Michael Napier

Apr 112018
 

Cam Talbot and the Edmonton Oilers finished a disappointing season on Saturday, missing the Stanley Cup playoffs after a run to the Western Conference final a year ago.

The former Charger (2007-10) had a career-low .908 save percentage and a career-high 3.02 goals against average in 67 starts, compiling a 31-31-3 record with one shutout.

Josh Kestner has played three games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies during his amateur tryout, scoring a power play goal. The playoff-bound Marlies finish the regular season on Sunday.

Tyler Poulsen scored a goal in two games for the ECHL’s Allen Americans, and was able to turn his amateur tryout contract into a pro contract. He is not on the Americans’ postseason roster.

Brennan Saulnier was released from his amateur tryout contract with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators after three games.

Matt Salhany (2013-17) scored a goal and three points in 25 games for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.

Cody Dion (2010-11) had 12 goals and 24 points in 38 games for the Peoria Rivermen of the SPHL.

On Tuesday, Graeme Strukoff (2011-15) signed with the Sydney Bears in Australia for the 2018 season.

Chargers in the Pros page

Chargers pick up transfer goaltender: Jake Theut, a goaltender from Northeastern University, will be a graduate transfer to UAH for next season.

Theut was the third goaltender for the Huskies this season, playing in two games. In 2016-17, Theut played in three games, getting a shutout in his only start.

Theut gives UAH three goaltenders this season. Mark Sinclair, who started five games this season, and Josh Astorino will be returning sophomores.

Club hockey returns: A student hockey club is being formed at UAH.

UAH has not had club hockey since 1985, when the original club team, created in 1979 and winners of club national championships in 1982, 1983, and 1984, was elevated to varsity status in preparation for the university to join the NCAA.

It’s not uncommon for schools with NCAA Division I or III varsity hockey programs to also have student club teams, although this would be the first such situation in the Southeast. The team will play other southern club teams in the American College Hockey Association (ACHA).

UAH students interested in playing can email the club at clubhockey@uah.edu. Off-ice memberships are also available.

West a finalist for Alaska job: UAH alum Lance West is a finalist for the head coaching job at Alaska.

West, an assistant with the Nanooks for nine seasons prior, was the interim coach this season after Dallas Ferguson resigned. Alaska was 11-22-3 overall and 9-17-2 in WCHA play, finishing in eighth place.

West played for the Chargers from 1991-95, scoring 113 points in 108 games.

Improvement may stall unless UAH boosts program support

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Mar 252018
 

It’s been five years since the UAH hockey program found new life in the WCHA.

The program continues to improve on the ice. UAH had 12 overall wins this season, the best in eight years, and a program-high 10 wins in the WCHA. Since joining the league, the Chargers have improved their record each season, even if incrementally.

But there is a problem, and it starts at home.

UAH Avg. Home Attendance
2013-14 2,007
2014-15 1,921
2015-16 1,835
2016-17 1,601
2017-18 1,684

The Chargers’ average home attendance this season was 1,684, which was a slight increase from last season (1,601), but the second-lowest in the five seasons UAH has been a member of the WCHA. Attendance has not kept in line with the performance on the ice, as one might expect, but instead has slowly gone the other way.

The best weekend was the first against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 10-11, when the Chargers drew 3,128 and 3,072. That weekend was a combination of opening night, homecoming, and the popular Military Appreciation Weekend.

The Chargers won the first game handily 5-1, and needed a goal in the final second of regulation in a 3-3 tie. I noted at the time that it was entertaining hockey that could boost crowds for the rest of the season. But it didn’t happen.

After that first series, UAH drew above 2,000 only once, and barely at that (2,071 against Bemidji State on Jan. 26). That weekend against Bemidji was the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1998 NCAA Division II national champions, and it was the second best series attendance-wise this season. The Chargers had 1,989 the second night, when the players from the ’98 squad were honored.

The Chargers had six home games to finish the regular season, and only twice did they get above 1,500. The other home games from the first half of the season supposedly have to go up against college football, but the rest of the second half home games didn’t fare much better.

