Playoff watch: Win would secure berth for UAH

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Feb 182018
 
Charger celebration

Photo by Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography

A win and they’re in. That’s what the Chargers can do to clinch a playoff spot this weekend when they host Bowling Green at the Von Braun Center.

Here’s what we know about the WCHA playoff picture heading into the final week of the regular season:

  • Minnesota State needs just one point against Bemidji State to win the MacNaughton Cup as regular season champion and take the No. 1 seed.
  • Northern Michigan and Bowling Green will also host quarterfinal series.
  • The 4-5 matchup is set: Bemidji State will host Michigan Tech in the quarterfinals.

That leaves playoff spots six through eight up for grabs. For more detail on all the WCHA races, including probabilities, check out The WCHA Playoff Prediction Blog.

Pts Record 3/SO^ Final week
6 UAH 30 9-15-2 1 H vs BGSU
6 Alaska 30 9-15-2 1 H vs UAA
8 Ferris State 28 9-16-1 0 H vs LSSU
9 Lake Superior 27 8-15-3 0 A vs FSU

^ 3-on-3/shootout points after ties.

The Chargers are fighting Alaska, Ferris State, and Lake Superior State for the three remaining playoff spots. UAH and Alaska are tied for 6th with 30 points, Ferris State is in 8th with 28 points, and Lake Superior State is currently on the outside looking in with 27 points.

UAH only needs to finish ahead of one of those teams to make the playoffs.

Alaska hosts rival Alaska Anchorage, which is in 10th and eliminated from contention. Lake Superior State goes to Ferris State.

That LSSU and FSU play each other is important. If either team sweeps the other, the swept team can’t catch UAH, no matter what the Chargers do against Bowling Green.

If Ferris State and Lake Superior State split and UAH doesn’t get any points, then the Chargers are eliminated. FSU would have more points (31 to 30), and LSSU (who would tie UAH at 30 points) would win the “C” tiebreaker for having fewer conference losses (16 to 17).

But if UAH gets two points or more, it would be impossible for both FSU and LSSU to surpass the Chargers.

In summary, the Chargers are in if:

  • UAH gets two points or more against Bowling Green OR
  • Ferris State gets four points or more against Lake Superior OR
  • Lake Superior gets four points or more against Ferris State.

Or in even simpler terms: UAH gets a win, or Lake Superior and Ferris State do not split.

What about Alaska? Currently the Nanooks have the exact same conference record and points as the Chargers, and Alaska and UAH split the only two games played head-to-head. Alaska is thus in a similar situation: Lance West’s club needs only two points to secure a playoff berth, which is likely against Alaska Anchorage. Alaska has already beaten its hated rival four times (two conference and two non-conference) by a combined score of 19-8.

If the Chargers and Nanooks remain tied after the final games are played, Alaska would likely surpass UAH all the way at the “E” tiebreaker, which is points percentage against each WCHA team starting at the top. Alaska has a win over first-place Minnesota State, and UAH went 0-4 against MSU.

It should be an exciting final weekend in the WCHA, which, because not all teams make the conference tournament, sets itself apart from the other leagues in Division I.

WCHA final regular-season week schedule (all time Central):

Friday, Feb. 23
Bowling Green at UAH, 6:07 p.m.
Lake Superior State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
Bemidji State at Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.
Alaska Anchorage at Alaska, 10:07 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 24
Bowling Green at UAH, 3:07 p.m.
Lake Superior State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
Northern Michigan at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
Bemidji State at Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.
Alaska Anchorage at Alaska, 10:07 p.m.

Playoff watch: UAH still 6th heading into bye week

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Feb 112018
 

Josh Kestner battles with Minnesota State’s Daniel Brickley. (Photo by Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography)

The Chargers have more work to do to get into the WCHA playoffs, but for now, all we can do is watch.

Despite being swept by Minnesota State this weekend, UAH remains in sixth place in the league standings as Alaska was also swept by Northern Michigan and Ferris State was idle.

