What Mankato Leaving the WCHA Might Mean for UAH

Minnesota State announced on Wednesday that they have applied to join the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, known variously as “the National”, the “NCHC”, or the “NaCHo”, both in terms of hoping for tasty, fatty calories or regret that it’s “nacho league”.  Either way, it was a bit of a surprise unless you’re an enterprising reporter who bet that he saw it coming and sniffed around and outed the truth.  It certainly seems that everyone knew that this (leak-cum-)-announcement was coming, because both the WCHA and NCHC had prepared statements: the WCHA sounded pretty disappointed and the NCHC’s public response was, I think, responsibly tepid.  Lastly, a public records request has elicited the publication of Mankato’s letter of interest.

Both Shane Frederick of The Free Press (Mankato) and Jack Hittinger of the Bemidji Pioneer have weighed in over the last couple of days.  Shane is predictably and responsibly sanguine about the Mavericks’ chances, noting that it is a benefit for the program.  Jack is a bit more phlegmatic, and he rightly points out that there are a lot of steps left to take for everyone.

Brad Schlossmann does note that the NCHC doesn’t have to add anyone.  But count me with Drew Evans at BGSUHockey.com: the Mavs are very likely to go to the NCHC in two seasons.

But what does all of this mean for UAH?

We’re on the outside looking in, again.  UAH tried to jump to the CCHA when the CHA diaspora happened and Bemidji grabbed a hold of a Maverick tail and rode along with Omaha into the WCHA.  We all know that the CCHA told UAH no, leading to three independent seasons that very nearly killed the program.  The Chargers knocked on the WCHA’s door only after the NCHC was fully realized.

The best thing out of the Big Ten expansion mess may have been that the NCHC formed, as I think that it was far less likely that the other nine teams in the WCHA would want the Chargers’ blood on their hands than, say, the remaining eight CCHA schools who might have been okay with that number and would have been unlikely to jump at the chance to add a flight/long bus trip to a bus league that already had an Alaska problem.

Make no mistake: the 2013 mess showed us that extant league structures mean nothing when conference plates shift violently.  Will our folks be talking to people?  Sure.  But we’re at the mercy of the winds and tides here along with a number of other WCHA schools.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about realignment options and how UAH would fit into these plans, but those are for another day.  Bring on Realignment 2016.

Chargers lose point to extra-attacker goal; 3-3 (OT)

I think that this game was best summed up in our Slack chat tonight:

Could have won. Probably should have lost. Got a tie. All the mixed emotions.

Indeed, that’s a fair assessment.  UAH was out-shot 49-21 on Friday night in Big Rapids: sour sixteens in each of the regulation periods and just one in OT, thanks to Ferris having to kill a penalty.  But junior goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, B.C.) was razor sharp, stopping 46 saves, a season-high for Charger netminders, and UAH got enough puck luck to push it to three goals for the third straight game.  But a fluky extra-attacker goal by the home squad

The Chargers sent a steady stream of white jerseys to the box, including a rare appearance by sophomore forward Max McHugh (Seattle), his first since November 7th.  In all, UAH was whistles for nine penalties taking 21 minutes, the one major a facemasking call against junior defenseman Brandon Carlson (Huntington, Beach, Calif.).

UAH returned to form with its fine penalty killing after a stumble last week against Alaska, stopping all eight opportunities and potting a shorthanded goal, as junior forward Matt Salhany (Warwick, R.I.) picked up a loose puck for a Stealhany to knot the game at 2-2 and deflate the home side.

BOX SCORE

For the Chargers, tonight’s game was all about sustained effort.  McHugh started the Chargers’ scoring off with his sixth of the season, banging home a backhander low past Ferris State freshman goaltender Darren Smith (Barrie, Ont.) after mucking and grinding down low with sophomore forward Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia) to know bring the game level at 1-1.

After junior forward Jared VanWormer (Traverse City, Mich.) shocked the UAH defense by scoring :34 into the third and :09 after Saulnier’e penalty expired.  A cross-checking minor penalty committed by freshman forward Madison Dunn (Calgary) just :45 later spelled doom for the Chargers, who looked to be reeling.  Instead, Salhany’s quick reaction and fleet feet were combined with the right move to light the lamp.