It’s not like the Chargers were playing badly at the VBC. They went 6-7-1 at home this season, one of their best home marks in a decade. UAH was able to take some wins against three of the top teams in the WCHA as well (and was 2:10 away from beating the best in Minnesota State).

It doesn’t have to be like this. Those 3,000-plus crowds against Anchorage? That should be the average, not the season high.

The average crowd at a Havoc game this season would be in the top 15 all-time for a UAH game.

Meanwhile, the Havoc shows that the market for hockey is good in Huntsville, drawing over 4,700 per game and setting the single-season SPHL attendance record. They are engaging the community at a pace that is leaving UAH in the dust. I don’t think UAH has to necessarily compete with the Havoc for fans, but UAH could do more to get a better share of hockey lovers among the half-million people in the Huntsville metro area.

To be clear, the hockey program is not in danger of being cut again. But now that UAH has re-established itself in Division I, it needs to take the next step, which is putting in the framework that will make the Chargers serious contenders for WCHA championships.

These are the things that the UAH administration, including athletic director Dr. E.J. Brophy and president Dr. Robert Altenkirch, need to figure out. (I offer some possible ideas, but there may be better ones offered by people more qualified than me.)

  • We need a better marketing plan. The only promotion that I know of is getting Blue Line Club members to post about an upcoming home series on Facebook, which is what UAHHockey.com has been doing. How visible is the team on local TV and radio? Or targeted online ads? UAH did commission a fan survey for hockey. I urge every Charger fan to partake in the survey if you haven’t already.
  • We need better promotions. This season appeared to take a step back compared to previous years. Most of the giveaways were hockey trading card sets, which doesn’t seem to be a good hook. The free general admission to kids 12 and under by Huntsville International Airport is always nice, but won’t matter much if parents aren’t drawn.
  • We need more variety in ticket plans. We need Friday-only and Saturday-only partial season ticket plans. Offer season tickets for general admission as well as reserved with a discount off the per game rate.
  • We need to expand the Blue Line Club. We need to reduce the minimum donation to join from $1,000, which appears to be by far the highest among WCHA booster clubs. Create a level for all season ticket holders. Perhaps add a special level for UAH students. Enrollment should be made online a la UAH’s current online giving program.
  • We need more student involvement beyond homecoming and the UAH Pep Band. We need the Blue Crew to put as much energy into getting students at and involved in hockey games as they put in for basketball.
  • We need our hockey games on the radio, just like our basketball games, which have been on WZZN (97.7 The Zone) for several years now. How does the university’s Division I sport not have this? It feels like a missed opportunity that the Havoc is getting some games on The Zone and not UAH.
  • We need better production value on WCHA TV. We need our primary camera better focused on the action and our second camera not just fixated on the UAH bench. We don’t need all the bells and whistles of a major TV network, but compared to the rest of the WCHA, the current production looks amateur.
  • We still need new banners, including our CHA titles and NCAA tournament appearances in Division I. We also need banners of Jared Ross and Cam Talbot, the two Chargers who have played in the NHL, at the VBC. These are things recruits look for and fans show pride in.

This is just for what we see on the surface. The program also needs boosts in its recruiting budget, academic support, and facility upgrades. These are things UAH is falling behind in compared to the rest of the WCHA.

Some strides are being made. The Doug Ross Suite at Spragins Hall is in planning and is expected to be ready by the fall, as well as a redesigned weight room. These projects were possible with the generosity of Charger hockey supporters.

Of course, extra financial investment will be needed. This is why growing the Blue Line Club, or season ticket base, and attendance is so important. This is where the fundraising prowess of Dr. Brophy and his team must come through.

If UAH is serious about calling itself the Hockey Capital of the South, it must find these solutions.

Kestner makes Second Team All-WCHA

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Mar 082018
 
Josh Kestner

Josh Kestner (Photo by Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography)

Josh Kestner was named to the All-WCHA Second Team on Thursday, becoming the first Charger to reach that high in all-league honors.

