Michigan Tech 5, UAH 2

The UAH Chargers (3-11-2, 2-8-0 WCHA) were perfect again on the penalty kill, stopping the Michigan Tech Huskies (12-2-0, 10-2-0 WCHA) on all five opportunities.  Unfortunately, the Chargers couldn’t reprise last night’s perfect special teams performance, falling to the #6/5 team in the country by a 5-2 score, the final marker being an empty-netter.

The Huskies went up early when senior forward and co-captain Tanner Kero (Hancock, Michigan) scored fifth goal of the season unassisted as he and his teammates crashed the net minded by sophomore goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, B.C.).  The Huskies kept up the pressure for the remainder of the period, outshooting the home squad 14-3.  The Chargers’ penalty killers were stout in defense of their net when sophomore defenseman Brandon Carlson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) went off for holding at 14:54.

The Chargers’ power play proved unable to the task early in the second, with two consecutive minor power plays coming off of a high-sticking minor on senior forward David Johnstone (Grande Ledge, Mich.) at 7:06 and hooking by Chris Leibinger (Saginaw, Mich.) at 9:06.  The Chargers again struggled with the pace, being outshot 12-5 in the middle frame.

Carlson atoned for his earlier sins late in the 2nd, ripping in a shot off of the faceoff past Tech junior goalie Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont.).  Carlson’s goal was his third on the season, and he was assisted by freshman forward Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia), who marked his sixth assist on the year.

Unfortunately for UAH, the momentum was short-lived.  Carlson went to the box for tripping just :19 after his goal (and oddly 19:50 after his first-period infraction), but his teammates again picked up the pace, limiting grade A chances for the Huskies.

The Huskies would pull back ahead 1:08 after the Chargers returned to full strength when junior defenseman Walker Hyland (Woodbury, Minn.) picked up the puck just above the dot in the right-wing circle and ripped it through a forest of bodies in front of Larose (0-5-1, 32 sv) to move the score to 2-1.  After that point, the Huskies would never trail again.

The Michiganders took it up a notch when the Kero-Petan-Gould line struck again.  The trio were each +3 on the evening, with each netting a goal.  It was junior forward and assistant captain Alex Petan‘s (Delta, B.C.) turn with just :38.5 in the 2nd, ripping a shot from the high slot that came to him because of the relentless pressure of his line.  Petan’s shot froze Larose, with the missile rising over his shoulder to the top shelf.

Petan would give the Chargers a chance to narrow the game 1:12 into the third when Petan was whistled for a hooking minor.  A tripping minor by Saulnier 1:25 later negated the advantage, however, and the Chargers would have to wait another 4:20 for some signs of life — other than sophomore forward Matt Salhany‘s (Warwick, R.I.) Brian-Rolston-like shorthanded dash into a slapshot from the right-wing dot.

The Chargers were pressing from around the 6:40 mark.  Senior defenseman Ben Reinhardt (Arnprior, Ont.) fed a D-to-D pass to freshman defenseman Brandon Parker (Faribault, Minn.), who ripped a slapshot so hard that he broke his stick.  Instead of Parker retrieving a stick, junior defenseman Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) swapped into the game and skated to the top of the RW circle.  After Reinhardt kept the puck in, he moved it closer in to freshman forward Max McHugh (Seattle, Wash.), who saw Misuraca near the blue line with time and space.  Receiving the pass, Frank edged closer to the center of the ice, wound up, and fired through traffic and past Phillips (12-2-0, 13 sv).  Misuraca’s goal was his fourth of the year, and it was the fifth assist for McHugh and first for Reinhardt.  McHugh’s marker would push him to a team-leading eight points.

At that point, Phillips left the net for an equipment malfunction with his pads, giving sophomore goaltender Matt Wintjes (Holland Landing, Ont.) his first game action of the season.  Phillips returned quickly and would proceed to stop all five shots he saw for the remainder of the game.

Junior forward Malcolm Gould (North Vancouver, B.C.) gave the Huskies some breathing room, potting his fifth goal of the season at 6:57 of the third on an assist from Kero.  While the Huskies would give the Chargers some life a minute later when Johnstone took a slashing penalty, the blue and white would not raise their sticks in celebration.

The last gasp for the Chargers came with just 1:51 left in regulation when Petan took an interference penalty.  UAH coach Mike Corbett called timeout and pulled Larose for a sixth skater.  The Chargers held the puck in for a while, but senior forward Blake Hietala (Houghton, Mich.) made his hometown team happy, potting a short-handed, empty net goal at 18:56.  Matching minors to Leibinger and Carlson at 19:24 finished the scoresheet.

The series in a nutshell: a decided speed and skill advantage by the Huskies, who drew penalties from the Chargers when they were afraid of being beaten; strong penalty killing (12-for-12 on the weekend); and the boys hanging in while being outshot 34-14 and 37-15.  UAH had a litmus test this weekend: how would it fare against one of the top two teams in the league in their own building?  This wasn’t a weekend like the one earlier this season in Mankato, where the Mavericks out-shot UAH 57-18 and 41-9 on the way to a sweep.  Given that the Huskies played the Mavs last weekend to two one-goal games, 2-1 and 3-2, you can sorta hand-wave a transitive theory and show how the Chargers have grown as the season has gotten along.

As I left the arena, I chatted with some Tech fans who’d made it down for the games.  One of them said, “You’ll be in the playoffs if you keep playing like this.”  While the Chargers are tied for 7th in the league, they’ve played more league games (10) than any of the other three teams at four points (8, with Alaska down 3-1 to Northern as I finish this recap).  This makes it harder for UAH to keep pace.

The Chargers have played four of their six games against the cream of the WCHA, with a return trip to Houghton at the end of January.  BG is definitely up there as well, and the Chargers have to go on the road to face the Falcons to end the season in what very well could be a trip for a playoff seed.  UAH has to do well against old pal Lance West and his Alaska Nanooks both in two weeks and when the kids come from Fairbanks to Huntsville in late February.  The Chargers also host the Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage in the first home series of 2015.  Two wins in the next four league tilts would buoy any playoff hopes.

The Chargers are off next weekend, as finals are this next week at the University.  They will next play Alaska in Fairbanks at 10:07 p.m. starts.  We’ll have coverage then, but it could be slow here this week while Michael and I take a bit of a breather.

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