Chargers working to build on success after home wins

The Chargers had a taste of victory at home. They look to keep it going, although now they will have to wait a little.

The Chargers were scheduled to play Bemidji State in Minnesota this weekend, but the series was postponed to March 5-6, presumably for COVID-related reasons. UAH hosts Northern Michigan on January 22 and 23 for its next action.

UAH is on a high after sweeping Ferris State by scores of 5-4 and 2-0 at the Von Braun Center for its first two wins of the season last weekend. It was the Chargers’ first sweep in two years.

“It’s a great feeling for the guys,” UAH associated head coach Karlis Zirnis said of last week’s success. “It was good to see the crowd and the energy in the building. We came out with two wins, getting a little bit of momentum going our way and a little bit of belief in the locker room that sticking through a process and trying to get better every day. It’s a lot easier for the coach to come in and preach that when there’s results.”

Tyrone Bronte had two goals and an assist in the series, earning him WCHA rookie of the week honors for the second time. The freshman leads the Chargers with seven points (three goals and four assists) through eight games.

“He’s got a very good skill set,” Zirnis said. “He’s got speed, he’s got some good puck-handling skills, he’s got a good hockey IQ. What elevates him even more is his competitiveness every day. If it’s his shot, his speed, his faceoffs as a centerman, he’s trying to improve every day. Playing on the first line, he gets a lot of minutes. He carries a lot on power play and carries a lot on the penalty kill, too.”

Dayne Finnson also had three points, including the game-winning goal in Friday’s overtime victory. Finnson was named WCHA defenseman of the week for the second time this season as well.

Another defenseman, Drew Lennon, also had a goal and two assists Friday night for his first three points of the season, underscoring the Chargers’ belief that the blueliners can also contribute to the offense.

“It was great for us to see (Lennon) stepping out,” Zirnis said. “He comes in and works every day but doesn’t say a whole lot. Very mature kid.

“It’s great for us to see our defensemen contribute to our offense. We encourage our defensemen to join the rush. It’s a process that we’ve got to keep teaching and keep preaching every day.”

Goaltender David Fessenden had the biggest impact in Saturday’s win, stopping all 42 shots for this first college shutout.

“Saturday night, we didn’t play very well as a team, but our goalie came out and stood on his head and carried us through the game and found a way to win,” Zirnis said. “The confidence of David Fessenden should be ‘Rocket City high’ as we call it.”

An aspect of UAH’s play that has improved immensely has been the power play. The Chargers are ranked fourth in NCAA Division I at 29.6 percent efficiency through eight games.

“With the power play, you can get complicated, and sometimes when you get more complicated, it gets more confusing for the guys,” Zirnis said. “The units themselves have gelled pretty well, just keeping it really simple. Deliver the puck to the net when it’s there, and if it’s not there, then they make that pass. Don’t overthink it. I always say, in hockey, the simplest play is the most effective play.”

This week in the WCHA: All times Central.

Friday, January 15
#5 Minnesota State at #19 Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
Northern Michigan at #8 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.*

Saturday, January 16
#5 Minnesota State at #19 Lake Superior State, 4:07 p.m.
Trine at Ferris State, 3:07 p.m.*
Northern Michigan at #8 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.*

*Non-conference game.


Finally back: UAH hosts Ferris State in first home series

Ferris State at UAH
WHERE: Von Braun Center, Huntsville, Ala.
WHEN: Friday, 7:07 p.m.; Saturday, 7:07 p.m. (subscription)
LISTEN: Penalty Box Radio

The Chargers will play on the Propst Arena ice for the first time in 314 days on Friday. A lot has happened since UAH’s 4-1 loss to Bowling Green on February 29, 2020. Now the Chargers finally get their chance to show the home supporters who helped resurrect the program their gratitude and their fight.

“The guys are really excited right now,” UAH head coach Lance West said. “With everything that happened this summer and all the effort people have put in to give us the opportunity to play this year and continue our program, the guys and the whole program are excited to show the fans the difference, the culture, and the work ethic the guys have and what we’re trying to build here.”

Of course, the number of fans at the VBC will be limited. Arena capacity will be at 30 percent because of policies in place during to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UAH (0-5-1 overall, 0-2-0 WCHA) is still looking for its first victory of the season after being swept at Michigan Tech last week. The Chargers couldn’t get into a groove during a 4-0 loss in the first game. They played better in the second game, but allowed two goals early and didn’t fully come back in a 2-1 defeat.

Noah Finstrom got the lone goal for the Chargers over the weekend, and even that was a stroke of luck as the puck went off a Husky skate and in.

West said the focus for the offense has been getting back to their scoring habits.

“We’re going to have to manufacture goals,” West said. “Finish it at the net, battling at the net, funneling pucks to the net, and playing what we call ‘downhill.’ The focus this week is playing more downhill, where we have to be attacking the net, hard on shots, deflections, rebounds, creating those scrums and winning some of those battles.”

