Hoof Beats: Finally home, UAH looks to ‘finish’ games, secure playoffs

Mike Corbett

The Chargers get their last eight regular season home games at home. (UAH Athletics)

John Denver sang, “Hey, it’s good to be back home again.” For the Chargers, the Von Braun Center probably does feel like a long lost friend.

The Chargers have completed a stretch of six road series over seven weeks, including a three-week continuous trip from Bemidji, Minnesota, to Fairbanks, Alaska, to Anchorage, Alaska.

UAH finished the grueling 12-game swing with 3-8-1 record, which isn’t great. UAH did finish with wins in the last two series in Alaska, coming out of it in sixth place in the WCHA standings.

The Chargers came home Sunday and took three days off to rest, resuming normal practice on Thursday. This is a bye week before an eight-game home stand to finish the regular season.

The home stand starts Friday, Jan. 26, against Bemidji State.

The bye week is surely welcome, as the Chargers were fighting the injury bug near the end of the trip. Freshman winger Andrew Dodson was out most of the road trip, and sophomore forward Brandon Salerno missed the series at Anchorage.

“We got banged up along the way,” Corbett said. “Physically, we were pretty good towards the end of the road trip, for the guys who were able to play. I think it’s more mental health than anything. We need to get away from each other for a little bit.”

Sophomore winger Jordan Larson returned to action last Friday at Anchorage after missing the first 24 games of the season due to an ankle injury. But he left the second game Saturday with a concussion.

“It was unfortunate for Jordan, because he wasn’t 100 percent by any means conditioning wise, but his ankle felt very good and we were down a forward,” Corbett said. “He was comfortable enough to be able to go out there and play and he had some dynamite scoring chances.”

Then it seemed everyone got sick. Tyler Poulsen missed a couple of games in Alaska. Connor Merkley left after the first period on Saturday in Anchorage.

“I like the resolve of our group because we were able to do that,” Corbett said. “We finished one game with roughly two lines and an extra Saturday against Fairbanks (a 3-1 win), and we were able to get points in that game. We had literally seven forwards to play with in Anchorage on Friday (a 4-2 win).

“I was impressed by our conditioning. I was impressed by our actual energy levels physically coming down the stretch in that last week of the road trip.”

So the Chargers will get a chance to heal, and they may get an extra boost when they take the ice against Bemidji with the return of senior captain Max McHugh. McHugh also hasn’t suited up this season because of an injury, but he was scheduled to join the optional skate on Wednesday. Corbett is optimistic that he’ll be able to help down the stretch.

While the Chargers do get the rest of the regular season at home with four series in five weeks, it won’t be easy.  All four opponents are in the top four of the WCHA standings: Bemidji State (4th), Northern Michigan (2nd), Minnesota State (1st), and Bowling Green (3rd). The Chargers faced those four opponents on the road before going to Alaska, going 1-6-1.

“The goal is to get as many guys as healthy as possible,” Corbett said. “These are going to be well-earned points. These are teams that have come into our building and done well, so we have to be as prepared as we can. We don’t want to have it come down to that last weekend against Bowling Green.

“We played well in our past stretch at home (3-2-1 back in November), so we’d like to feel we’re coming into our friendly confines, and what better challenge is there than to play the top teams in the league to be able to solidify your playoff position.”

Goaltending has been solid for UAH, even when the scoring has been inconsistent. Jordan Uhelski has been in goal for all eight wins this season, but freshman backup Mark Sinclair has been making strides even if his statistics don’t bear it out.

“As much as Mark’s record and his numbers don’t look great, he’s played well,” Corbett said. “He deserved a better fate on Friday in Fairbanks (3-2 loss).”

“I have no qualms with our goaltending. Obviously, Jordan’s our go-to guy right now. Jordan has kept us in games and he’s given us a chance to win every night, and that’s all we can ask. Some nights we’re scoring, and some night’s we’re not.

“Our biggest thing right now is we’ve got to finish. In Fairbanks, we don’t finish on Friday, and we do on Saturday. We played a better game on Friday than we did on Saturday, but we finished on Saturday.”

Kestner for Hobey: For the second straight year, Josh Kestner is on the initial list of Hobey Baker Award nominees. Fan voting has begun on Facebook.

Kestner is 13th in Division I in goals per game (0.62). He is tied for 10th in power play goals with six. Overall, he has 16 goals this season, already the most by a Charger in 11 years. Fourteen have come in WCHA play, tops in the league.

“Josh has taken steps every year,” Corbett said. “As much as people see, what they have to understand is Josh has taken off more off the ice, physically in the weight room and things like that. He’s matured that way off the ice and it’s shown on the ice.

“He’s at the top of everybody’s scouting report, the guy that people are trying to stop. The biggest key for an offensive player and a guy like Josh who is a shooter is to be able to find ways to get open, to put himself in position where he’s going to get a shot off and put the puck where he wants to put it. He’s learned to move well without the puck.”

“He has to have a good stretch, not only for himself, but for our team. He’s a guy we’re going to rely on, but we’re also going to need some other guys to chip in from an offensive standpoint.”

Overtime talks: The Wisconsin State Journal last week reported that a standard overtime format across all conference is being debated. However, there is no consensus.

Currently, all NCAA games have a 5-on-5 sudden death overtime period if it is tied after regulation. If neither team scores, the result is a tie.

In the western leagues (WCHA, Big Ten, NCHC), games continue to determine which team gets an extra point in the league standings, even though the game is still officially a tie. The WCHA and NCHC play five minutes of 3-on-3 and, if needed, a sudden-death shootout. The Big Ten uses a three-round shootout only.

The eastern leagues (Hockey East, ECAC, Atlantic Hockey) do nothing: When 5-on-5 overtime ends, they go home.

Corbett, who is on the Division I championships committee, said overtime was a topic of discussion over the summer. The NCAA tournament field is based on the Pairwise rankings. A component of the Pairwise is the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which basically “shuts off” once the 5-on-5 overtime period is over.

Corbett said there is concern among college coaches should the NCAA adopt the NHL system, which uses a 3-on-3 overtime right after regulation. “I think college coaches are afraid that then all of a sudden they’re going to turn the RPI back on on the five minutes of 3-on-3. And they don’t want RPI points being given from a gimmick.”

This is the second year the WCHA adopted the three-point conference game system with an additional 3-on-3 overtime and shootout, and Corbett says it is good.

“It’s a little bit about the fan experience when it comes with 3-on-3 and the shootout. I like it. You know you’re getting points, it’s a little strategic and makes you work harder as a coach, thinking a bit more about who you’re putting out there. And you’re going to see that it’s going to make a difference at the end of the year.”

This week in the WCHA: All times are Central. Games featuring WCHA teams at home can be seen on WCHA.tv.

Friday, Jan. 19
* Bemidji State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
* Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska Anchorage at #17 Bowling Green, 6:37 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 20
* Bemidji State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
* Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska Anchorage at #17 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.
#9 Minnesota State at #3 St. Cloud State, 5:07 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 23
#14 Minnesota Duluth at #9 Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.