Josh Kestner, who led UAH with a modern Division I-era school-record-tying 24 goals last season, is playing well in his first full pro season with the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL.
The season started a little late for Kestner, who was on injured reserve, but he scored two breakaway goals in his second game back in a 3-2 loss to Brampton on Oct. 27. The Huntsville native scored seven goals in his first eight games with the Growlers. Kestner has seven assists to give him 14 points in 15 games.
Kestner signed a tryout contract with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies after his career at UAH ended in March. He was assigned to Newfoundland during the preseason.
Other former Chargers in the ECHL: Matt Salhany scored twice for Adirondack on Oct. 17 against Newfoundland, but spending time on injured reserve has limited his action to five games this season. He recently returned to the lineup and has already produced a goal and an assist.
Tyler Poulsen started the season on the reserve list for Rapid City. He has an assist in nine games since his return.
Also in the North American minor leagues, Cody Dion (2010-11) has three goals and five assists in 10 games for Roanoke of the SPHL.
in the big leagues, the 2018-19 season has been a struggle for Cam Talbot, who is in his coldest spell of his NHL career. The Oilers netminder has a .873 save percentage in his last six starts, all losses, allowing 23 goals. Edmonton has been playing Mikko Koskinen in goal more over Talbot, who has a 3.29 goals against average and .889 save percentage in 15 starts.
Danchenko signs NLI: The Chargers got their first player in the new signing period on Tuesday when Adrian Danchenko signed his National Letter of Intent.
Danchenko, who announced his commitment to UAH on August 25, is a forward with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights of the NAHL. has 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in 18 games this season. The Palm City, Fla., native had 12 goals in 55 regular-season games with the Knights season.
The signing period for all Division I and II sports except football and basketball started on November 14, and will go all the way to August 1, 2019.
Sinclair named WCHA goaltender of the week: UAH goaltender Mark Sinclair was named the WCHA Goaltender of the Week on Nov. 19 for his performance in the Chargers’ 3-1 win at Alaska on Nov. 16. Sinclair stopped 44 of 45 shots, the most saves in Division I that week. It was the first collegiate victory for Sinclair.
Club team update: The UAH club hockey team’s first season back since 1985 is in full swing.
The Chargers (2-5-0) began their first season in October with a two-game series against UAB at the Huntsville IcePlex. The Chargers lost 9-3 in the first game, then the Blazers rallied late to win 6-5 in the second game.
UAH played three games at the Scholar Shootout at Vanderbilt from Nov. 9-11, losing 8-1 to Michigan, winning 3-1 to Clemson, and falling 3-2 to Vanderbilt. In the Chargers’ first victory, Alex Reichle stopped 62 of 63 Clemson shots. The Chargers split a two-game series at Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 16-17, winning 5-2 and losing 6-3.
Alexander McLeod has nine goals in UAH’s last five games.
UAH’s next action is Jan. 11-12 at Auburn. The Chargers host Middle Tennessee State at the IcePlex on Feb. 15-16. The Chargers will play more home games starting next season when they join the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC).
The newcomers feature eight freshmen and two transfers — Jake Theut from Northeastern and Jesper Öhrvall from Rensselaer — to make up for the nine players lost from last season’s team.
The roster consists of 15 forwards, 10 defensemen, and three goaltenders. The classes are somewhat balanced, with eight seniors, four juniors, eight sophomores, and eight freshmen.
The Chargers return 56 percent of points scored from last season. The top returning point scorer is senior defenseman Kurt Gosselin (16 in 2017-18). The top returning goal scorer is sophomore Christian Rajic, who had nine.
Mark Sinclair, a sophomore, is the only returning goaltender that saw action last season, posting a 3.67 goals against and .876 save percentage, but seeing improvement over the seven games he played. Theut played in two games last season for Northeastern last year.
Pro update: Here’s a rundown of where former Chargers will be applying their wares professionally this season.
Cam Talbot (2007-10) is heading into his sixth NHL season and fourth with Edmonton. Talbot is looking to rebound after posting a below-average goals against average (3.02) and save percentage (.908) last season as the Oilers missed the playoffs.
