leaders.
Cam Knight had three assists in the series, giving him a team-leading six for the year. Kurt Gosselin had a helper to give him seven points, tying him for fifth in the WCHA in defenseman scoring.
In goal, Jordan Uhelski made 16 saves on Friday and 31 on Saturday, raising his save percentage to .901.
UAH went 4-for-10 on the power play for the series.
Charger leaders: Josh Kestner (Sr., F, 6 goals-3 assists-9 points in 10 games played)
Brennan Saulnier (Sr., F, 6-2-8 in 10 GP)
Kurt Gosselin (Jr., D, 2-5-7 in 10 GP)
Tyler Poulsen (Jr., F, 3-4-7 in 9 GP)
Cam Knight (Jr., D, 0-6-6 in 10 GP)
Jordan Uhelski (Sr., G, 2.99 goals against average, .901 save percentage in 8 starts)
Tale of the tape
About the Lakers: Lake Superior State (2-7-3 overall, 1-3-2 WCHA) comes to Huntsville after a tie (with shootout loss) and a loss at Bowling Green last weekend.
The Lakers have already played in four overtime games this season, going 1-0-3. One of those ties was at then-No. 1 Denver, with goaltender Nick Kossoff needing to make 63 saves.
Kossoff, a junior, and freshman Mareks Mitens have split the goaltending duties with six starts apiece.
Senior forward J.T. Henke is tied with Minnesota State’s C.J. Seuss for the WCHA’s overall scoring lead with 15 points. He leads the league in assists with 12.
Players to watch: J.T. Henke (Sr., F, 3-12-15 in 12 GP)
Max Humitz (So., F, 5-3-8 in 12 GP)
Anthony Nellis (Jr., F, 5-2-7 in 12 GP)
Brayden Gelsinger (So. F, 3-5-8 in 10 GP)
Series notes: Lake Superior State leads the all-time series over UAH 10-6-2. The Lakers won all four meetings against the Chargers last season. LSSU has a 7-1-0 advantage in Huntsville.
This week in the WCHA: All times are Central. Games featuring WCHA teams at home can be seen on WCHA.tv.
Friday, Nov. 17 * Lake Superior State at UAH, 7:07 p.m.
* Bowling Green at #5 Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.
* Michigan Tech at Alaska Anchorage, 10:07 p.m.
* #20 Northern Michigan at Alaska, 10:07 p.m.
Ferris State at Michigan State, 6:05 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 18 * Lake Superior State at UAH, 7:07 p.m.
* Bowling Green at #5 Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.
* Michigan Tech at Alaska Anchorage, 10:07 p.m.
* #20 Northern Michigan at Alaska, 10:07 p.m.
Michigan State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
Josh Kestner, left, celebrates a goal with Connor Merkley and Tyler Poulsen on Saturday. (Photo by Todd Thompson)
Well, that was fun.
UAH’s homecoming, home-opening series against Alaska Anchorage drew a combined attendance of 6,200 at the Von Braun Center. It was the largest two-game crowd for UAH since January 17-18, 2014, which coincidentally was also against UAA and also military appreciation weekend.
In that 2014 series, the first game ended in a 1-1 tie and UAA won the second game handily 4-1. The tie was the best result the Chargers had at the VBC in all of the 2013-14 season.
Since joining the WCHA in 2013, UAH has been struggling to find its home-ice advantage. Part of that is natural as the program has been trying to rebuild the team almost entirely from scratch following its near-death experience. But even as the team has improved on its record every year, the Chargers have had trouble not just winning at home but playing consistently well enough for the home fans.
Last season, UAH won nine games, but only two were at home. In 2015-16, UAH was 4-10-4 at home.
Head coach Mike Corbett said during Friday’s Blue Line Club luncheon that the problem was the Chargers would tighten up and try to play perfect in front of the crowd (or, perhaps more specifically, “their girlfriends”), which would lead to the wrong play and a wrong result.
That’s why this past weekend against Alaska Anchorage was so encouraging as the Chargers continue their six-game home stand this weekend against Lake Superior State.