Kestner tied the UAH modern Division I era record with 24 goals this season. The senior’s 32 points were the most by a Charger since the 2006-07 season. Kestner tied for the WCHA lead with 19 goals in conference play, while scoring a league-best nine goals on the power play.

Kestner finished his UAH career with 44 goals, sixth most in the modern Division I era.

It marks the second straight year a Charger made the all-WCHA teams. Kurt Gosselin became the first with third team honors last season, and Max McHugh made the all-rookie team for 2014-15.

Kestner signed an amateur tryout contract with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, the Maple Leafs’ top affiliate.

In addition, 15 UAH players made the 2017-18 WCHA All-Academic Team. These Chargers have a grade-point average of at least 3.0 for the previous two semesters, or an overall GPA of at least 3.0 for all terms:

Austin Beaulieu (So., F, Coral Springs, Fla.); Richard Buri (Sr., D, Nitra, Slovakia); Cody Champagne (Sr., D, Brookfield, Conn.); Hans Gorowsky (Jr., F, Lino Lakes, Minn.); Kurt Gosselin (Jr., D, Brighton, Mich.); Connor James (So., D, Wainwright, Alberta); Josh Kestner (Sr., F, Huntsville, Ala.); Cam Knight (Jr., D, North Reading, Mass.); Max McHugh (Sr., F, Seattle, Wash.); Brandon Parker (Sr., D, Fairbault, Minn.); Sean Rappleyea (So., D, Sayreville, NJ); Teddy Rotenberger (Fr., D, Huntsville, Ala.); Brandon Salerno (So., F, Toronto, Ontario); John Teets (Jr., D, Fairbanks, Alaska); Jordan Uhleski (Sr., G, Flint, Mich.); Adam Wilcox (Jr., F, Alpharetta, Ga.).

Chargers’ season ends with 5-2 loss to NMU

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Mar 042018
 

Two quick power play goals in the second period were the difference in UAH’s 5-2 loss Sunday to Northern Michigan in the deciding third game of the WCHA quarterfinal series.

The Chargers, who were trying to become the first seventh seed to upset the second seed in the current WCHA playoff format, finish the season at 12-23-2. The 12 victories were the most by UAH since the 2009-10 season.

BOX SCORE

The 19th-ranked Wildcats (23-13-3) move on to the WCHA semifinals, where they will host third seed Bowling Green next weekend.

Northern Michigan scored the first goal for the third time in the series. Denver Pierce, who scored twice in game one, drove into the UAH zone on the right side and beat Jordan Uhelski high and glove side just 2:45 in.

The Chargers did not panic, and was able to generate some scoring chances themselves. They tied the game 1-1 at the 10:54 mark, when Tyler Poulsen skated around a Wildcat defenseman, tapped it to a trailing Josh Kestner, who deposited the puck past Atte Tolvanen’s right for his third goal of the series.

It was Kestner’s 24th goal of the season, tying the UAH modern Division I record held by Bruce Mulherin from the 2004-05 season.

For Poulsen, it was his 17th assist of the year, the most by a Charger since Brandon Roshko had that many in the 2007-08 campaign.

UAH took the lead at 2-1 right off the bat in the second period, when Max McHugh tipped in a Kurt Gosselin blast on the power play seconds only 53 seconds in. It was McHugh’s third goal of the year.

Mitchel Slattery tied the game at 2-2 with 6:41 left in the 2nd, and then the Wildcats took the lead after a questionable call.

Cam Knight made contact to the head with the elbow on NMU’s Robbie Payne. It didn’t look egregious by any stretch, but Knight was called for a five-minute major and a game misconduct anyway.

The officials have little if any room for discretion, according to the NCAA rulebook (45.1): “Any contact directly with the player’s head and neck area must be penalized with a major penalty and a game misconduct or disqualification.”

NMU quickly scored twice on the major power play to take a 4-2 lead. First a one-timer by Troy Loggins, then Pierce on a rebound. The Chargers called time out to regroup.

