This isn’t your typical season preview — that will have to wait until I have time to go through 2-3 hours of tape from interviews of Mike Corbett, Gavin Morgan, Brent Fletcher, Chad Brears, Frank Misuraca, Max McHugh, and Carmine Guerriero. [Sorry, I’m certifying to be an ISS Flight Controller, and, oh, I got married on the 20th.]
But what this little missive will be is a treatise on why I’m bullish on the 2015-16 Chargers.
When you’re starting from scratch, your most important leaders are your coaches. Corbett had a great assistant in this regard in Morgan, who’s been with UAH since Chris Luongo’s first season. But Corbett also has his own way of doing things, and so he and Morgee (and Matty Thomas) were really the leaders of that first team and somewhat the second.
Now the Chargers have leaders of their own wearing sweaters and pants and skates and buckets. Junior forward Brent Fletcher (New Westminster, British Columbia) is the captain this year. I remember talking to Corbs after an embarrassing 6-1 loss to Bemidji to start the 13-14 campaign, looking for positives. He responded, “Well, there’s Fletcher. That guy can … play for me anytime, anywhere, no matter the score.” I filed that away.
Fletch isn’t a finesse guy. He was 1/3 of last season’s Bulldog Line (miss you, Reider and Pierce), a unit that harassed opposing top lines and kept them mostly in check. He’s also a guy in the tradition of latter-day UAH captains: from Scott Kalinchuk forward to Ryan Burkholder, Curtis deBruyn, and Doug Reid, our leadership has started with two-year guys who focused on the defensive side of things. In this way, Fletcher will set the tone.
Senior defenseman Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) does all the little things, knows who he is as a player, and generally stays within himself. Yeah, he gets timely goals, but that’s not his only thing. And senior forward Chad Brears (Cold Lake, Alb.) started to come into his own offensively, going 3-12—15 while mostly playing on McHugh’s right wing and at the point on the power play. While Brears did halve his goal mark from the previous year, his junior career may prove illustrative given his final year with Merritt in the BCHL.
The Chargers only dressed 13 forwards in 14-15. Both senior defenseman Anderson White (Caledon, Ont.) and junior defenseman Brandon Carlson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) got time at left wing last year, using good speed and big bodies to spice things up when needed. Depth at forward was a problem due to eligibility issues and injury, and using the big defensemen up front stretched the depth on the back line, too.
Depth should not be a problem in 15-16. The Chargers field 16 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders this year. Players won’t be able to cheat on a game, knowing that they’ll be in the lineup the next night regardless. We won’t take our third goaltender on a few road trips because we’re so thin that it just makes sense to have the insurance in net and reward a guy who busts his ass in practice. When it comes down to it, there will be seven guys in the stand at every UAH home game, and when the team hits the road, five guys will be left watching the games on the Internet and doing their homework in peace and quiet.
Honestly, given the depth issues from last year, it’s a wonder that the team won 300% more games than the previous season.
Look, there’s not much left to write about CG35. There’s the Tech game, the Mankato game, and CHN making him their preseason 2nd team All-America. I interviewed the junior from Montréal, and if anything, his intensity level is up. He knows who he is. He knows that people knock him because he’s 5’10” and not 6’4″. He knows that people may think that his stats are inflated because he’s played on weak offensive teams that play a lot in their end. I don’t think that he cares too much about any of that, other than to use it as motivation. He is relentless, he is fearless, and he’s already thinking about the next save.
Look, there’s still relatively few places to go offensively in 15-16 but up. UAH was 57th in college hockey in scoring last year, potting a paltry 1.63 G/GM. They gave up 3.18 G/GM, but those stats are a bit distorted by allowing 16 of their 121 goals in a weekend that we’d all like to forget (but that Corbs will make sure that we remember) at Tech. If the boys can get the puck out of their own end, not only will they have more chances to score, but they’ll make Guerriero’s job easier, and fewer SOG at him should lead to fewer goals. Take that weekend out for UAH, and they gave up 2.94 G/GM, which is still in the bottom third in college hockey but is something to build upon.
Sophomore forward McHugh (Seattle) was everything that we’d hoped that he would be as a freshman, becoming the team’s first 20-point scorer since Matt Baxter (Courtice, Ont.) in 2009-10 and first 10+ goal scorer since Matt Sweazey (Toronto) in 2008-09. He’ll anchor a top line with (presumably) Brears and whoever has a good scoring touch combined with some speed on the left wing. That might be freshman forward Jetlan Houcher (Paradise Valley, Alb.), who scorched the AJHL for the last two seasons with point-a-game totals and a combined 70 goals, or it could be freshman forward Tyler Poulsen (Arvada, Colo.), who sat out last season but was 29-32—61 in 56 GP with Topeka in the NAHL in 13-14.
The second line may be a bit of a work in progress. Will sophomore forward Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia) corral his talent and spend more time using his mitts than his hits? Can senior forward Jack Prince (London) overcome slow feet to stay on a second line and use his heavy shot to create chances? Will sophomore forward Josh Kestner (Huntsville) take all the lessons learned about playing in D-I — a huge jump up from the GOJHL in Junior B — and find his scoring touch? Will any of the other freshmen wrest away ice time?
I feel like a third line is a pretty easy pick, with Fletcher being joined by freshman Adam Wilcox (Alpharetta, Ga.) as the required Atlanta-area checking forward. That could be rounded out by junior Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) or another freshman, perhaps big-bodied Hunter Anderson (Savage, Minn.). I’ve got some ideas as to what to name this third line. We’ll see.
If UAH can get two or three 10-goal scorers, they’ll be back to 2006-07 levels, and Guerriero is better than the goaltending array from that season.
I picked UAH fourth in the preseason media poll, and that wasn’t me being flippant.