On Friday, the Chargers were dominant, posting a 5-1 victory. The Chargers showcased their speed and stayed on their game plan. Even when it didn’t result in a goal, players such as Brennan Saulnier, who scored twice in the game, Tyler Poulsen, Josh Kestner, and Kurt Gosselin were causing the crowd to audibly ooh and ahh with their agile skating and puck work, getting around defenders and setting up solid scoring chances for themselves and their teammates.
The announced attendance of 3,128 was larger than any home game last season.
It was entertaining.
Jordan Uhelski makes a save while Cam Knight defends during Saturday’s game. (Photo by Todd Thompson)
Saturday’s game started the same way, but problems came late in the second period. A fracas broke out in the UAH end, resulting in numerous penalties on both sides but a big one on Saulnier, who got a five-minute major for roughing and a game misconduct. The Seawolves pounced with two power play goals and took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Recent history would have suggested that UAH would not have responded well to that adversity. But this time, the Chargers got back on their game plan, stayed composed in the third period, and let their play do the talking.
UAH capitalized on two power-play chances and tied the game. Kestner scored early in the third period (his second goal of the game), and Connor Merkley gets his first collegiate goal at the buzzer (for added effect). The crowd went wild twice: On the goal itself, and again after video replay confirmed it.
The game would officially result in a 3-3 tie. Even though Anchorage got the extra WCHA point in the shootout, memories were made for yet another 3,000-plus group in attendance, which is great for a college football Saturday.
It was entertaining.
Will Sterrett was in Huntsville on Saturday as he attempts to visit every WCHA rink for a game this season, including Fairbanks and Anchorage. You can follow his odyssey with the hashtag #ChasingMacNaughton. He’ll get to see UAH and UAA meet again in Anchorage on January 12.
Sterrett has already seen some amazing games already on his journey, and Saturday’s crazy finish was no different. During the delirium of the buzzer-beating, game-tying goal, he tweeted: “I am legit in tears right now.”
But more importantly:
Spoke with a number of people at UAH tonight who were at their first ever hockey game. All of them said they couldn't wait to come back. You made some new friends tonight, @uahhockey. #ChasingMacNaughton
Corbett said as much following Saturday’s game: “Homecoming weekend, a lot of fans, a lot of kids and their parents coming to a game for the first time — I don’t think anybody was let down. Anybody who stayed to the end both nights was not let down. Hopefully we’ll build on it.”
The Chargers still have issues to figure out as the season progresses, especially with a monster 12-game road swing following this home stand. But if this weekend was any indication, we’ve got a fun team to watch this season, win or lose.
The Chargers host Lake Superior State this Friday and Saturday, then Ferris State next week. Then they don’t return home until Jan. 26-27 against rival Bemidji State, the first of four home series over the last five weeks of the regular season. They’ll need that last home stand for the playoff push, which should make for some more entertaining hockey.
So come on down to the Von Braun Center this weekend. You might be surprised at the fun you’ll have.
Promotions this week: Free general admission for kids 12 and under, courtesy of Huntsville International Airport. On Friday, the first 500 fans receive the next set of UAH hockey trading cards, courtesy of Wells Fargo.
Blue Line Club lunch: The first Blue Line Club luncheon is Friday at noon in the Varsity Room at Spragins Hall on the UAH campus. Lawlers Barbecue will be catering an it is free to Blue Line Club members. Lake Superior State coach Damon Whitten and UAH coach Mike Corbett will be on hand to talk about this weekend’s series.
On Friday night, the Chargers showed a good crowd what they can do when things go right. On Saturday night, they showed what they can do when things go wrong. Both nights, they left entertained.
Connor Merkley’s goal with 0.9 seconds remaining completed a rally from a two-goal deficit as the Chargers tied Alaska Anchorage 3-3 on Saturday at the Von Braun Center. UAA won the second WCHA point in a shootout.
UAH (3-6-1 overall, 2-1-1 WCHA), after dominating in Friday’s 5-1 win in the series opener, got two goals by Josh Kestner and 31 saves by Jordan Uhelski.
But Alaska Anchorage (1-7-2, 1-2-1) had built its lead on three unanswered power play goals in the second period, two on a major penalty.
Still, the Chargers found a way to at least get a point in front of another good crowd for homecoming and military appreciation weekend, thanks to the freshman Merkley’s critical goal, his first at UAH.
