Widespread Conference Schedule Exemption

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Jun 202018
 

Proposed New Schedule Exemption

It is time for a new exemption in college hockey: If you play in a geographically diverse conference, all non-Alaska members can play one home series each season that can be exempted from the visitors’ schedule maximum.

The Alaska Exemption

College hockey fans generally know about “the Alaskan exemption” if you schedule games at either Alaska or Alaska-Anchorage, those games do not count against your 34-game maximum, and as such you can schedule 36 games against Division I opponents.  For men’s ice hockey, the relevant section of the 2017-18 NCAA Division I manual is 17.13.5.3 Annual Exemptions, item (i).

(i) Hawaii or Alaska.  Any games played in Hawaii or Alaska, respectively, against an active Division I member institution located in Hawaii or Alaska, by a member located outside the area in question;

which is to say that UAA and UAF can’t exempt their four games against each other.

This rule exists to maintain NCAA member school viability in far-flung locales (Puerto Rico is often included in these exemptions despite its geographic proximity to Florida).  The thinking goes that a team that makes the trip to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico can then schedule an extra home game (or weekend), allowing it to recuperate some or all of the cost of the travel.  For the remote schools, it allows them to play a fuller Division I schedule without saddling them with a travel budget many times what their continental counterparts would require.

The Alaska Concentration

College hockey fans generally know that both UAA and UAF are in the same conference, which wasn’t the case as recently as five years ago, when the CCHA still existed and hated biscuits.  Now the WCHA has the worst far-flung travel schedule of all of the conferences, and it’s frankly not even close.  Behold:

Atlantic Hockey’s geographic midpoint is in Allegany, NY.

Atlantic Hockey Geographic Midpoint

The Big Ten’s geographic midpoint is in Climax, MI.

Big Ten Geographic Footprint

The ECAC’s geographic midpoint is in Rensselaer, NY.

ECAC Geographic Footprint

Hockey East’s geographic midpoint is Windham, NH.

Hockey East Geographic Footprint

The NCHC’s geographic midpoint is in Webb, IA.

NCHC Geographic Footprint

The WCHA’s geographic midpoint is Falcon Beach, MB.

WCHA Geographic Footprint

The Far-Flung Problem

The WCHA has all three of the longest road trips in the country: Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Huntsville.  Furthermore, all four Michigan schools are far from well-traveled airports, and Bemidji State is equidistant from Winnipeg and Minneapolis.  Only one WCHA member school — UAA — is served by a large airport with regularly scheduled flights capable of easily carrying a full hockey team and their gear.  If you travel to most any other school via air, you’ll be riding a bus for a couple of hours at minimum to and from the airport.  (Yes, this is true of Huntsville: despite being the conference’s largest metropolitan area, proximity to Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham means that HSV is pretty small.)

In theory, each non-Alaska WCHA school can exempt two games a season, and in some years, you get to exempt four. WCHA schools have had an issue getting home dates to make use of the exemption, largely nullifying the value of being in a conference with UAA and UAF.  The WCHA will have 63 (up to 65) non-conference games in 2018-19, and just 25 of those are at home.  The breakdown of those 25 games are: AHC (3), ASU (2), Bi7 (5), ECAC (2), HE (4), NCHC (9).  Just four of those (SCSU @ UAA 2x, CC @ UAF 2x) are exemption-sourcing games.

The availability of WCHA schools to schedule two or four extra games hasn’t proved to make it easier to get home dates.  Furthermore, the current constitution of the WCHA as the leftovers thrown into one western conference means that seven schools are saddled with the difficulties of traveling to three programs, costs that are difficult to offset without an incentive for schools to visit them (or to offer lucrative pay dates).  For the three eastern conferences: the three AHC games are with teams in the western half of the conference (MC, RMU); the HE trips are BU and Merrimack, and the ECAC trip is Cornell to NMU, which isn’t an arduous journey.  It’s telling that the two top-flight trips — BU-MSU, CU-NMU — are to teams at the top of the WCHA last season.

Proposed Solution

Simply put: Rather than a state-based solution, make it a geographic-based one.

  1. If you are at least 1,000 miles from your conference’s geographic center, you can award all visiting schools a one-series, two-game exemption from their schedule maximum.
  2. If at least half of a conference’s member schools are at least 500 miles from that conference’s geographic center, all non-Alaska schools can award one visiting school a one-series, two-game exemption from their schedule maximum.

The net effect of this proposal is as follows:

  1. Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville would additionally be able to enable visiting schools to exempt games as long as conference affiliations are in their current configuration.
  2. Atlantic Hockey and WCHA schools would become able to designate one home, non-conference series as eligible for exemption each season.