UAH couldn’t capitalize on a couple of Ferris penalties, all on the route to go 0-for-6 with the man advantage on the evening.  But the Chargers then shocked the home crowd and pulled ahead when Marooney, Wilcox, and Poulsen brought tons of pressure, with freshman forward Tyler Poulsen (Arvada, Colo.) picking up the goal after finding the puck on a Ferris State stick and pushing it past Smith (18sv).

Sadly for the Chargers, the Bulldogs kept strong pressure in the UAH end, pulling Smith for an extra attacker and eventually getting senior forward Kenny Babinski (Midland, Michigan) his sixth goal of the year to dash the Herd’s hopes of pulling even with Alaska in the standings.  Neither team did much in the extra five minutes, even with the Bulldogs taking the penalty.

Larose moved to 3-4-1 on the season, his GAA edging up to 2.28 but his SV% moving to .927.  Smith is now 6-4-4.

As the Chargers seek to move out of the WCHA basement, they got no help from last week’s foe, Alaska, who won in overtime in Marquette.  The Chargers are still in last place with 9 league points, three behind 9th-place Alaska-Anchorage, who have three games in hand on the Chargers.

NMU 4, UAH 3: Wildcats’ Shine Corrals Chargers

HUNTSVILLE — Northern Michigan (5-5-5, 4-4-3 WCHA) rolled into Huntsville and pressured the Chargers into costly mistakes, coming away with a last-minute goal to snatch victory from the UAH Chargers (3-9-1, 2-8-1 WCHA) by a 4-3 margin.  The Wildcats were powered by junior alternate captain Dominik Shine (Pinckney, Mich.) scoring his first collegiate hat trick.

BOX SCORE

I’ve spent the last three hours trying to figure out what to say about this game.  I’ll say this: when UAH was clicking, they were clicking.  They put 22 shots on goal in the first period, netting one of them, and put 47 on all told, a mark that the Chargers hadn’t met since March 14, 2009, the last time the team had poured on 40+, in a season-ending tie in the 3rd-place game in the 2009 #CHAForever tournament.

But then there were the ghastly, ghastly turnovers in their end.  There were some real head-shakers — the WCHA video cutters left them there for you to see.  Puck security was often there, but when it leaked a little, it was like Niagara Falls.

Max McHugh had a solid night on the score sheet, and at a number of points his steadiness with the puck made the offense really click.  UAH had one long 1:00+ sustained offensive possession that had NMU scrambling so hard that I actually checked to make sure that I hadn’t missed a penalty.  It was that kind of quality execution that we’ve come to expect after having lacked it for so long.

But the turnovers … man, yeah.  The first was a forward trying to hold the puck in and blindly making a pass that Shine saw coming and intercepted with a full head of steam.  The next, he and a teammate flummoxed retreating UAH defensemen so much that they put the puck right on Shine’s stick.  And while you can’t see it in the video, Shine again was the thief, jumping a play and drawing a penalty on his shorthanded breakaway.

All hats are off for Shine, and the bareheaded among us can now be left to shake those heads at our side.

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.

Michigan Tech 4, UAH 2

HUNTSVILLE — Four Michigan Tech Huskies (4-3-0, 4-3-0 WCHA) scored goals on Friday night, relying on a speed advantage that kept the homestanding Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (3-3-1, 2-2-1 WCHA) scrambling to keep up at times.  The visiting Huskies maintained their tie atop the WCHA standings with a 4-2 win over UAH.

BOX SCORE

If you’re a UAH fan, you loved the first ten minutes of the game.  Sophomore forward Josh Kestner (Huntsville) led off scoring his second goal of the season just 1:21 into the game, feeding off of the energy of a back-in-the lineup Brent Fletcher (New Westminster, B.C.) and the freedom of moving freshman forward Hans Gorowsky (Lino Lakes, Minn.) over to left wing.  Tech looked off-guard from the event.

Sophomore forward Joel L’Esperance (Brighton, Mich.) knotted the game at 1-1 just 3:14 later, taking a smart pass from sophomore Alex Gillies (Vernon, B.C.) and flashing some speed and hands to move the puck past UAH junior goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, B.C.), who had little help on the play.

The struggles for UAH began after junior forward Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) took a slashing penalty at 10:40.  The infraction, one of five called on the night, gave Tech the chance to take the lead, and they did so.  Junior assistant captain and defenseman Shane Hanna (Salmon Arm, B.C.) rifled a shot towards Larose (36sv) that was tipped by senior captain and forward Alex Petan (Delta, B.C.).  Junior forward Tyler Heinonen (Delano, Minn.) got the secondary assist for finding Hanna at the point.

