UAH 4, Air Force 2

It had been a year since the Chargers had taken a lead into an intermission and won the game — last year’s win over Bemidji.  And yet the Chargers went into the second intermission having taken a strong hold on their game against the United States Air Force Academy at the Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo, on Friday night.

After the Falcons opened scoring with a fluky goal where sophomore netminder Carmine Guerriero‘s (Montréal, Que.) clearing attempt bounced off a Charger defenseman and onto the stick of junior forward Max Hartner (Greenwood Village, Colo.), UAH knotted the game five minutes later when freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) picked up a puck on the left point and fired it past Falcon sophomore netminder Chris Truehl (Stoughton, Wisc.).

The Chargers were strong with puck possession in the second frame, edging the Falcons 10-9 in shots on goal while giving up three power play opportunities to the home squad.  Junior defenseman Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) received an outlet pass from freshman forward Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia), charging down the right side and ripping a shot from just inside the top of the right circle to push UAH ahead 2-1 with a little over half of the game gone.

The Falcons zoomed out to begin the third, forechecking hard and pressuring the puck deep into the Chargers’ end.  The Chargers met that intensity, but Air Force knotted the game at two when senior forward Cole Gunner (Richfield, Minn.) took a fine feed from senior forward Chad Demers (Grafton, N.D.) along the blue line to the top of the right circle.  Gunner skated into the slot and ripped a puck just under the crossbar and past Guerriero (24 sv, 1-3-1) with 9:51 remaining in regulation.

There was no apparent nervousness on Mike Corbett’s bench, and UAH played with purpose and pressure.  And then …

Freshman forward Josh Kestner‘s (Huntsville) second goal of the season came at just the right time, spurring the Chargers to push even harder while grounding the Falcons and Truehl (2-6-0, 20 sv).  Frank Serratore called his timeout and no doubt looked at his protégé a couple dozen feet to his left.  “Is he really going to beat me the first time he faces me?”

Corbett is now 2-3-0 against Serratores.

Junior forward Jack Prince (London) scored the empty-net goal on what was perhaps an ill-advised clearing of the puck 190 feet down the ice.  But they don’t ask how — they ask how many, and it’s Prince’s first goal of the year.

So let’s look at this.  There are positives here, and not just the first win of the year (although Lord knows that’s awesome).  But here’s what happened:

  • Puck pressure was really strong all game, and even if the Herd didn’t keep possession of the puck at all times and spent most of its time with the puck around the boards, the fact is that UAH was in the offensive ice for far more time than we’ve seen all season.
  • Guerriero and his teammates shrugged off a gaffe that led to a fluke goal.  Let’s be honest: last year’s team might have crumpled under that weight.  Instead, they tightened things back up, played with purpose and confidence, and took the game back to the Falcons.
  • The movement of the puck on the power play was really good, especially at the points.  Champagne’s shot was just the kind of thing that we’ve been seeing from UAH defensemen all year.  In fact, six of UAH’s fourteen goals come from blueliners: Misuraca with three, Brandon Carlson (Huntingon Beach, Calif.) with two, and Champagne’s goal tonight.  With the forwards struggling to score — only Kestner has multiple goals — the goalies need support from somewhere, and they’re getting it from the guys closest to them.
  • Misuraca’s goal came on a nice breakout.  Rather than forcing the rush up ice the way some of his compatriots do, he saw that he had space and took a feed from Saulnier.  Misuraca was looking to pass to the center of the ice after crossing into the offensive zone, but when there weren’t any good lanes available, he took the shot.  That’s the kind of play that we haven’t seen much of from the Chargers for the last two years.  Last year, we would’ve been indecisive and lost our speed advantage while either taking a poor shot or making an ill-advised pass into someone’s feet.
  • Kestner notching his second goal is big.  Two goals in nine games puts him close to double-digit pace; no Charger has potted 10+ goals since Matt Sweazey (Toronto, Ont., 12 goals) in 2008-09.  Kestner scored goals in bunches last year, but the question was there: would statistics in the GOJHL transfer well to NCAA Division I?  It may not be a jump, but his performance so far is a step up.  No pressure, Kesty. (Get a goal at home next weekend, okay?)
  • Guerriero was sharp despite not seeing 40+ shots.  26 shots on goal was the second-fewest that he’s faced in his career, bested only by his first home start in a 1-0 loss to Bemidji State.  The coaching staff really likes to argue that they have two equal goalies, but it’s starting to look like the little guy may be pulling ahead.  His .934 SV% is well ahead of sophomore goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, B.C., .909), and his GAA of 2.57 is a good bit better than his counterpart’s 4.00.  I certainly expect that the rotation will stay in place, and there’s no doubt that Larose is one heck of a goalie.  (In fact, my bet in the long run is that he’ll be the better college goaltender.)
  • Not only did the team get to carry a lead into intermission, but they held it for half a period — and then didn’t back down after going back level.  I can tell you nothing else about the game than that, and you’d be happy.

But I’ll only really be happy with a sweep, and I’m betting that’s true for everyone inside that locker room.

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