Two minutes of the power play were cut by a Payne tripping penalty, and UAH was able to kill the rest of the penalty, but the damage was already done.

The Chargers managed only two shots on goal in the third period, albeit not for lack of attempts. They had one final stand in the final minute when Pierce was called for slashing and UAH had pulled Uhelski for the extra attacker with under a minute to go.

However, Loggins was able to mount a breakaway toward the empty net. Kestner hauled him down, which immediately gives the empty net goal to Loggins for the final 5-2 score.

Uhelski finished with 28 saves.

It marked the final games in Charger uniforms for Richard Buri, Cody Champagne, Kestner, McHugh, Brandon Parker (who tied the UAH record with his 139th game played), Poulsen, Brennan Saulnier, and Uhelski.

Saulnier returned to the lineup after sitting out game two for getting his fourth game misconduct of the season in game one.

Kestner, UAH beat NMU 3-2 to force Game 3

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Mar 032018
 

Josh Kestner scored twice, including the game-winner with 29 seconds remaining, as UAH defeated No. 19 Northern Michigan 3-2 in Marquette on Saturday to force a deciding third game in the WCHA quarterfinal series.

UAH (12-22-2) earned its first-ever WCHA playoff victory by rallying twice from one-goal deficits.

BOX SCORE

Game 3 is Sunday at 6:07 p.m. The Chargers will try to become the first seventh seed to advance to the WCHA semifinals in the league’s current alignment that began in 2013-14.

Northern Michigan, the second seed, fell to 22-13-3 overall and hurt its chances of getting an NCAA at-large bid.

 

The Chargers played a much better defensively this time than in Game 1, when the Wildcats scored four times in the first nine minutes to win 7-1.

Senior goaltender Jordan Uhelski was big between the pipes, withstanding a barrage of shots in the second and third periods. He finished with 22 saves on 24 NMU shots.

The first period did not have a lot going on. There was a lot of up-and-down skating, but not many scoring opportunities, nor were there any penalties or power plays.

There were only eight shots on goal for both teams, with UAH getting five of them.

The biggest concern was the health of Christian Rajic, who slid hard legs-first into the boards near the NMU net. Rajic had to be carried by teammates off the ice.

The first turning point occurred in a more eventful second period, when on a 4-on-4 situation, Josh Kestner had a shorthanded breakaway. He had NMU goaltender Atte Tolvanen beat, but the puck hit the right post, crossed the crease, tapped Tolvanen’s right pad and out.

Going the other way, Troy Loggins blasted one past Jordan Uhelski from the high slot for a 1-0 lead at the 3:52 mark.

Kestner would get his goal at 11:47, when he found the upper right corner over Tolvanen from the right circle to tie the game at 1-1. It was Kestner’s 22nd goal of the season, assisted by Max McHugh (third).

That seemed to awaken the Wildcats, and they started pounding the pads of Uhelski. One eventually got through off the stick of Mitchel Slattery, who deflected a Philip Beaulieu pass to regain the lead for NMU at 2-1 at 14:18.

But UAH tied the game again with 2:38 left in the second, as Adam Wilcox poked a puck coming off the end boards in the left circle past Tolvanen. Tyler Poulsen notched his 16th assist.

The Wildcats had a flurry of chances throughout the third period, but Uhelski was up to the task, as well as that tighter Charger defense.

But it was UAH who had the last flurry, as Josh Kestner found a puck in the right circle and wristed it home for his second goal of the game and a 3-2 Charger lead.

Kester now has 23 goals on the year, setting a UAH modern Division I-era record for season goals by a senior, set by Jared Ross’s 22 in the 2004-05 season. He is one goal way from tying the overall Division I-era season record at UAH, which is 24 by Bruce Mulherin, also in 2004-05.

The Chargers are now 3-3 against Northern Michigan this season, and 2-2 in Marquette. UAH rebounded from losing the first game to winning the second game in each series.