Rationale

If the goal is to increase the amount of teams playing Division I sports in general, including supporting programs outside of the traditional geographic footprints of those sports, schedule exemptions are a great way to increase travel to these far-flung member schools.  Adding Air Force and UAH to the list of schools that grant exemptions not only allows them to schedule more home games, but it allows members of their parent conferences to offset the costs of having a distant member in their midst.  The costs of travel to these distant destinations can be offset with a home weekend, but if your program struggles to get home weekends — and AHC and WCHA schools do — this gives you another arrow in your quiver.

Let us again consider this season.  Would WCHA schools be seeing just 18 games against top-four leagues, most of those between in-state teams that are long-standing foes?  If you’re Ohio State, don’t you consider a two-and-two rather than a one-and-one with BG because you could pick up another three home games out of the deal?  If you’re Western, don’t you try to play Ferris State every year?

Exemptions for all WCHA and AHC members allow them to get bigger schools to schedule them for games.  While these two leagues are pretty widespread, the hearts of each league are near hockey hotbeds, so getting exempt games generated locally will help these schools.

As for Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville, they both benefit greatly.

Air Force would cement its place in AHC, because it moving somewhere else collapses the league into a footprint centered on Binghamton, NY, one that takes the exemption away from all of those schools.  Air Force would be virtually guaranteed home games with in-state foes DU and CC every season, and it’s likely that some schools would make a Colorado trip and do single games with Air Force and either Denver or Colorado, using the exemption on the other in-Colorado game and keeping a home seris in pocket.

Alabama-Huntsville has historically struggled to get quality home opponents; its best such series came only when local boy Nic Dowd was a senior at St. Cloud and got Bob Motzko to bring him down.  A full-exemption home non-conference slate would likely see the team playing 18-20 home dates a season, which would greatly help attendance and send a message that Huntsville is a home for hockey.  UAH could even have seasons where its only road series were in conference play.

Atlantic Hockey members would benefit as well, as many of these schools are short bus rides away from HE, ECAC, and Bi7 schools, who would be much likelier to schedule road dates to those schools.

A Survey of the Distances of Each School to their Conference’s Geographic Midpoint

All distances courtesy of Daft Logic’s Distance Calculator.  They are direct-line distances between each and do not reflect road availability or travel times.

In short, four schools (Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska-Anchorage, and Alaska) are more than 1,000 miles from their league’s geographic midpoint, and two conferences (Atlantic Hockey, WCHA) have at least half of member schools playing at least 500 miles from the geographic center.

Atlantic Hockey (average distance 648 miles, standard deviation 333 miles)

  • Air Force, 1,398 miles
  • American International, 302 miles
  • Army, 239 miles
  • Bentley, 372 miles
  • Canisius, 763 miles
  • Holy Cross, 402 miles
  • Mercyhurst, 825 miles
  • Niagara, 769 miles
  • Robert Morris, 855 miles
  • RIT, 700 miles
  • Sacred Heart, 507 miles

Big Ten (206, 157):

  • Michigan, 82 miles
  • Michigan State, 55 miles
  • Minnesota, 431 miles
  • Notre Dame, 61 miles
  • Ohio State, 199 miles
  • Penn State, 400 miles
  • Wisconsin, 215 miles

ECAC (108, 52):

  • Brown, 132 miles
  • Clarkson, 153 miles
  • Colgate, 92 miles
  • Cornell, 141 miles
  • Dartmouth, 104 miles
  • Harvard, 136 miles
  • Princeton, 165 miles
  • Quinnipiac, 97 miles
  • RPI, 6 miles
  • St. Lawrence, 153 miles
  • Union, 15 miles
  • Yale, 101 miles

Hockey East (65, 59):

  • Boston College, 33 miles
  • Boston University, 32 miles
  • Connecticut, 84 miles
  • Maine, 195 miles
  • Massachusetts, 69 miles
  • Massachusetts-Lowell, 12 miles
  • Merrimack, 11 miles
  • New Hampshire, 30 miles
  • Northeastern, 32 miles
  • Providence, 68 miles
  • Vermont, 150 miles

NCHC (398, 183):

  • Colorado College, 586 miles
  • Denver, 563 miles
  • Miami, 584 miles
  • Minnesota-Duluth, 301 miles
  • Nebraska-Omaha, 126 miles
  • North Dakota, 358 miles
  • St. Cloud State, 185 miles
  • Western Michigan, 482 miles

WCHA (877, 733):

  • Alabama-Huntsville, 1125 miles
  • Alaska-Anchorage, 2207 miles
  • Alaska, 2138 miles
  • Bemidji State, 155 miles
  • Bowling Green, 804 miles
  • Ferris State, 623 miles
  • Lake Superior, 552 miles
  • Michigan Tech, 357 miles
  • Minnesota State, 387 miles
  • Northern Michigan, 425 miles

What about realignment?

Discussions of the effects of this proposal on realignment (or realignment on this proposal) might be done at a later date.