The top eight make the conference playoffs, with the top four hosting best-of-3 quarterfinal series.p

UAH is off next weekend. The Chargers host Bowling Green on Feb. 23-24 to finish the regular season, looking to get back into the WCHA playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Here’s what we know about the WCHA playoff picture with two weeks left in the regular season:

  • Northern Michigan, Minnesota State, and Bowling Green have clinched home-ice in the first round. One of these three will hoist the MacNaughton Cup as regular season champion.
  • Bemidji State and Michigan Tech have clinched playoff berths. These two are battling to have home-ice in the first round.
  • UAH, Alaska, Ferris State, and Lake Superior State are battling for the last three playoff spots.
  • Alaska Anchorage is eliminated from playoff contention.

Our focus is on the Chargers, so let’s see what’s left for them and the three teams they are jostling with:

Pts Record 3/SO^ Next week Final week
6 UAH 30 9-15-2 1 Idle H vs BGSU
7 Alaska 29 9-14-1 1 A vs BSU H vs UAA
8 Ferris State 28 9-14-1 0 A vs MSU H vs LSSU
9 Lake Superior 27 8-15-3 0 Idle A vs FSU

^ 3-on-3/shootout points after ties.

During the Chargers’ off week, UAH fans should root for Bemidji State (I know, I know) over Alaska and Minnesota State over Ferris State. We don’t know what UAH needs to stay ahead of Alaska and Ferris State until those series are played.

However, we have more certainty with Lake Superior State also idle this week. We only need UAH to finish ahead of one of these teams, and with UAH and LSSU only having two games left, we know that UAH gets in with these scenarios:

  • UAH gets at least four points against Bowling Green.
  • Ferris State gets at least four points against Lake Superior.

There’s a chance UAH gets in with only three points against Bowling Green, but both games would have to be ties AND Lake Superior cannot sweep Ferris State.

Hoof Beats: Magic numbers

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Feb 062018
 
Josh Kestner

Josh Kestner gets a shot off against NMU. (Photo by Todd Thompson / RiverCat Photography)

Sunday’s 4-2 win over Northern Michigan was a critical step toward the Chargers going back to the WCHA playoffs for the first time since 2015.

The victory vaulted UAH back into sixth place with 30 points and four games to go. They are one point ahead of seventh-place Alaska and two points ahead of eighth-place Ferris State. The top eight go to the playoffs.

UAH is nine points clear of ninth-place Lake Superior State, which stayed alive with an unexpected sweep at Bemidji State last weekend. Lake Superior also has four games to play.

(How big was Lake Superior winning that series? If Bemidji State had swept, UAH would have clinched a spot already and the eight-team playoff field would have been determined save for seeding.)

UAH’s magic number to clinch a WCHA playoff spot is four points. This means if UAH earns four points, Lake Superior State gives four points, or any combination thereof totals four points, the Chargers will be in the WCHA playoffs.

The Chargers host fifth-ranked Minnesota State this weekend, while Lake Superior State goes to last-place Alaska Anchorage. Both teams are off next week. UAH hosts Bowling Green and Lake Superior State is at Ferris State in the final week of the regular season (Feb. 23-24).

Where UAH finally lands as anyone’s guess. The Chargers could finish as high as fourth — which would mean playing at home in the quarterfinals — but UAH would need a lot of help to catch and surpass both Michigan Tech and Bemidji State (which has two games in hand).

Most Goals in a Season
UAH Modern D-I era*
1 Bruce Mulherin (2004-05) 24
2 Jared Ross (2004-05) 22
3 Nathan Bowen (1999-00) 21
3 Jared Ross (2002-03) 21
5 Josh Kestner (2017-18) 20
* Since the 1999-2000 season

20: Josh Kestner scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season on Sunday, becoming the first Charger to score 20 or more since Bruce Mulherin and Jared Ross did it in the 2004-05 season.

Kestner has a chance to break the UAH modern Division I era record for goals in a season, which is 24 set by Mulherin in 2004-05. He could also break the modern D-I era record for goals by a senior, which is 22 set by Ross, also in 2004-05.

Kestner also has scored 40 goals in his UAH career, the sixth Charger in the modern Division I era to do so. (The record is 73 by Jared Ross from 2001-05.)

4.0: Ted Rotenberger and John Teets represented the hockey team among the 64 student-athletes honored for earning a 4.0 GPA in the fall or spring semester in 2017.

The athletes were recognized Monday at Spragins Hall during halftime of the Charger men’s basketball game.

300: Sunday’s victory was the 300th varsity win at the Von Braun Center. Since the first varsity season of 1985-86, UAH is 300-178-36 at home.

