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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.

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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.

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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.

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Chargers snag OT win in long-awaited home opener

The Chargers were back at the Von Braun Center for the first time in 10 months, although it has seemed like eons. They wanted to treat the fans who supported them when a future did not seem possible.

And treat them they did in thrilling fashion. Ben Allen scored with 2.4 seconds remaining in regulation to tie, and Dayne Finnson blasted the game-winning goal in a 5-4 UAH overtime win over Ferris State on Friday night.

A socially-distanced crowd of 1,124 erupted as the Chargers (1-5-1 overall, 1-2-0 WCHA) clinched their first victory in seven games this year and the first under head coach Lance West. UAH snapped a 14-game winless streak going back to last season.

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UAH will be going for the series sweep Saturday night at 7 p.m.

The Chargers threw just about everything they could at Ferris State freshman goaltender Logan Stein, who was making his season debut after finishing the world junior championship with a gold medal as Team USA’s backup. UAH had 45 shots on goal, the most in a game since 2015.

The game was a constant back-and-forth, testing both Stein and UAH goalie David Fessenden, who stopped 26 of 30 FSU shots.

UAH started with a strong power play, but it was Ferris State (0-7-0, 0-3-0) that scored the first goal. Antonio Venuto poked the puck through Fessenden’s left side at the 4:32 mark.

UAH answered with another power play, and this one was successful. Tyrone Bronte from the slot deflected Finnson’s pass from the left point over Stein’s glove to tie the game at 1-1 with 7:03 remaining in the first.

Tyrone Bronte, right, celebrates with Lucas Bahn after scoring UAH’s first goal. (Photo by Chuck Edgeworth/UAH Athletics)

The Chargers took a 2-1 lead at 5:31 of the second period. Tyr Thompson’s blast from the right side rebounded off Stein to Drew Lennon in the left circle, and Lennon drove the puck home.

Ferris State tied the game back up at 2-2 around halfway through the contest on Coale Norris’s putback from the slot.

UAH survived a scare in the second half of the second period after getting back-to-back slashing penalties. But the Chargers and Fessenden’s three crucial saves kept the game even through two.

The Chargers had a big chance to pull ahead with a two-man advantage with about 12 minutes to go in regulation. Allen had a prime chance point blank denied by Stein and a Lennon blast hit the crossbar, but UAH came up empty.

The Bulldogs took a 3-2 lead not long after on a Mitch Deelstra goal, beginning a stirring stretch of goals in the final 7:30 of regulation.

UAH re-tied the game with 4:22 in regulation with its second power-play goal. Tyr Thompson’s wrister from the left circle resulted in his team-leading third goal of the season, giving Mick Heneghan his first career point with the primary assist.

Ferris State answered under two minutes later on a Justin Michaelian goal, and it appeared the Chargers might be destined for their fourth one-goal loss of the season.

Not so fast, said UAH. With Fessenden pulled with the extra attacker and time winding down, the Chargers mounted one final rush. Lennon sent the puck up to Quinn Green just before the blue line, who fed it to Allen, who wristed the puck past Stein with 2.4 seconds remaining to tie the game at 4-4.

The officials confirmed the goal after checking video replay to make sure the Chargers were onside after Green took the puck.

UAH got the overtime game-winner with its third power-play goal. The Bulldogs were called for too many men on the ice, giving the Chargers a 4-on-3 advantage. Finnson’s one-timer in the right circle on a feed from Bauer Neudecker beat Stein glove side with 2:30 left in the 3-on-3 period.

While the Chargers were 3-for-6 on the power play, they killed all five of Ferris State’s advantages.

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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.
WATCHFloHockey.tv (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

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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.
WATCHFloHockey.tv (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.