Series Preview: UAH vs. Minnesota State

It’s a weekend of new beginnings for the UAH Chargers and Minnesota State Mavericks: On the ice, and behind the bench.

Both clubs feature new head coaches with impressive resumes, but will be making their debuts in NCAA Division I. UAH’s Kurt Kleinendorst spent nine years as an assistant coach and scout with the New Jersey Devils, and led the Binghamton Senators of the AHL to a conference championship.

Meanwhile, Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings made his mark in junior hockey, leading the Omaha Lancers to three championships and becoming the all-time winningest coach in USHL history with 529 wins. He replaced Troy Jutting, who coached the Mavericks for 12 seasons.

The Mavericks were 12-24-2 overall last season, finishing 11th in the WCHA with a 8-18-1 conference slate. UAH is coming off its worst season record-wise with only two victories.

As such, both teams are eager to make this a turnaround season.

The Mavericks return their top four scorers and have added depth on offense with a talented rookie class, but the top man is senior captain Eriah Hayes. Hayes has pro potential, and his line with Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored 37 goals last season.

This will pose a challenge to the Chargers’ relatively inexperienced goaltending corps. John Griggs is a third-year senior who played in six games last season, and junior C.J. Groh played in only two. Along with freshman Gregg Gruehl, this series could be an audition for the regular starter spot.

The Mavericks do not have such questions in goal. Phil Cook will start the opener. The 6-3, 195-pound senior had two different seasons in one in 2011-12: He had a 6.68 goals against average in just five games in the first half, then posted a 2.59 average (with a .917 save percentage) in 11 starts the rest of the way. He did not face UAH in the two-game series in Mankato last season.

Senior co-captain Tyler Elbrecht leads a corps of six returning defensemen for MSU. The 6-4, 210-pound Elbrecht is the most physical presence on the team. Zach Palmquist, a sophomore led all Maverick blue liners with 19 points — six more than Kyle Lysaght, UAH‘s leading scorer last season.

So what about the Charger offense? Coach K^2 is preaching the “process.” And that process will be to see how UAH’s top guns — Lysaght, captain Justin Cseter, and alternate captain Sebastian Geoffrion — will get their scoring chances. The Chargers got 22 goals against Alabama, but against real NCAA competition, this will be a work in progress that will likely require patience as coach and players get in synch. Jack Prince had a big weekend against the Frozen Tide, so his NCAA debut will be one to watch.

Minnesota State, which took a 7-1 decision against Lethbridge in their lone preseason game, has the upper hand in all phases — it showed last season when the Mavericks beat the Chargers 4-2 and 9-1 in Mankato. To pull the upset, UAH will need to rely on its five veteran defensemen (with alternate captain Curtis deBruyn) and handful of touted freshmen.

Minnesota State is unbeaten in the last eight meetings with the Chargers, evening the all-time series record at 17-17-4.

For PucKato‘s thoughts, check out their evaluations of their forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders.  Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press does great work.


Know Your Foe: Ferris State University

The puck drops Thursday night at the Von Braun CenterPropst Arena. The Chargers’ opponent on both ends of this season are the Bulldogs of Ferris State University. As a service to you, the UAH Hockey fan, we present to you the first in a series: Know Your Foe.

Photo Credit:

Ferris State University, usually called “Ferris” or “FSU”, was founded by Woodbridge Nathan Ferris in 1884 as the Big Rapids Industrial School. Ferris the man was a career educator, working at various levels in his home state of New York as well as in Illinois before moving back to Michigan, where he had briefly studied medicine at the University of Michigan. Later in life, Ferris was Michigan’s 28th governor as well as representing the Great Lakes State in the United States Senate.

Ferris the university started off as a private school, held entirely in Ferris’s hands until 1900, when some stock was sold to the public with the founder retaining a controlling interest. In 1943, alumni pushed the state of Michigan to purchase the school, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Harry Kelly. In 1949, the state accepted the school as a charitable gift—no doubt some CCHA/GLIAC foes use this as a joke—but before the school could come under state control, the two major buildings burned in a fire.

Photo credit: Will Nickelson

Ferris was co-educational from the start, which is certainly to be commended. Ferris has one of only 16 national colleges of optometry. The school had an enrollment of 13,865 as of February 2010. The school unfortunately has nothing to do with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

FSU is a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, joining the league in 1979. Since joining the league, the Bulldogs have only won the league title once: 2002-03, when Chris Kunitz netted 35-44–79 in 42 games and the Bulldogs had their best season ever, finishing 31-10-1 and making the NCAA tournament for the only time in school history. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Kunitz graduated after that season, and the team didn’t crack the 20-win plateau until last season, when Bob Daniels’s team went 21-13-6 and finished their season in the 3rd-place game in the CCHA tournament. In 2009-10, both the Bulldogs and Chargers finished their postseason play with 2-1 losses to the Miami Redhawks.

Okay, so we know a bit about the Bulldogs’ history. What history do they have with the Chargers? In the modern era—that is, since 1998-99, when Division II was abandoned by the NCAA and UAH moved up to Division I hockey again—the Chargers and Bulldogs have squared off three times. The first matchup came in that aforementioned 2002-03 season, as the Chargers shocked the then-eighth-ranked Bulldogs 5-4 in overtime in the first round of the UConn Ice Classic. I remember that game well, as I broadcast it on radio at the time. I remember the entire Bulldog team, especially Kunitz, growing increasingly frustrated as Scott Munroe shook off a bad five minutes to close the first period to stop 26 of 30 shots on the game. This year’s upperclassmen will remember the Chargers’ visit to Big Rapids in 2008-09, losing 4-2 (with an empty-netter to ice it) and 5-2.

Photo Credit: Terry Johnston

The 2010-11 edition of the Bulldogs is upperclass-heavy, but four of their top six scorers were lost to graduation, leaving senior Mike Embach as the leading forward scorer [9-11–20] and senior captain Zach Redmond [6-21–27] bringing points from the blue line. Pat Nagle [12-10-3, 2.13GAA, .923SV%] and Taylor Nelson [9-3-3, 2.49, .915] were both strong between the pipes for last season’s squad and return to again backstop their teammates this year.

How are they regarded? The coaches have the Bulldogs 7th in their preseason poll, and the media has them 6th. Redmond is a first-team preseason all-CCHA defenseman, and Nagle is second-team goaltender. All seems primed for a solid season, right? Well, maybe. There is the matter of that frustrating loss on Saturday night to Ontario Tech, losing 3-2 despite outshooting their foes 53-24. I’d caution any Charger fan to be wary of an exhibition game and drawing inferences from that one data point. If I were Bob Daniels, I wouldn’t have put the pedal to the metal knowing that my team would be traveling south to Alabama starting late Tuesday night.

The series promises to be a good one. Remember: puck drops at 7:05p.m. Thursday night and 7:05 p.m. on Friday night, not Friday/Saturday like normal.

Now you know your foe! See you at the rink.