Blue Line Club luncheon: There will be a Blue Line Club luncheon this Friday at noon in the Varsity Room at Spragins Hall. Several UAH seniors and coach Mike Corbett will discuss this weekend’s series against Minnesota State. Bojangles’ will be catering.

Saulnier suspended four games

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Jan 292018
 

Senior forward Brennan Saulnier will miss a total of four games after an accumulation of game misconduct penalties and a two-game suspension handed down by the WCHA on Monday.

Saulnier checked Bemidji State forward Myles Fitzgerald from behind into the boards 33 seconds into UAH’s 5-1 loss on Saturday. Saulnier got a five-minute major and a game misconduct, his third of the season, which by NCAA rule results in a one-game suspension.

Saulnier was assessed a game disqualification penalty for abuse of officials, which is another one-game suspension.

On Monday, after review, the WCHA determined that the “hit was delivered in a manner that warranted” a two-game suspension, for a total of four games. This is Saulnier’s fourth suspension by the league in his UAH career and second this season.

Saulnier will miss home series against Northern Michigan on Feb. 3-4, and Minnesota State on Feb. 9-10. He will be eligible to return for the regular-season final series at home against Bowling Green (Feb. 23-24).

Saulnier has scored eight goals this season, tied for second most on the team. His 14 points are tied for third.

Hoof Beats: Finally home, UAH looks to ‘finish’ games, secure playoffs

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Jan 182018
 
Mike Corbett

The Chargers get their last eight regular season home games at home. (UAH Athletics)

John Denver sang, “Hey, it’s good to be back home again.” For the Chargers, the Von Braun Center probably does feel like a long lost friend.

The Chargers have completed a stretch of six road series over seven weeks, including a three-week continuous trip from Bemidji, Minnesota, to Fairbanks, Alaska, to Anchorage, Alaska.

UAH finished the grueling 12-game swing with 3-8-1 record, which isn’t great. UAH did finish with wins in the last two series in Alaska, coming out of it in sixth place in the WCHA standings.

The Chargers came home Sunday and took three days off to rest, resuming normal practice on Thursday. This is a bye week before an eight-game home stand to finish the regular season.

The home stand starts Friday, Jan. 26, against Bemidji State.

The bye week is surely welcome, as the Chargers were fighting the injury bug near the end of the trip. Freshman winger Andrew Dodson was out most of the road trip, and sophomore forward Brandon Salerno missed the series at Anchorage.

“We got banged up along the way,” Corbett said. “Physically, we were pretty good towards the end of the road trip, for the guys who were able to play. I think it’s more mental health than anything. We need to get away from each other for a little bit.”

Sophomore winger Jordan Larson returned to action last Friday at Anchorage after missing the first 24 games of the season due to an ankle injury. But he left the second game Saturday with a concussion.

“It was unfortunate for Jordan, because he wasn’t 100 percent by any means conditioning wise, but his ankle felt very good and we were down a forward,” Corbett said. “He was comfortable enough to be able to go out there and play and he had some dynamite scoring chances.”

Then it seemed everyone got sick. Tyler Poulsen missed a couple of games in Alaska. Connor Merkley left after the first period on Saturday in Anchorage.

“I like the resolve of our group because we were able to do that,” Corbett said. “We finished one game with roughly two lines and an extra Saturday against Fairbanks (a 3-1 win), and we were able to get points in that game. We had literally seven forwards to play with in Anchorage on Friday (a 4-2 win).

“I was impressed by our conditioning. I was impressed by our actual energy levels physically coming down the stretch in that last week of the road trip.”

So the Chargers will get a chance to heal, and they may get an extra boost when they take the ice against Bemidji with the return of senior captain Max McHugh. McHugh also hasn’t suited up this season because of an injury, but he was scheduled to join the optional skate on Wednesday. Corbett is optimistic that he’ll be able to help down the stretch.

While the Chargers do get the rest of the regular season at home with four series in five weeks, it won’t be easy.  All four opponents are in the top four of the WCHA standings: Bemidji State (4th), Northern Michigan (2nd), Minnesota State (1st), and Bowling Green (3rd). The Chargers faced those four opponents on the road before going to Alaska, going 1-6-1.