David Fessenden played in goal for both games. After a rough series opener, he allowed two goals in the first five minutes of Sunday’s game but hunkered down to stop the next 24 shots.

“(Fessenden) has been able to establish himself as our top guy right now,” West said. “He’s played extremely well and given us a chance to win pretty much every game and that’s all we can ask of him. Sunday was a big game for him because we gave up two early, and a lot of times with a young team that can go in the wrong direction. But our team and he responded well. He made the big saves down the stretch and didn’t let it affect him. He’s been huge, because I think he’s given his team some confidence.”

The Chargers will need to be ready for a Ferris State team that is just as hungry for a win as they are. The Bulldogs are 0-6 overall and 0-2 in the WCHA, the only other winless team in the league. UAH was to play a non-conference game at Ferris State in December, but that was cancelled due to COVID-related issues.

Last week, the Bulldogs lost at home to sixth-ranked Bowling Green by scores of 6-1 and 4-2.

“The thing I know about Ferris is I think they’re extremely well coached team,” West said, referring to Bob Daniels, who is in his 29th season as Ferris State’s head coach. “I have much respect for Coach Daniels as anybody in college hockey. I don’t put anything into the record. They’re looking for their first win but I know how good of a team they are and how well coached they are.”

Ferris State has allowed an average of five goals per game. The Bulldogs are anticipating the return of freshman goaltender Logan Stein, who was a backup for the gold medal-winning Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Offensively, the Bulldogs have scored 16 goals in six games, led by Ethan Stewart and Mitch Deelstra, each with three.

This week in the WCHA: All times Central.

Thursday, January 7
Bemidji State at #7 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.

Friday, January 8
Ferris State at UAH, 7:07 p.m.
Bemidji State at #7 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at #4 Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.
Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 7:07 p.m.*

Saturday, January 9
Ferris State at UAH, 7:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at #4 Minnesota State, 6:07 p.m.
Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.*

*Non-conference game


UAH begins ’21 and WCHA play at Michigan Tech

UAH at Michigan Tech
WHERE: John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, Mich.
WHEN (CST): Saturday, 3:07 p.m.; Sunday, 1:07 p.m. (subscription)

It’s a new year and a new start for the Chargers, who face Michigan Tech in Houghton this weekend to begin conference play in the WCHA’s final season.

UAH (0-3-1) enters 2021 with a new commitment to the program, and a search for a new league to play in after this season. In the meantime, the Chargers are searching for their first win after a handful of close contests.

They’ll be playing a Michigan Tech squad (4-3-1) that’s won three games in a row. Most recently, the Huskies swept a home-and-home series against their most fierce rival, Northern Michigan, on December 18-19.

The Chargers haven’t played since December 6, when they lost at Lake Superior State 3-2 to finish a non-conference series. UAH and LSSU tied 2-2 in the first game.

The Chargers could face their former goaltender in Mark Sinclair. The senior transferred to Michigan Tech over the summer after UAH temporarily canceled the program. Sinclair played in 65 games over three years at UAH, posting a career .903 save percentage and three shutouts.

The last time the Chargers were in Houghton, in 2018, Sinclair had a 39-save shutout against the Huskies to open the series with a 1-0 UAH victory.

But Sinclair hasn’t played during the Huskies’ three-game winning streak. He got a 21-save shutout in a scoreless tie at Lake Superior State to start the season, but has played in only two games since.

Instead, sophomore Blake Pietila has gotten the hot hand, and has started in five of Tech’s last six games. He has a 1.43 goals against average and .955 save percentage.

In the UAH net, David Fessenden has been strong in two starts with a 1.14 goals against average and .957 save percentage. He stopped 25 of 27 shots in his last outing, the 2-2 tie at Lake Superior.

Freshman Tyrone Bronte leads the Chargers in scoring with four points. Bauer Neudecker and Tyr Thompson each have two goals.

Junior forward Trenton Bliss has eight points in eight games for the Huskies. He’s tied with Brian Halonen for the team lead in goals with three. Colin Swoyer, who has taken the last two WCHA defenseman of the week honors, has five assists.

Next weekend, the Chargers have their home opening series against Ferris State.

Series notes vs. Michigan Tech:
Michigan Tech leads 17-3-2, starting in the 2013-14 season.
Last 10 meetings: MTU leads 6-3-1.
Last series: Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2020 in Huntsville. MTU won 4-1, UAH won 3-1.
Last series at MTU: Dec. 14-15, 2018. UAH won 1-0, MTU won 2-1 in OT.

Chargers pick up defenseman: Alaska Anchorage freshman defenseman Josh Martin has transferred to UAH, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Martin is one of nine players who have left UAA after the school opted out of playing this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Seawolves program may not play again unless it can raise $3 million by mid-February. Because of the pandemic, players can transfer and be immediately eligible instead of sitting out a season.

