Michigan Tech 3, UAH 0 — An Elegy

A light exists in Spring
Not present on the year
At any other period—
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary fields
That science cannot overtake
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn,
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

— Emily Dickinson, “A light exists in spring”

I won’t presume to speak for Michael, but come for the past four seasons, we’d hit the first weekend in February and I’d just kind of be done with the season.  In those four years, UAH won just nine Division I games.  If you remove those four seasons from consideration, the worst four-year stretch for the Chargers in Division I comes in the team’s first four years at 45.  If you limit it to modern D-I, it’s 36, but five of those 36 wins make possible both of UAH’s NCAA tournament appearances.

I don’t think that anyone reading these words needs much of a reminder, but UAH went 2-35-1 last year, setting an NCAA record for most losses in a Division I season.  That record is likely to stand until the NCAA again increases the number of games to be played, because UAH used Alaska exemptions to add four games to their schedule.  But if you’ll remember, that team never quit, even though you’d have understood if they had.  They won their second game in their 35th contest of the season.

This team certainly never quit, too.  Did they give up 77 shots on goal last night to Tech in an amazing, epic game?  They sure did.  If you had told me at noon on Friday that UAH wouldn’t score a goal all weekend, I would’ve believed you.  The Chargers scored one goal in their last trip to Houghton.  And if you’d told me that the Huskies wouldn’t score more than one goal in a period, I’d have thought that the Chargers had a shot at winning one of those games.  But if you’d told me that sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Qué.) would have to make 118 saves on the weekend, well … that wouldn’t sound like UAH was in those games.

That happened.

It’s playoff hockey, and strange things can happen, but it’s safe to say that the Chargers are huge underdogs in this series. UAH is the seventh seed, and Michigan Tech is the second seed.

All-time series: The Chargers are 0-6 all-time against the Huskies, and are 0-4 in Houghton. UAH was blown out in both games there in late January this season by scores of 5-0 and 11-1. In 2013-14, the Chargers lost 4-1 and 10-4 at Houghton. That’s a combined score of 30-6 for the Huskies on their home ice.

Coach Corbett famously went around town writing 16-1 the week after the Tech debacle.

We had no idea how new it would be.

UAH had a harder time tonight, taking seven minor penalties after just nine the night before in twice the time.  (Freshman forward Brennan Saulnier‘s [Halifax, Nova Scotia] major penalty and game misconduct count as two separate penalties.  Saulnier’s third game misconduct of the season resulted in a one-game suspension from the NCAA.)  Where the Chargers were perfect on the PK on Friday night — which seems obvious — they were human on Saturday, allowing two power play goals that proved to be the difference in the game.

The troika of senior forward Blake Hietala (Houghton, Mich.), senior forward, co-captain, and WCHA player of the year Tanner Kero (Hancock, Mich.), and sophomore forward Tyler Heinonen (Delano, Minn.) combined for both power play markers.  Hietala pleased the home fans in his final game, scoring the game-winning goal, his fifth of the year at 14:35 of the first.  The Huskies struck again 4:43 into the second, with Kero also going out in style with his 19th geno.

The only time that Guerriero (42 saves) looked moderately human was on freshman defenseman Mark Auk‘s (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) goal, a point shot that fluttered through traffic but that Garrison Guerriero had been flinging into the corner all weekend.

The Chargers were nearly even in SOG in the second (11-12), all the more impressive for the Huskies having 1:14 of power play time.  And when Kero took a high-sticking penalty just :04 into the third period, you thought that the boys in blue might have had a shot.  But junior netminder Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont., which we all know is a decent hockey town) picked up his second shutout of the weekend and sixth of the season, a result that you’d expect from the goaltender for the WCHA first team.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

— Christina Rossetti, “Uphill”

“Of labor you shall find the sum.”  That’s very true of this team.  It’s important to remember that the Chargers quadrupled their win total in 2014-15.  Adding more than five wins is very difficult in college hockey.  If you think that UAH can add five more wins next year, that’s a good run at home ice.  Don’t you think that’s doable?  If you watched this weekend’s games and can forget the final six of the regular season, you can see that it’s there.  The defensive core is there, and they’re starting to make the good moves coming out of the zone.  The freshmen forwards show all the signs.

Every time I run into a player alumnus, we talk about the players on the team and how the talent level is rising.  They cannot stop talking about the freshmen, specifically guys like forwards Saulnier, Josh Kestner (Huntsville), and Max McHugh (Seattle, Wash.).  The freshmen tallied 61 points this season; UAH scored just 41 goals last year with 72 assists for 113 points.

Let’s talk about Guerriero for just a second.  Last year he was 1-17-0, 3.90, and .905.  This year, he’s 8-18-3, 2.56, and .928.  That .928 is the second-best in the Chargers’ Division I era, second behind Scott Munroe’s (2006, Moose Jaw, Sask.) .930 mark in 2004-05 and ahead of Cam Talbot (2010, Caledonia, Ont.)’s .925 in 2009-10; the mark is fourth all-time for UAH.  His .9184 career mark is .0001 behind Munroe and .0092 ahead of Talbot.

From a numbers perspective, Guerriero is on par with Talbot’s career progression from the big man’s sophomore to junior seasons — but he never had a rough freshman year like Talbot did (1-10-0, 4.63, .860).  Talbot’s record in 2008-09 was 2-16-3, and his final year was 12-18-3.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

— Langston Hughes, “Dreams”

For the last two years, it’s been about hanging on; next year, it’s going to be going forward.  I truly believe that this team can get home ice in 2016.  That took 29 points this year and 30 the year before; we had five last year and 15 this year.  Bemidji State went from last-in last year to home ice this year.  Four of the final six games were winnable — that would get UAH to 23.

Last year, UAH was outscored 166-41 (-3.29 G/GM); this year, 121-62 (-1.55 G/GM).  Last year, UAH lost by three or more goals 25 times; this year, just 12.

Hold fast to dreams / For when dreams go / Life is a barren field / Frozen with snow.

Dream big.  The worst appears to be behind us.  It took Danton Cole three years to get to double-digits in wins; it’s fairly certain that Mike Corbett will get there, too.

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