Special teams continued to be the bane of UAH’s existence on the night.  UAH would go scoreless on all five tries on the night, never getting much sustained pressure with the advantage.  Worse yet, the Chargers gave up a short-handed goal at 15:14, falling behind 3-1 when junior forward Brent Baltus (Nanaimo, B.C.) broke free and pushed the puck past Larose (1-1-0).

From there, the Chargers never really recovered.

Sophomore defenseman Brandon Parker (Faribault, Minn.) finally netted his first collegiate goal.  Parker appeared to just be making a long dump toward Husky senior goaltender Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont.), but Phillips did not properly track the puck, which ended up in his net after 120 feet of travel.  But Parker’s puckish pasty was the lone bright spot.

Negatives from the final two frames:

  • Anemic work from the power play, including making Larose stop more than one shorthanded attempt.
  • Ending their own man advantage on a bench minor for too many men.  I think that this one was silly, because both teams had too many bodies on the ice for the brief second where it looked that Larose was going to leak the puck to a teammate for a press up the ice on the left-wing boards (opposite the benches).  But it just goes to a core weakness for UAH over the last few years, and that’s picking up this bench minor time and again.
  • Fletcher’s checking-from-behind major penalty that saw him removed from the game and freshman defenseman Cam Knight (North Reading, Mass.) given a holding minor on the same infraction.  I was very surprised that Messrs. Langseth and Elam took two UAH players yet no Tech player from that fracas.  UAH is to be commended for a strong kill of the penalty.
  • Getting outshot 14-3 in the third when they needed to be giving the pressure, not receiving it.  The major penalty does not completely explain the disparity.

Phillips (4-3-0, 16sv) got an assist on the final goal of the game, as sophomore forward Mason Blacklock (White Rock, B.C.) netted his second of the year at 13:59 of the 3rd.  Senior forward Malcolm Gould (North Vancouver, B.C.) got the primary assist.

The questions for UAH on Saturday are these:

  1. How poorly will the game be attended opposite BAMA-LSU?
  2. Who starts for UAH?  Larose had some strong stretches, and he did stop 36/40, but the fact of the matter is that he gave up four or more goals in all but two of his starts last year (at Air Force on November 8th and at Bowling Green on March 7th).  Saturday’s shutout against Lake Superior was fun to see, and it was an exemplar of the goalie that he can be.  But which is the real Larose: tonight or last weekend?  One figures that a non-dominant performance from the big man opens the door for junior goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Qué.) to get a start.
  3. It’s hard to know, though, what’s in the minds of either of those two men or, for that matter, the coaches’ minds.  It’s still too early to call this a goalie controversy — maybe it would’ve been one if Larose had been dominant tonight.  That I’m even writing about this surprises me, because 1) peak Carmine is a sight to behold 2) I always thought that it was going to be Larose to pull away, not Carmine 3) c’mon, really, this felt settled.  But it’s here.
  4. Who shuffles in and out of the lineup?  Will Mike Corbett try to slow the pace down or simply tighten his system up?  It feels to me that he had the right 21 guys dressed tonight.

Here’s a final note: what is with goaltending in the WCHA this year?  It’s early, small sample sizes, etc., but:

  • WCHA had five goalies in the top 20 in the nation by GAA in 2014-15: MSU’s Stephon Williams (#2, 1.65), MTU’s Phillips (3, 1.74), BSU’s Michael Bitzer (4, 1.80), UAF’s Sean Cahill (8, 1.98), and CJ Motte (18, 2.07).
  • Through tonight (with NMU-UAF ongoing and UAF up 3-1): Chris Nell at BGSU is 3rd at 1.09, and Atte Tolvanen came into tonight at 1.99, a total that will rise.  Past that it’s freshman Darren Smith at Ferris State at 2.40 (even after giving up four goals tonight).
  • You have to get to Bitzer at 2.55 and Phillips at 2.56 to get to guys that are full-time starters.  That’s a big, big drop.  Could it be better scoring in the WCHA?  Phillips’s mark actually came down tonight.

All of this occurred to me when I saw a 7-4 box score come out of Big Rapids.  The Bulldogs scored just four goals against Mankato last year, dropping 2-1, 3-1, 5-1, and 5-1 results in the span of fifteen days in January.

It’s something to watch.  Back at you tomorrow night.