“We were fighting the whole third period to get back into the game,” Merkley said. “We had a lot of good opportunities. We knew if we just stuck to it, we’d get a bounce.
“We had a couple of good keeps by the D-man and ran a normal play that had been working. It had just popped loose to me free in front of the net and I hammered it home.”
The announced attendance of 3,072 was excellent for a college football Saturday.
“The fans want wins, and so do we,” Kestner said. “The more times we win, the more fans we get. Coming out Friday night with a 5-1 win made our reputation pretty high. It was a bigger crowd than I thought tonight, but it was a great feeling. I love playing in front of my hometown. It was fun to play and I imagine it was fun to watch as well.”
“Homecoming weekend, a lot of fans, a lot of kids and their parents coming to a game for the first time — I don’t think anybody was let down,” UAH head coach Mike Corbett said. “Anybody who stayed to the end both nights was not let down. Hopefully we’ll build on it.”
Just like Friday night, the Chargers came out strong, dictating the action for the first 10 minutes.
On UAH’s first power play, Kestner fired a one-timer from the left circle to beat Olivier Mantha for the first goal of the game. It was Kestner’s fifth goal of the season, with Cam Knight’s pass to Kestner being his fourth assist. Tyler Poulsen also got his third assist of the year.
“I liked our start again,” Corbett said. “We did build on it (Friday’s win) and we were able to get a power play goal. Once again we were outshooting them pretty handily.
“We had a couple of game objectives as a team,” Kestner said. “One of those was to get the first goal, so to cross that off the list was nice.”
The second half of the first period, however, saw the Seawolves try to fight back as the Chargers made some sloppy turnovers. Jordan Uhelski was there to make saves and covers, including a point-blank stop on Austin Azurdia that almost tied the game.
The second period saw plenty of chances on both sides. But then late in the period, things went south for UAH fast.
Anchorage tied the game up at the 14:03 mark on the power play. Following a Tyler Poulsen tripping call, Nicolas Erb-Ekholm scored from the high slot.
With 2:53 left in the frame, a scrum in the corner of the UAH zone after the whistle, and Brennan Saulnier got a roughing major and a game misconduct. There were also offsetting penalties on UAH’s Richard Buri and UAA’s Corey Renwick.
Anchorage capitalized twice on the major power play. Austin Azurdia gave UAA the lead with 2:03 to go in the period, and Tad Kozun made it 3-1 Seawolves with 7.5 seconds left.
“We’re talking a lot about what you can control right now, and you can’t control the referees,” Corbett said. “As young players, they get consumed by something that they can’t control, and it showed in our penalty kill. We were standing right next to the guy that scored the goal in the back door twice. We weren’t dialed in, and that’s what led to their 3-1 lead after two.”
UAH weathered the rest of the power play to start the second, and then got started on a rally.
On the power play, Poulsen’s shot from the right circle rebounded to near the goal line, and Kestner took the puck with Mantha out of position and easily scored his second goal of the game with 15:24 to go.
“I had a nice dish to Poulsen, who I thought was going to bury it but it ended up landing right on my stick,” Kestner said. “So it was nice to get another one on the board.
“Our special teams had struggled for the past 20 reps or so. Now that we got one on the board, it definitely got everyone’s momentum and hype up.”
Then at the buzzer, during a 6-on-4 advantage with a power play and Uhelski pulled for the extra attacker, Merkley from the slot found the net for his first collegiate goal. Video replay confirmed the puck crossed the line at 0.9 seconds left, causing the crowd to erupt again as the game was tied at 3-3.
“We got back to controlling what we could control,” Corbett said. “We killed the last two minutes of that five-minute power play, then OK: We gotta go at ’em. And they just kind of sat back. We get a power play, we score on that power play.
“Just be resilient. We knew we were going to have to fight through adversity. This was adversity we created by ourselves and we fought through it. I’m proud of the kids, because maybe in years past, we don’t do that.”
“It was great to see that we could come in between the second and third, rally the troops, and throughout our leadership,” Merkley said. “We just stayed composed and we knew that if we stuck to the game plan and fought hard, we could battle the adversity and come back. That’s a great thing to see out of the team moving forward.”
UAH had a power play chance in overtime but could not score. The extra period ended resulting as an official 3-3 tie.
