UAH ready to start abnormal season at RMU

UAH at Robert Morris
WHERE: Clearview Arena, Pittsburgh, Pa.
WHEN (CST): Saturday, 6:05 p.m.; Sunday, 3:05 p.m. (subscription)

The 2020-21 UAH hockey season finally begins this weekend in Pittsburgh with a non-conference series against Robert Morris.

With the season delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chargers have had an extended time to practice with uncertain circumstances.

“They’re more than ready to play a game,” said Lance West, who will be making his debut as UAH head coach. “The grind of practice for that long, you can really wear them down. Not physically, but just mentally with everything that’s gone on. You need to take that into consideration. Work hard and get ourselves prepared, but understand what a grind that is and give them breaks when needed to mentally regroup. They’re ready to go.”

Under WCHA protocols, the team is tested three times a week on nonconsecutive days, and they must be tested 72 hours prior to the start of the last game of a series.

“(Head athletic trainer) Jeff (Kinard) and the training staff have done a great job,” West said.

The Chargers will leave Thursday night. Of course, aspects of travel has changed.

“The hotel rooms have to be a certain way, as well as all the meals, depending on what state you’re in,” West said. “Some states you can’t do dining, so everyone’s having to do boxed dinners and lunches, pick them up and go. And you’re adapting every day.

“The teams that don’t let it become a distraction and deal with it the best are going to have an advantage. And there’s no excuses for anybody because they’ve all dealt with it.”

Last season, Robert Morris finished a 13-19-5 overall record. They finished seventh in the Atlantic Hockey standings, advancing to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament before the pandemic ended the college hockey season early.

Head coach Derek Schooley has a familiar face assisting him: Mike Corbett, who was the head coach for the Chargers the past seven seasons.

The Colonials were tied for sixth in the Atlantic Hockey preseason coaches poll. They return their leading scorer, senior Nick Prkusic, who had 11 goals and 28 points.

“I know they’re going to be a big, strong, physical, competitive team, so we’re going to have to battle.” West said. “The reality is with everything that’s gone on and the circumstances, you expect a pretty simple game. Expect the teams to just manage the puck, play simple, not trying to do too much. I think that it will be a series that you have to grind out.”

West reiterated Wednesday that the Chargers will be a scoring by committee team, looking to Bauer Neudecker to be one of the leaders. Neudecker has been named captain, with seniors Connor Merkley and Connor Wood being the alternate captains.

“I think more of what you’re going to see is a balanced attack,” West said. “I think you’re going to see more rotating four lines, a little bit of balance and play a certain type of structure and simple game of getting pucks deep and doing it by committee.”

In goal, sophomore David Fessenden will get the nod early, but George McBey and freshman Derek Krall will get looks. “It’s going to be a battle,” West said of UAH’s goaltending. “We’re not going to set anything in stone.”

Robert Morris and UAH have met 36 times before, mostly as members of College Hockey America. The last series against the two programs occurred in Dec. 2010, right after the CHA men’s league folded.

Series notes:
UAH leads 16-15-5.
First meeting: Nov. 5-6, 2004 in Huntsville. UAH won 4-1 and 7-2.
Last meeting: Dec. 10-11, 2010 in Huntsville. RMU won 4-3 and 2-1.
Last meeting at RMU: Jan. 15-16, 2010. RMU won 3-2 and 4-2.

This week in the WCHA:

Saturday, Nov. 21
UAH at Robert Morris, 6:05 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State, 4:07 p.m.
#19 Bowling Green at Adrian, 6:05 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 22
UAH at Robert Morris, 3:05 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State, 2:07 p.m.
#5 Minnesota State at #16 Bemidji State, 5:07 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 23
#5 Minnesota State at #16 Bemidji State, 3:07 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 25
Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.