Weekend shows how fun UAH hockey can be at the VBC

Josh Kestner, Connor Merkley, Tyler Poulsen

Josh Kestner, left, celebrates a goal with Connor Merkley and Tyler Poulsen on Saturday. (Photo by Todd Thompson)

Well, that was fun.

UAH’s homecoming, home-opening series against Alaska Anchorage drew a combined attendance of 6,200 at the Von Braun Center. It was the largest two-game crowd for UAH since January 17-18, 2014, which coincidentally was also against UAA and also military appreciation weekend.

In that 2014 series, the first game ended in a 1-1 tie and UAA won the second game handily 4-1. The tie was the best result the Chargers had at the VBC in all of the 2013-14 season.

Since joining the WCHA in 2013, UAH has been struggling to find its home-ice advantage. Part of that is natural as the program has been trying to rebuild the team almost entirely from scratch following its near-death experience. But even as the team has improved on its record every year, the Chargers have had trouble not just winning at home but playing consistently well enough for the home fans.

Last season, UAH won nine games, but only two were at home. In 2015-16, UAH was 4-10-4 at home.

Head coach Mike Corbett said during Friday’s Blue Line Club luncheon that the problem was the Chargers would tighten up and try to play perfect in front of the crowd (or, perhaps more specifically, “their girlfriends”), which would lead to the wrong play and a wrong result.

That’s why this past weekend against Alaska Anchorage was so encouraging as the Chargers continue their six-game home stand this weekend against Lake Superior State.

On Friday, the Chargers were dominant, posting a 5-1 victory. The Chargers showcased their speed and stayed on their game plan. Even when it didn’t result in a goal, players such as Brennan Saulnier, who scored twice in the game, Tyler Poulsen, Josh Kestner, and Kurt Gosselin were causing the crowd to audibly ooh and ahh with their agile skating and puck work, getting around defenders and setting up solid scoring chances for themselves and their teammates.

The announced attendance of 3,128 was larger than any home game last season.

It was entertaining.

Jordan Uhelski and Cam Knight

Jordan Uhelski makes a save while Cam Knight defends during Saturday’s game. (Photo by Todd Thompson)

Saturday’s game started the same way, but problems came late in the second period. A fracas broke out in the UAH end, resulting in numerous penalties on both sides but a big one on Saulnier, who got a five-minute major for roughing and a game misconduct. The Seawolves pounced with two power play goals and took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

Recent history would have suggested that UAH would not have responded well to that adversity. But this time, the Chargers got back on their game plan, stayed composed in the third period, and let their play do the talking.

UAH capitalized on two power-play chances and tied the game. Kestner scored early in the third period (his second goal of the game), and Connor Merkley gets his first collegiate goal at the buzzer (for added effect). The crowd went wild twice: On the goal itself, and again after video replay confirmed it.

The game would officially result in a 3-3 tie. Even though Anchorage got the extra WCHA point in the shootout, memories were made for yet another 3,000-plus group in attendance, which is great for a college football Saturday.

It was entertaining.

Will Sterrett was in Huntsville on Saturday as he attempts to visit every WCHA rink for a game this season, including Fairbanks and Anchorage. You can follow his odyssey with the hashtag #ChasingMacNaughton. He’ll get to see UAH and UAA meet again in Anchorage on January 12.

Sterrett has already seen some amazing games already on his journey, and Saturday’s crazy finish was no different. During the delirium of the buzzer-beating, game-tying goal, he tweeted: “I am legit in tears right now.

But more importantly:

Corbett said as much following Saturday’s game: “Homecoming weekend, a lot of fans, a lot of kids and their parents coming to a game for the first time — I don’t think anybody was let down. Anybody who stayed to the end both nights was not let down. Hopefully we’ll build on it.”

The Chargers still have issues to figure out as the season progresses, especially with a monster 12-game road swing following this home stand. But if this weekend was any indication, we’ve got a fun team to watch this season, win or lose.

The Chargers host Lake Superior State this Friday and Saturday, then Ferris State next week. Then they don’t return home until Jan. 26-27 against rival Bemidji State, the first of four home series over the last five weeks of the regular season. They’ll need that last home stand for the playoff push, which should make for some more entertaining hockey.

So come on down to the Von Braun Center this weekend. You might be surprised at the fun you’ll have.

Promotions this week: Free general admission for kids 12 and under, courtesy of Huntsville International Airport. On Friday, the first 500 fans receive the next set of UAH hockey trading cards, courtesy of Wells Fargo.

Blue Line Club lunch: The first Blue Line Club luncheon is Friday at noon in the Varsity Room at Spragins Hall on the UAH campus. Lawlers Barbecue will be catering an it is free to Blue Line Club members. Lake Superior State coach Damon Whitten and UAH coach Mike Corbett will be on hand to talk about this weekend’s series.