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Chargers pause for COVID, NMU series postponed

For the second straight week, the Chargers will not be playing because of the coronavirus.

The team has paused activity for 10 days due to COVID-19 protocols based on guidance from UAH and the University of Alabama system.

The Chargers’ WCHA series against Northern Michigan at the Von Braun Center has been postponed and will be rescheduled at a later date. Last week, UAH’s trip to Bemidji State was postponed to March 5-6.

UAH’s last game was on January 9, when the Chargers defeated Ferris State 2-0 at the Von Braun Center to finish a WCHA series sweep. The Chargers now hope to resume play at Minnesota State in a non-conference series on January 28 and 29.

“The health and safety of our student athletes and staff members is the top priority and will continue to be as we work our way through this pandemic,” UAH athletics director Dr. Cade Smith said. “We believe this is the best way for us to be able to complete our season and continue to compete as a program. I am grateful for our medical providers and all that they are doing to keep us safe as well as helping us to be able to play and compete.”

Charger junior forward Tyr Thompson said the team is focused on returning to action.

“It’s tough, obviously, not playing games,” Thompson said. “We’re just trying to stay positive out there. We’re really looking forward to getting back and playing again soon whenever that may be.

“With this recent news now that we’ve been shut down and quarantine for 10 days, we have to really abide by that and make sure that we get our cases down and make sure that when we do get back, we’re all healthy and ready to go.”

The long pause comes at a time when UAH (2-5-1 overall, 2-2-0 WCHA) was finding its groove. The Chargers’ sweep of Ferris State was their first two wins of the season. Thompson scored a goal and two assists in the series.

“We’ve gelled together and come together really quickly this year as a team,” Thompson said. “I think that’s something that’s really changed since last year. Communication is a big part of that, and that starts with the top level guys, our coaches (Lance West, Karlis Zirnis, Carmine Guerriero).

“We definitely still have room for improvement, like any team. We still have a higher ceiling and we can keep continuing to grow. It’s good that we’ve had that success and we’ve put some points in the win column, and I think we’ll continue to do that as we get better.”

It’s uncertain when the UAH-Northern Michigan series can be played. The Chargers have a series scheduled for every weekend through the end of the regular season, including the March 5-6 weekend the WCHA set aside for make-up games (taken by the postponed series at Bemidji State). The WCHA playoffs are currently scheduled to begin March 12.

Northern Michigan is also booked every week, except for the open weekend for make-up dates.

UAH now has had four games postponed and one game at Ferris State in December cancelled in this shortened 2020-21 season because of the pandemic.

“Within our group, we’re trying to stay safe, we’re trying to social distance,” Thompson said. “Sometimes it’s hard to do that, but we do try our best, wearing masks and abiding these protocols. At the end of the day, if we follow the protocols, that will end up with us playing games. It starts with taking care of yourself.”

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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.

Series at Bemidji State postponed

The Chargers were scheduled to play at Bemidji State on Friday and Saturday. The series has been postponed, presumably for COVID-related reasons.

The series is now scheduled for March 5 and 6 at Bemidji.

UAH (2-5-1, 2-2-0 WCHA) swept Ferris State last weekend at the Von Braun Center for its first two wins of the season. The Chargers’ next action is at home against Northern Michigan on January 22 and 23, with a puck drop of 7:07 p.m. both nights.

UAH release

Finnson, Bronte earn WCHA weekly awards

Each scoring three points in UAH’s sweep of Ferris State over the weekend, Dayne Finnson and Tyrone Bronte each earned WCHA player of the week honors for the second time this season.

Finnson was named WCHA Defenseman of the Week after scoring a goal and two assists. The goal was the overtime game-winner in Friday night’s 5-4 victory. He assited in UAH’s first goal Friday and second goal Saturday. He blocked five shots in the series, four of them in the first game.

Finnson leads all UAH defensemen with five points and is tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 14.

Bronte was named WCHA Rookie of the Week with two goals and an assist. He scored UAH’s first goal Friday and second goal Saturday, both on the power play, and assisted Finnson’s OT winner.

Bronte leads the Chargers in points with seven and is tied with Tyr Thompson with three goals this season.

Finnson and Bronte won the same awards on Nov. 23.

The Chargers head to Bemidji State for games this Friday and Saturday.

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Fessenden, UAH shut out Ferris to finish home sweep

Call him “Big Save Dave.”

UAH goaltender David Fessenden earned his first career shutout, stopping all 42 Ferris State shots in a 2-0 Charger victory at the Von Braun Center on Saturday.

Fessenden’s 42 saves were the second-most in a shutout in UAH history, two shy of now-Michigan Tech goaltender Mark Sinclair’s record of 44 set last season.

The Chargers (2-5-1 overall, 2-2-0 WCHA) completed its first series sweep in two years, and already matched their win total from last season. Combined with Friday’s 5-4 overtime victory, UAH’s had a very successful opening series at Propst Arena.

BOX SCORE

In the crazier stat department, UAH posted its first shutout at the VBC since October 25, 2003, when Adam MacLean and Scott Munroe combined to blank Connecticut 6-0.

It certainly wasn’t easy, as Ferris State (0-8-0 overall, 0-4-0 WCHA) used six power plays to pepper the Charger net. But the Bulldogs could not convert on any of them, as UAH’s penalty kill was a perfect 11-for-11 on the weekend.

Early penalties to Tyrone Bronte and Ayodele Adeniye put the Chargers in a bind. The closest call was when Jake Willets had the puck all alone in the slot but was denied with Fessenden’s pad.

Ferris State had three power plays in the first period alone, allowing the Bulldogs a lot of time in the UAH end, even though the Chargers had two power plays of their own. FSU had 19 shot attempts to UAH’s seven, and had a 10-3 advantage in shots on goal.

The second period was a bit more even in terms of offensive possession, with Ferris State only outshooting UAH 13-10. However, the Chargers were the ones who finally capitalized with two late goals.

With 2:56 remaining and on a delayed penalty, Connor Merkley took a Tyr Thompson pass at the blue line and drove up the middle, beating Logan Stein with the backhand for his first goal of the season. Bahn also got an assist, his fourth, to tie for the team lead.

On the ensuing power play, Tyrone Bronte put the Chargers up 2-0 with 1:33 to go. The third goal of the season for the Australian freshman was assisted by Dayne Finnson and Mick Heneghan.

In the third period, it was again all about the big sophomore from Parker, Colorado.

Around the halfway point, Fessenden made a nifty sliding save on Coale Norris on a 2-on-1 break. With just over five minutes to go, Fessenden’s stick denied Ethan Stewart on another point-blank opportunity.

The Bulldogs only had one power play in the final frame, but still managed 19 shots on goal to UAH’s five. They had 28 attempts to UAH’s nine.

Fessenden’s final five saves came in the final 20 seconds, as Ferris State had pulled Stein for the extra attacker and UAH was forced to ice the puck twice in the final minute.

The Chargers’ next action is next weekend at Bemidji State. They return to the VBC on January 22-23 against Northern Michigan.