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.

Weekend shows how fun UAH hockey can be at the VBC

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Nov 132017
 
Josh Kestner, Connor Merkley, Tyler Poulsen

Josh Kestner, left, celebrates a goal with Connor Merkley and Tyler Poulsen on Saturday. (Photo by Todd Thompson)

Well, that was fun.

UAH’s homecoming, home-opening series against Alaska Anchorage drew a combined attendance of 6,200 at the Von Braun Center. It was the largest two-game crowd for UAH since January 17-18, 2014, which coincidentally was also against UAA and also military appreciation weekend.

In that 2014 series, the first game ended in a 1-1 tie and UAA won the second game handily 4-1. The tie was the best result the Chargers had at the VBC in all of the 2013-14 season.

Since joining the WCHA in 2013, UAH has been struggling to find its home-ice advantage. Part of that is natural as the program has been trying to rebuild the team almost entirely from scratch following its near-death experience. But even as the team has improved on its record every year, the Chargers have had trouble not just winning at home but playing consistently well enough for the home fans.

Last season, UAH won nine games, but only two were at home. In 2015-16, UAH was 4-10-4 at home.

Head coach Mike Corbett said during Friday’s Blue Line Club luncheon that the problem was the Chargers would tighten up and try to play perfect in front of the crowd (or, perhaps more specifically, “their girlfriends”), which would lead to the wrong play and a wrong result.

That’s why this past weekend against Alaska Anchorage was so encouraging as the Chargers continue their six-game home stand this weekend against Lake Superior State.

On Friday, the Chargers were dominant, posting a 5-1 victory. The Chargers showcased their speed and stayed on their game plan. Even when it didn’t result in a goal, players such as Brennan Saulnier, who scored twice in the game, Tyler Poulsen, Josh Kestner, and Kurt Gosselin were causing the crowd to audibly ooh and ahh with their agile skating and puck work, getting around defenders and setting up solid scoring chances for themselves and their teammates.

The announced attendance of 3,128 was larger than any home game last season.

It was entertaining.

Jordan Uhelski and Cam Knight

Jordan Uhelski makes a save while Cam Knight defends during Saturday’s game. (Photo by Todd Thompson)

Saturday’s game started the same way, but problems came late in the second period. A fracas broke out in the UAH end, resulting in numerous penalties on both sides but a big one on Saulnier, who got a five-minute major for roughing and a game misconduct. The Seawolves pounced with two power play goals and took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

Recent history would have suggested that UAH would not have responded well to that adversity. But this time, the Chargers got back on their game plan, stayed composed in the third period, and let their play do the talking.

UAH capitalized on two power-play chances and tied the game. Kestner scored early in the third period (his second goal of the game), and Connor Merkley gets his first collegiate goal at the buzzer (for added effect). The crowd went wild twice: On the goal itself, and again after video replay confirmed it.

The game would officially result in a 3-3 tie. Even though Anchorage got the extra WCHA point in the shootout, memories were made for yet another 3,000-plus group in attendance, which is great for a college football Saturday.

It was entertaining.

Will Sterrett was in Huntsville on Saturday as he attempts to visit every WCHA rink for a game this season, including Fairbanks and Anchorage. You can follow his odyssey with the hashtag #ChasingMacNaughton. He’ll get to see UAH and UAA meet again in Anchorage on January 12.

Sterrett has already seen some amazing games already on his journey, and Saturday’s crazy finish was no different. During the delirium of the buzzer-beating, game-tying goal, he tweeted: “I am legit in tears right now.

But more importantly:

Corbett said as much following Saturday’s game: “Homecoming weekend, a lot of fans, a lot of kids and their parents coming to a game for the first time — I don’t think anybody was let down. Anybody who stayed to the end both nights was not let down. Hopefully we’ll build on it.”

The Chargers still have issues to figure out as the season progresses, especially with a monster 12-game road swing following this home stand. But if this weekend was any indication, we’ve got a fun team to watch this season, win or lose.

The Chargers host Lake Superior State this Friday and Saturday, then Ferris State next week. Then they don’t return home until Jan. 26-27 against rival Bemidji State, the first of four home series over the last five weeks of the regular season. They’ll need that last home stand for the playoff push, which should make for some more entertaining hockey.

So come on down to the Von Braun Center this weekend. You might be surprised at the fun you’ll have.

Promotions this week: Free general admission for kids 12 and under, courtesy of Huntsville International Airport. On Friday, the first 500 fans receive the next set of UAH hockey trading cards, courtesy of Wells Fargo.

Blue Line Club lunch: The first Blue Line Club luncheon is Friday at noon in the Varsity Room at Spragins Hall on the UAH campus. Lawlers Barbecue will be catering an it is free to Blue Line Club members. Lake Superior State coach Damon Whitten and UAH coach Mike Corbett will be on hand to talk about this weekend’s series.

