Dec 162014
 

UAH’s second season in the WCHA is almost half over, and I’ll join USCHO’s Jack Hittinger, who has told everyone what he’s learned so far.  After this weekend’s non-conference tilts with UNO, UAH’s remaining Division I games are against WCHA foes.  UAH is 2-10-0 in its first 12 conference games, a record that ties last season’s conference win total.  If the goal was “be better this year than last year”, UAH has succeeded.

The 2014-15 WCHA looks like it has two tiers: the triumvirate of Tech, Mankato, and BG, followed by everyone else.  UAH has played all three of those teams so far, and despite having home advantage in four of those games, UAH went 0-6-0 and was outscored 25-7.  That’s the bad part.  Worse, UAH still has to travel to both Tech (1/30-31) and BG (3/6-7).

The good part is that UAH does not play Mankato again.  Better, UAH’s 18-41 GF-GA differential means that the Chargers are just 11-16 in the remaining six games to this point.  Better still, with 16 league games left, the Chargers have 12 more cracks at the non-elite teams.

Yes, the playoffs are still very much in play, especially with Alaska being ineligible.

When I look at the league, it’s something like the following:

1a-1b Tech-Mankato

3 (close to the #1s) BG

4 Motte State University (and there’s a big gap to here)

5 Northern Dahlströhm University

6 Rodent State

Alaska

7 Anchorage (and there’s a bit of a gap to here)

8 UAH (and a bit of a gap to here, to be honest)

9 LSSU

Yes, I have the Lakers behind the Chargers.  The teams split in Huntsville, and the UAH loss was marred by two major penalties that kept the Chargers from having much in the way of even-strength play.  The next night, the boys poured it on and won going away in the first home win in some time.  While you can argue that UAH benefits from home ice advantage in a way that only the Alaska teams do, the matter is that UAH could and should have won both contests.

The Lakers have played two more league contests and are 3-11-0.  UAH could easily split any of their 12 contests against non-powers and be even.  Worse still for the Lakers, they play at Mankato, at BG, and at Alaska for their big road trips the rest of the season.  They have a shorter trek to Marquette for a weekend with the Wildcats and home contests with Bemidji, us, and Ferris.  That is not an easy slate.  UAH has four home weekends left, all of them with winnable games; LSSU has just three.  The teams each play two elite teams on the road, but the Lakers also have that trek to Fairbanks.

With Alaska’s woes, UAH’s road to the playoff runs right through the Soo, where the two will tangle on Valentine’s Day weekend.

With Mathias Dahlströhm banged up in Marquette, the Wildcats fall behind Ferris in my rankings.  Both teams are powered by their goaltending.  The Wildcats’ one bad weekend — 10 GA against the Falcons — came when Dahlstrohm wasn’t healthy; in their other 16 league contests, they conceded just 16 goals.  While UAH picked up a split in Big Rapids, the Chargers’ 3-2 win counts for 21% of the goals the Bulldogs have allowed in league play.  The Chargers have also played a non-conference series with the Wildcats, tying 1-1 and losing 4-1.  In short, the Chargers have a puncher’s chance against both teams, and they get six more cracks at them, four of those in Huntsville.  Figure that UAH could take two of those, and you have UAH up to eight league points.

The Chargers’ six remaining WCHA contests feature the teams in the middle of the remainder of the pack.  The two Alaska schools come to Huntsville, while the Chargers return to the scene of the crime in Brrrrmidji.  While the Chargers were stout on Friday night, Saturday night in Fairbanks just wasn’t any fun.  A one-goal weekend just won’t cut it, but the boys have also had just one off weekend all season, with finals superseding hockey for the weekend prior to the longest road trip in the WCHA.

It’s hard to know what to make of the Seawolves.  After a very strong start to the season, they took care of business against the Lakers at home; fought gamely against the Huskies in Houghton; got creamed against the Bulldogs in Big Rapids, letting the home side nearly double their season goals output; and split with Northern and Bemidji (two ties) at home to end their season.  When they come to town, the green and gold will have not played competitive hockey for a month.

Then there are the buck-teeth rodents.  They’ve had the sixth-toughest schedule in Division I so far, with (all rankings at-the-time) #2 North Dakota (home-and-home split, each road team winning), #1 Minnesota (swept in MSP), #16 Alaska (home sweep), #13 Minnesota State (swept in Mankato), #5 Michigan Tech (swept in Bemidji), #18 Bowling Green (swept in Ohio), #16 St. Cloud (home split), two ties at Anchorage, and a home split with a Northern Michigan team that had just fallen out of the rankings and didn’t have Dahlströhm.   That’s a tough row to hoe.

UAH is lucky in that they’ll face the Beavs after the home team will have had a month away from competitive hockey and a weekend after the Chargers face the Seawolves at home.  While it would be better if Bemidji had some bus legs to go with the rust, we can hope that the rust is enough.  Neither squad seems likely to give an inch in a rivalry that is being reborn.

Michael and I talked before the season, and we figured that the Chargers could win 6-8 games this year, with the real step forward coming next season.  That looks to be the case.  UAH can conceivably win one or two of the first four league games coming out of the break, one or two of the remaining four against NMU, a split in the Soo, and one or two of the four at home against Ferris and Alaska.  That puts the Chargers at anywhere between six and nine wins, and that should be good enough to make the playoffs, especially given the Lakers’ remaining schedule.  They will need home splits every weekend and a split in their series with Northern to stay apace, but this is a team that’s already lost 17 games this season.  Laker fans, we know the pain you’re having.  Stay the course.

You may say, “What difference do the playoffs have?  We’re just going to play Mankato or Tech, and they’ve destroyed us.”  But I say that playing in the postseason is good experience for the boys.  Win-or-go-home is a great way to play, and those are the kinds of experiences that they’ll need in 15-16 and 16-17 when we’re looking to build on the season and hopefully make the NCAAs.  (You laugh, but would you have expected the 2006-07 or 2009-10 teams to do that?)

UAH has exceeded six wins just once since Doug Ross retired in 2007, when UAH won 12 games in a season powered by Cam Talbot.  Cam’s major stats that year were 2.61 GAA and .925 SV%.  Sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Que.) is 2.44 and .934.  Folks, we’re just not that far away.  It starts with putting more shots on the net, cutting the penalties, and continuing to play strongly on special teams.

Let’s end with a song that’s appropriate for a blue-collar hockey team.

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