It may be just the first game, but the Chargers took a step toward establishing their presence they have missed at Von Braun Center.
UAH opened its home season with dazzling plays and timely goals, entertaining a homecoming and Military Appreciation Weekend crowd of 3,128, in a 5-1 victory over Alaska Anchorage on Friday night.
UAH (3-6-0 overall, 2-1-0 WCHA), which had won only two games at home last season, got two goals from Brennan Saulnier as the Chargers had 40 shots on goal against the Seawolves (1-7-1, 1-2-0).
“That’s as complete a game that we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said UAH head coach Mike Corbett, now in his fifth season. “It was nice to see. Power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5 … we dominated the first half of the game. We were able to get our shot totals and put some by their goalie.”
The first period was all Chargers, who dominated puck possession and were making plays that got the crowd into it. UAH had 24 shot attempts, and 19 were on net. UAA only had 10 attempts with four on goal.
Saulnier was seemingly everywhere, and he got UAH on the board early at 2:18 on the power play. He found a spot from the slot to beat UAA goaltener Olivier Mantha for his fifth goal of the season. He was assisted by Austin Beaulieu and Kurt Gosselin.
Mantha, a senior who known for his ability to keep the Seawolves in any game, was a big reason the Chargers’ lead wasn’t larger.
Saulnier struck again in the second, with a wrister from the left circle for a 2-0 UAH lead with 15:08 left. At six goals, Saulnier matches his season high in just nine games.
“For myself, our power play has really been clicking,” Saulnier said. “I’ve been finding the open areas and getting my shots off.
It was also the first time the Chargers scored the first goal of the game this season.
“It was nice to get the first one tonight and I felt like we were just rolling after that,” Saulnier said.
“That first goal was a big one for him, because he shows the poise,” Corbett said. “He outwaits the goalie and then he scores the goal.
“Our best players have to be the best players and he was one of them tonight.”
The Seawolves answered at 7:06 when UAA’s leading scorer Austin Azurdia fired a shot past Jordan Uhelski high from close range.
But any momentum the Seawolves may have gained did not last long. UAH regained its two-goal advantage at 10:30. Cam Knight’s doorstep shot led to a scramble in the UAA net. Beaulieu got a shot in, then Christian Rajic put in a rebound for a 3-1 lead. It was Rajic’s third goal of the season.
“We eliminated the big mistake tonight,” Corbett said. “Even when we made a mistake and they scored their goal, we were able to come right back with our third goal.”
UAH took a 4-1 lead when John Teets made a beautiful centering pass to Levi Wunder, who fired it from the slot for his first collegiate goal.
In the third period, Anchorage came out stronger and made Uhelski work a bit more. But he was up to the task, making saves and recovering rebounds. He finished with 16 saves on UAA’s 17 shots on goal.
“It’s tough when you don’t really get a lot of action during the game, you kind of lull a little bit,” Uhelski said. “Honestly, it’s just staying even keel the whole game, making sure I don’t get too high or too low, and when it was time to step up and do my part for the team, I was ready.
“It was just a battle in front. Obviously, I’m not the biggest guy, so I’ve got to be looking around, I’ve got to be moving, I’ve got to be really active as far as locating that puck and jumping on it. But my ‘D’ made it really easy for me because anytime there was a scrum they were clearing the guys out, and I just cover the puck.”
“We tried to play a little more cautious and sometimes that can be our Achilles’ heel when you let off and let them back in the game,” Saulnier said. “U-Haul played really well in that third period for us. He was our best player in the third period.”
Madison Dunn put in an empty-netter with 1:52 to go for the final 5-1 score and another eruption from the crowd, which was larger than any crowd last season.
“The crowd was amazing tonight. It was electric in there,” Saulnier said. “It was like having an extra guy on the ice all night. We fed off that.
“I really like our team this year. We work hard, got a good group, and I think we showed it tonight that we’re going to contend in the WCHA.”
Game two of the series is Saturday night at 7:07 p.m. at the VBC as homecoming an Military Appreciation Weekend continues.
Three stars of the game:
1. Brennan Saulnier, UAH (2 goals)
2. Austin Beaulieu, UAH (2 assists)
3. Connor Wood, UAH (2 assists)