Arizona State, realignment and how it could affect UAH

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Apr 292016
 

College hockey realignment is heating up again. Fortunately, this time UAH hockey isn’t looking for a conference slot to save its life, but could it find itself in a better deal than it is now?

The first move in this round of conference shuffling started a month ago when the Big Ten accepted Notre Dame as a hockey affiliate member starting in the 2017-18 season, bringing the conference’s hockey membership up to seven.

Now the question is where will the Big Ten get an eighth hockey member (because leagues love even numbers). It was speculated that they could get Division I-newcomer Arizona State.

That’s not going to happen, according to reports on Monday, cutting the Sun Devils’ options between the WCHA and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Reports from College Hockey News and USCHO.com on Friday have the NCHC trending toward a deal with Arizona State, although NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said nothing was imminent, while WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson has reiterated openly that they are pursuing the Sun Devils.

Arizona State is an interesting prospect. It just finished its first season as a varsity program, playing a mix of Division I, III, and club teams. The Sun Devils went 5-22-2 against NCAA opponents — three of those against WCHA opponents (one against Alaska-Fairbanks in Anchorage, and two in a sweep at Lake Superior State). They will play a full Division I independent schedule this coming season, and have been intending to play in a conference starting in 2017-18.

In the WCHA, ASU would hands down be the largest university in terms of attendance, with over 69,000 students, over four times more than the league’s current leader, Bowling Green. Arizona State would also join Bowling Green as the only full Division I athletic programs in the WCHA.

But there are questions. A big one is where ASU plays, or will play. The Sun Devils’ primary home has been Oceanside Ice Arena, which was renovated to a capacity of only 840, which would be the smallest in the WCHA. ASU played four games this season at Gila Bend Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, drawing over 5,000 twice. The Coyotes could partner with ASU on a new arena.

Then there’s travel. Arizona State would be added to a conference that’s primarily in the Midwest but already has two teams in Alaska and one in Alabama. ASU should be good with chipping in on the subsidies UAH and the Alaska schools provide to the rest of the league to cover the additional costs of visiting those areas, but how much extra mileage can the WCHA handle?

The current membership must be OK with the answers to these questions if Robertson is this public about pursuing them.

But if the WCHA adds Arizona State, where will it go to find a 12th member? (Again, leagues love even numbers.) Does it try to get Robert Morris or Niagara from Atlantic Hockey?

We’ll continue to monitor this during the summer. Meanwhile, there are a couple of realignment ideas that would be interesting from a UAH point of view.

Modest proposal: Fixing the WCHA

Drew Evans at BGSUHockey.com wrote a column last week about fixing the WCHA in three steps. The second step was the conference expanding to 12 and going into divisions. Arizona State wasn’t one of the two teams he’d add, which is understandable given the questions above and, at the time, how unlikely ASU joining would be.

Evans suggests adding Robert Morris and either Mercyhurst or Niagara from Atlantic Hockey, and splitting the league into Western and Central divisions. Each division would have one Alaska school to spread the travel there, and UAH would be in the Central with Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Robert Morris, and Mercyhurst/Niagara.

The primary reason for this suggestion is travel management. Save for the Alaska team, most of a club’s travel within the division would be bus rides of no more than 12 hours (between Ferris State and Huntsville).

It’s an interesting idea, especially if the WCHA fails to get Arizona State.

More modest proposal: Return of the CCHA?

Chris Dilks at SBN College Hockey goes further, going beyond the WCHA. His plan to fix the Western conferences includes the formation of an 8-team conference with many members from the old CCHA, plus UAH:

  • UAH
  • Bowling Green
  • Ferris State
  • Lake Superior State
  • Miami
  • Michigan Tech
  • Northern Michigan
  • Western Michigan

There are few scenarios that would benefit UAH more than this setup, particularly in terms of travel. Sure, we’d lose rival Bemidji State as a conference foe, but to help the Chargers’ bottom line, it would be crazy for UAH not to accept this if it were presented.

With eight teams, this conference could play a 28-game schedule with every team playing each other home and away. It also leaves the door open for future expansion, perhaps including Robert Morris, Niagara, and/or Mercyhurst as Evans suggested. (Any of those three would still not be the furthest away from UAH in such a league.)

Dilks’s plan hinges on North Dakota joining the Big Ten as a hockey-only member, and the rest of the WCHA/NCHC and Arizona State coming together in a 10-team, two-division league. I don’t know if UND would go for joining the Big Ten, although North Dakota as a hockey-only Big Ten member makes more since than Rutgers and Maryland as full-time Big Ten members.

Realignment has been rumored to return from the moment the current league setup was agreed upon. Now we see if that time has come, and whether UAH can be all the better for it.

Dec 042015
 

[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.