Martin played the last three seasons with the Lone Star Brahmas of the NAHL. Last year, he had 15 points in 49 games as an alternate captain. Martin played with current Charger Drew Lennon during his first season with Lone Star.

This week in the WCHA: All times Central.

Saturday, January 2
UAH at Michigan Tech, 3:07 p.m.
#7 Bowling Green at Ferris State, 2:07 p.m.
#5 Minnesota State at Northern Michigan, 5:07 p.m.
Bemidji State at #19 Lake Superior State, 4:07 p.m.*

Sunday, January 3
UAH at Michigan Tech, 1:07 p.m.
#7 Bowling Green at Ferris State, 2:07 p.m.
#5 Minnesota State at Northern Michigan, 3:07 p.m.
Bemidji State at #19 Lake Superior State, 2:07 p.m.*

*Non-conference game.

3 games in 4 days for UAH at Lake State, Ferris

UAH at Lake Superior State
WHERE: Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
WHEN (CST): Saturday, 4:07 p.m.; Sunday, 2:07 p.m. (subscription)

UAH at Ferris State
WHERE: Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, Mich.
WHEN (CST): Tuesday, 4:07 p.m. (subscription)

Only this season could have UAH play two WCHA opponents in three non-conference contests over four days. Also, the Chargers are playing on a Tuesday.

At least, that’s the current plan at the time this is posted. Remember, no games are given as college hockey tries to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the Chargers (0-2) are set to be in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. on Saturday and Sunday to play Lake Superior State (3-0-1), then head south about 250 miles to Big Rapids to face Ferris State for a single game on Tuesday.

Originally, UAH was to visit Ferris State first on Friday and then play LSSU on Sunday and Monday. But the pandemic had already affected the seasons for both Ferris and Lake Superior State.

The two clubs were scheduled to play each other last weekend, but a positive test at FSU forced a cancellation. Lake Superior State played a home-and-home series with Division III Adrian instead, winning both games.

This weekend will finish UAH’s non-conference schedule. UAH’s next action will be Jan. 1-2 at Michigan Tech to officially start WCHA league play.

The Chargers opened their season two weeks ago at Robert Morris. The first game was going fine with UAH leading 1-0 after two periods before RMU rolled in the third to take it 5-2. UAH played a more complete second game, but lost 4-3 on a power-play goal in the third.

There were some bright spots: Bauer Neudecker and Tyr Thompson each had two goals, with Thompson’s three points giving him the WCHA Forward of the Week award. Freshman Tyrone Bronte’s three assists earned him WCHA Rookie of the Week honors, and Dayne Finnson’s perfomance made him WCHA Defenseman of the Week.

Goaltender David Fessenden held the Colonials scoreless through the first two periods of the first game before being pulled for injury. He backed up freshman Derek Krall in the second game.

Add that UAH didn’t have its full complement of players in Pittsburgh, and it could be said that the Chargers may have yet to reach their full potential.

Lake Superior State is led by junior Ashton Calder, who has been dazzling in scoring three goals and two assists through four games. Jack Jeffers, a junior who scored six goals for UAH last season, has two so far for the Lakers in 2020-21.

Senior goaltender Mareks Mitens has a .939 save percentage and a 1.74 goals against average this year. He has one shutout, a scoreless tie against Michigan Tech to start the season.

Ferris State has yet to begin their campaign following up its 7-26-2 record last season. The Bulldogs are led by sophomore defenseman Jake Willets, who led FSU in scoring last season with 22 points (19 assists) and is a preseason all-WCHA selection. Senior Marshall Moise had 10 goals last year.

The last time the Chargers played hockey on a Tuesday: The second game of a very odd Monday-Tuesday series at the VBC against Robert Morris on December 18, 2007.

Series notes vs. Lake Superior State:
Lake Superior State leads 15-7-4, starting in 2005.
Last 10 meetings: LSSU leads 7-1-2.
Last series: Feb. 14-15, 2020 in Sault Ste. Marie. Tied 0-0 and LSSU won 4-1.

Series notes vs. Ferris State:
Ferris State leads 18-9-2, starting in 1985.
Last 10 meetings: FSU leads 5-4-2.
Last series: Dec. 13-14, 2019 in Big Rapids. Tied 2-2 and FSU won 3-1.

This week in the WCHA: All times Central.

Friday, December 4
#6 Minnesota State at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.

Saturday, December 5
UAH at Lake Superior State, 4:07 p.m.
Mercyhurst at #18 Bowling Green, 12:30 p.m.
#6 Minnesota State at Michigan Tech, 5:07 p.m.

Sunday, December 6
UAH at Lake Superior State, 2:07 p.m.
#18 Bowling Green at Mercyhurst, 2 p.m.

Tuesday, December 8
UAH at Ferris State, 4:07 p.m.

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.