Michigan Tech 4, UAH 2

UAH (3-10-2, 2-7-0 WCHA) was perfect on special teams on tonight, killing all seven Michigan Tech (11-2-0, 9-2-0 WCHA) penalties, scoring on their own power play, and potting a short-handed goal just 1:08 into the game.  But sharp-angle shots and relentless forechecking by the #6/5 team in Division I saw the Huskies come away with a narrow 4-2 win (on an empty netter) in front of 1,880 fans — many of whom were clad in Black and Gold — at Propst Arena in Huntsville, Ala.

Senior forward Craig Pierce (Roswell, Ga.) got the crowd fired up just a minute into the game, breaking out of the Chargers’ end with the puck and slashing through the slot.  He whiffed on his first shot, but the puck stayed with him and he slipped one past Husky junior goaltender Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont.) for a 1-0 lead.  The goal was Pierce’s third of the season and the Chargers’ third SHG of the 2014-15 campaign.  Assists were credited to sophomore forward Brent Fletcher (4th of season, New Westminster, B.C.) and sophomore forward Cody Marooney (3rd, Eden Prairie, Minn.).

Tech freshman forward Dylan Steman (Hanover, Minn.) would knot the game at one with his second collegiate goal, scoring when a delayed penalty call 0n freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) let the Huskies use their speed advantage to slice along the boards in front of the Chargers’ bench and let Steman find a pass from junior forward C.J. Eick (Appleton, Wisc.).  The assist was Eick’s first of the year.

The Chargers would then kill Champagne’s penalty — we’re told that goals on delayed penalties do not vacate the penalty as they do in most leagues — and one by sophomore defenseman Brandon Carlson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) just 2:35 later.  In all, the Chargers killed four penalties in the first period, and it felt like the Chargers were doing well to stay with the pack.  Optimism reigned that the penalties would slow.

Indeed, that optimism was met, with the Chargers committing just three penalties for the rest of the game, one coming in the late minute when Fletcher was whistled for charging.  Unfortunately for UAH, time at even strength did not lead to many shots on goal, as Tech showed their bona fides as a top-flight team.  The Huskies took a 2-1 lead 2:21 into the second period when freshman forward Alex Gillies (Vernon, B.C.) scored on a low-angle shot from the left circle that beat Charger sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Que.) high over the right shoulder.

The Chargers registered just four shots on goal in the second frame against 12 for the Huskies.  Lest you be worried that the overall shot differential of 34-14 was influenced by killing seven penalties, the Huskies landed just seven shots on goal in those opportunities.

One Charger shot did find twine, as senior forward Jeff Vanderlugt (Richmond Hill, Ont.) pounded a puck home off of a feed from junior forward Jack Prince (Leicester, England).  The goal was Vanderlugt’s team-leading fourth of the season, with Prince recording his fifth assist (and team-lead-tying seventh point).  Freshman defenseman Brandon Parker (Fairbault, Minn.) notched his team-leading seventh assist of the year.

The Chargers didn’t keep the game level for long, as sophomore defenseman Shane Hanna (Salmon Arm, B.C.) winged a puck at the net from an even steeper angle than Gillies, beating Guerriero (3-6-1, 30 sv) to put the Huskies up again.  The Chargers would kill two more penalties in the remaining minutes of the second, but the visitors carried a one-goal lead into the locker room for the second intermission.

UAH came out stronger in the third, bringing more pressure and getting deeper into the Husky defense.  But Phillips (11-2-0, 12 sv) stopped all six Charger shots on goal, keeping his teammates clean on the defensive end.  Assistant captain and sophomore defenseman Cliff Watson (Appleton, Wisc.) ended the Chargers’ attempts at a comeback, lofting a puck that rolled past a Charger lunging to swipe it into the corner.  Fletcher’s final penalty with :37.5 left ended any chance that the Chargers had in coming back.

Mike Corbett tells me all the time that there are no moral victories, and he’s right.  But I heard a number of people — my old broadcast partner Mike Anderson being one of them — tell me that they were proud to see the strides that this team had made.  This wasn’t last year’s blowout against top team St. Cloud State.  This was a solid effort from a team in the bottom half of the WCHA against a team at the top of the league.  You’re not going to win a lot of those games, but it’s not unreasonable to think that the Chargers couldn’t come out and win this one tomorrow night.  We’ll see if that happens, even though there will be few paying attention given that we’re up against the Iron Bowl.  Oh well.

Special teams notes

UAH is now 7th in the nation in PIM/G at 17.1, less than a minor a game out of 2nd and just a major behind Cornell in 1st (22.4), who have played just eight contests.  The Chargers’ combined special teams are still #2 in the country, with a 64.0% rate that comes in just 1.0% behind #1 Harvard.

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