UAH v. NMU: Excitement and Dread

[Note: This originally appeared on the USCHO Fan Forum, and I’ve modified it slightly for publication here.  —GFM]

I’ve gotta admit that I’m going into this weekend’s series with Northern Michigan with equal parts anticipation and dread. Which UAH team is this, really? Is it the team that started 3-2-1, or is it the team that’s run 0-6-0?

Well, let’s look at it:
· Home split with Connecticut: currently 53rd in CHN’s KRACH at 21.1 (UAH is 51st at 23.5)
· Home loss and tie to Anchorage: 30th at 98.3 (essentially NCAA average)
· Road sweep at Lake Superior: 48th at 31.4

· Home swept by Tech: 22nd at 149.9
· Road swept at BG: 26th at 128.8
· Home swept by Bemidji: 41st at 51.8

While it’s a little reductive to say that we’ve had success against the teams that are roughly on our level (per KRACH) and, well, nada against teams above us, the thing is this: is Bemidji really that much better than UAH? They came into town without a defined #1 goalie, weren’t scoring outside of Gerry Fitzgerald, and are still struggling with the loss of their three top D. And the UAH team that started out scoring 3.0 goals/game —*remember, last year’s team was 1.63 G/GM, and 2013-14 was 1.08 — scored two goals on Bemidji.

Then there’s the fact that Carmine isn’t at the level he was last year and Matty Larose has rounded into a solid 1B, shedding nearly 1.5 GAA in this his junior season.  Last year’s team knew that Carmine was their guy, and that they could trust him to handle the 35+ shots a night.  Now that they’re not giving up that many, things have changed.  Why?  I do not know.

Shots on goal against are down from 41.1 a game (!!!) two years ago and 37.6 last year (!!!) to just 28.9 this year, and the margin is just 4.4 a game. But again, UAH has been outshot 40-18, 30-18, 28-18, 24-20, and 26-17 in five of their last six games (out-shooting BG 36-28 in the second contest).

After starting off the 2015-16 season as a disciplined team (less Saulnier, who’s pretty much still good for one head-shaker a game), the penalties are piling up. UAH has been near the top in penalty minutes per game for their entire time in D-I, and we’re earning that reputation again this season (14.1 PIM/GM, 11th nationally). It’s come lately, too: 27, 23, 10, 33, 4, and 8 in their last six games.

(Hey, if you want one nice takeaway from the Bemidji series, it’s that we took six penalties all weekend.)

So what team shows up this weekend? Is it the team that plays within itself, trusts the system and the people in it, and tries to play smart hockey? Or is it the team that lacks discipline and can’t maintain possession?

I think that they need smart hockey, short passes, good pressure, and being willing to take the shot when it’s even sorta there.

This team is too damn good to be 3-8-1. Are they as good as they were in those first six games? Maybe not. Are they as bad as they have been in the last six? I don’t think so. As I harp on those six games, it’s important to note that the second Tech game and both BG games were one-goal losses, including an OT on Friday night in Ohio.

But the results just aren’t there, and my enthusiasm after that emphatic effort in the Soo — and from the beginning of the season — has really waned.  Split with BSU and the Chargers are 4-7-1, and sweeping the Environmental Terrorists would’ve made the boys 5-6-1.  In this WCHA, .500 hockey is enough to scrap for home ice.  I thought that we were there. Maybe we’ll get there, but man, it has to start tonight.

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