“The goal is to get as many guys as healthy as possible,” Corbett said. “These are going to be well-earned points. These are teams that have come into our building and done well, so we have to be as prepared as we can. We don’t want to have it come down to that last weekend against Bowling Green.

“We played well in our past stretch at home (3-2-1 back in November), so we’d like to feel we’re coming into our friendly confines, and what better challenge is there than to play the top teams in the league to be able to solidify your playoff position.”

Goaltending has been solid for UAH, even when the scoring has been inconsistent. Jordan Uhelski has been in goal for all eight wins this season, but freshman backup Mark Sinclair has been making strides even if his statistics don’t bear it out.

“As much as Mark’s record and his numbers don’t look great, he’s played well,” Corbett said. “He deserved a better fate on Friday in Fairbanks (3-2 loss).”

“I have no qualms with our goaltending. Obviously, Jordan’s our go-to guy right now. Jordan has kept us in games and he’s given us a chance to win every night, and that’s all we can ask. Some nights we’re scoring, and some night’s we’re not.

“Our biggest thing right now is we’ve got to finish. In Fairbanks, we don’t finish on Friday, and we do on Saturday. We played a better game on Friday than we did on Saturday, but we finished on Saturday.”

Kestner for Hobey: For the second straight year, Josh Kestner is on the initial list of Hobey Baker Award nominees. Fan voting has begun on Facebook.

Kestner is 13th in Division I in goals per game (0.62). He is tied for 10th in power play goals with six. Overall, he has 16 goals this season, already the most by a Charger in 11 years. Fourteen have come in WCHA play, tops in the league.

“Josh has taken steps every year,” Corbett said. “As much as people see, what they have to understand is Josh has taken off more off the ice, physically in the weight room and things like that. He’s matured that way off the ice and it’s shown on the ice.

“He’s at the top of everybody’s scouting report, the guy that people are trying to stop. The biggest key for an offensive player and a guy like Josh who is a shooter is to be able to find ways to get open, to put himself in position where he’s going to get a shot off and put the puck where he wants to put it. He’s learned to move well without the puck.”

“He has to have a good stretch, not only for himself, but for our team. He’s a guy we’re going to rely on, but we’re also going to need some other guys to chip in from an offensive standpoint.”

Overtime talks: The Wisconsin State Journal last week reported that a standard overtime format across all conference is being debated. However, there is no consensus.

Currently, all NCAA games have a 5-on-5 sudden death overtime period if it is tied after regulation. If neither team scores, the result is a tie.

In the western leagues (WCHA, Big Ten, NCHC), games continue to determine which team gets an extra point in the league standings, even though the game is still officially a tie. The WCHA and NCHC play five minutes of 3-on-3 and, if needed, a sudden-death shootout. The Big Ten uses a three-round shootout only.

The eastern leagues (Hockey East, ECAC, Atlantic Hockey) do nothing: When 5-on-5 overtime ends, they go home.

Corbett, who is on the Division I championships committee, said overtime was a topic of discussion over the summer. The NCAA tournament field is based on the Pairwise rankings. A component of the Pairwise is the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which basically “shuts off” once the 5-on-5 overtime period is over.

Corbett said there is concern among college coaches should the NCAA adopt the NHL system, which uses a 3-on-3 overtime right after regulation. “I think college coaches are afraid that then all of a sudden they’re going to turn the RPI back on on the five minutes of 3-on-3. And they don’t want RPI points being given from a gimmick.”

This is the second year the WCHA adopted the three-point conference game system with an additional 3-on-3 overtime and shootout, and Corbett says it is good.

“It’s a little bit about the fan experience when it comes with 3-on-3 and the shootout. I like it. You know you’re getting points, it’s a little strategic and makes you work harder as a coach, thinking a bit more about who you’re putting out there. And you’re going to see that it’s going to make a difference at the end of the year.”

This week in the WCHA: All times are Central. Games featuring WCHA teams at home can be seen on WCHA.tv.

Friday, Jan. 19
* Bemidji State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
* Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska Anchorage at #17 Bowling Green, 6:37 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 20
* Bemidji State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
* Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
* Alaska Anchorage at #17 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.
#9 Minnesota State at #3 St. Cloud State, 5:07 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 23
#14 Minnesota Duluth at #9 Minnesota State, 7:07 p.m.