No scoring occurred during the 3-on-3 overtime period. Jeremiah Luedtke scored in the first round of the shootout to earn the extra point for the Seawolves, and Kestner could not answer it.
Uhelski finished with 31 saves on the night, and Mantha had 35.
The Chargers continue their six-game home stand with Lake Superior State next Friday and Saturday.
UAH (3-6-0 overall, 2-1-0 WCHA), which had won only two games at home last season, got two goals from Brennan Saulnier as the Chargers had 40 shots on goal against the Seawolves (1-7-1, 1-2-0).
“That’s as complete a game that we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said UAH head coach Mike Corbett, now in his fifth season. “It was nice to see. Power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5 … we dominated the first half of the game. We were able to get our shot totals and put some by their goalie.”
The first period was all Chargers, who dominated puck possession and were making plays that got the crowd into it. UAH had 24 shot attempts, and 19 were on net. UAA only had 10 attempts with four on goal.
Saulnier was seemingly everywhere, and he got UAH on the board early at 2:18 on the power play. He found a spot from the slot to beat UAA goaltener Olivier Mantha for his fifth goal of the season. He was assisted by Austin Beaulieu and Kurt Gosselin.
Mantha, a senior who known for his ability to keep the Seawolves in any game, was a big reason the Chargers’ lead wasn’t larger.
Saulnier struck again in the second, with a wrister from the left circle for a 2-0 UAH lead with 15:08 left. At six goals, Saulnier matches his season high in just nine games.
“For myself, our power play has really been clicking,” Saulnier said. “I’ve been finding the open areas and getting my shots off.
It was also the first time the Chargers scored the first goal of the game this season.
“It was nice to get the first one tonight and I felt like we were just rolling after that,” Saulnier said.
“That first goal was a big one for him, because he shows the poise,” Corbett said. “He outwaits the goalie and then he scores the goal.
“Our best players have to be the best players and he was one of them tonight.”
The Seawolves answered at 7:06 when UAA’s leading scorer Austin Azurdia fired a shot past Jordan Uhelski high from close range.
But any momentum the Seawolves may have gained did not last long. UAH regained its two-goal advantage at 10:30. Cam Knight’s doorstep shot led to a scramble in the UAA net. Beaulieu got a shot in, then Christian Rajic put in a rebound for a 3-1 lead. It was Rajic’s third goal of the season.
“We eliminated the big mistake tonight,” Corbett said. “Even when we made a mistake and they scored their goal, we were able to come right back with our third goal.”
UAH took a 4-1 lead when John Teets made a beautiful centering pass to Levi Wunder, who fired it from the slot for his first collegiate goal.
In the third period, Anchorage came out stronger and made Uhelski work a bit more. But he was up to the task, making saves and recovering rebounds. He finished with 16 saves on UAA’s 17 shots on goal.
“It’s tough when you don’t really get a lot of action during the game, you kind of lull a little bit,” Uhelski said. “Honestly, it’s just staying even keel the whole game, making sure I don’t get too high or too low, and when it was time to step up and do my part for the team, I was ready.
“It was just a battle in front. Obviously, I’m not the biggest guy, so I’ve got to be looking around, I’ve got to be moving, I’ve got to be really active as far as locating that puck and jumping on it. But my ‘D’ made it really easy for me because anytime there was a scrum they were clearing the guys out, and I just cover the puck.”
“We tried to play a little more cautious and sometimes that can be our Achilles’ heel when you let off and let them back in the game,” Saulnier said. “U-Haul played really well in that third period for us. He was our best player in the third period.”
Madison Dunn put in an empty-netter with 1:52 to go for the final 5-1 score and another eruption from the crowd, which was larger than any crowd last season.
“The crowd was amazing tonight. It was electric in there,” Saulnier said. “It was like having an extra guy on the ice all night. We fed off that.
“I really like our team this year. We work hard, got a good group, and I think we showed it tonight that we’re going to contend in the WCHA.”
Game two of the series is Saturday night at 7:07 p.m. at the VBC as homecoming an Military Appreciation Weekend continues.
Three stars of the game:
1. Brennan Saulnier, UAH (2 goals)
2. Austin Beaulieu, UAH (2 assists)
3. Connor Wood, UAH (2 assists)