Josh Kestner (2014-18) earned a contract with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies after his tryout in the spring. After tying a UAH modern Division I-era record with 24 goals last season, he scored a goal in three games with the Marlies.
Tyler Poulsen (2015-18) also got a pro contract after a tryout with the ECHL’s Allen Americans. Poulsen scored a goal for the Americans after a netting 26 points in his final season with the Chargers.
Brennan Saulnier (2014-18) spent three games with the Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL) after scoring nine goals in his senior season at UAH. He signed with the Florida Everblades last month.
Matt Salhany (2013-17) switched ECHL teams for this season. After a goal and two assists in 20 games with South Carolina last season, Salhany signed with the Adirondack Thunder.
Carmine Guerriero (2013-17) is continuing his pro career in France, goaltending for HC Brest. Guerriero split time with five teams in the ECHL last season.
Cody Dion (2010-11) switched teams in the SPHL, signing with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dogs on Aug. 22. Dion spent the bulk of three seasons with Peoria, where he scored 12 regular-season goals and two playoff goals last season.
Cody Campbell (2008-11) is starting his seventh season with Les Ducs d’Angers in France. Last season, he started all 44 games, scoring nine goals and 29 assists for 38 points.
Matti Järvinen (2009-10) is entering his second season with Tappara in his native Finland. He had 23 points in 60 games in the regular season last year and three goals in the playoffs, helping Tappara reach the league championship series again.
Clarke Saunders (2010-12) will play his second season in Slovenia, minding the net again for HDD Jesenice. His club won the Slovenian championship last season. He had a 2.16 goals against average in the regular season and 2.12 GAA in the playoffs.
Latest commitments: The Chargers have secured two commitments for the 2019-20 season.
Adrian Danchenko is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward from Palm City, Fla. He played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the NAHL the last two seasons, scoring 12 goals in 55 regular-season games last year. He’ll move to the USHL this season, playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Neutral Zone has Danchenko as a 3.5-star recruit, saying he “has good speed/size combo with vision. Values possession and is tough to defend.”
UAH picked up another 3.5-star goaltender in David Fessenden, who plays for the Northeast Generals of the NAHL. The Parker, Colo., native posted a 3.18 goals against average and .912 save percentage in 35 starts.
Says Neutral Zone: “Huge frame [6-foot-6, 220 pounds] and has consistently improved in the last year. Has faced adversity but has proven resilient. Still a project but has a high ceiling.”
Club team joining SECHC: The new UAH club hockey team will join the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference in the 2019-20 season.
The SECHC is primarily comprised of SEC schools with ACHA Div. III club teams (Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt), but will be expanding by at least four teams next fall. In addition to UAH, the SECHC has announced that Clemson, Florida State, and Middle Tennessee State will also be joining the league.
Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State, Auburn, and Ole Miss are on UAH’s 2018-19 schedule.
With the USHL recently wrapping up its regular season, it’s time to recap the seasons of all the future Chargers. In this piece, we’ll focus on the incoming 2018-19 recruiting class, which recently grew with the commitments of defensemen Dayne Finnson, Bailey Newton, and Simon Chen. All in all, another solid recruiting class for Coach Mike Corbett:
Bauer Neudecker, 5’7, 160, 1998, St. Louis Park, MN, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) – Following a mid-season trade to Sioux City from Dubuque, Neudecker really took off. In 36 games with Sioux City, he put up over a point per game with five goals and 15 assists, improving his point totals to conclude the season with a respectable 60/5/21/26 slash-line on a below-average Sioux City team. All things considered, his numbers really don’t reflect how good of a season he had. Buried on the depth chart in Dubuque and flanked by younger and less experienced players in Sioux City, Neudecker became a legitimate force in the country’s top junior league by season’s end. His speed, hockey IQ, and creativity served him well in his first (and only) full season of junior hockey, and suggest he’ll continue to get better as he gets bigger and stronger. I expect him to step into a top-nine role immediately and be asked to contribute offensively to a team that’ll have lost its top three point getters up front. Arguably the crown jewel of this recruiting class, Neudecker’s signing is major boon for the program – akin to Max McHugh’s four years earlier. He’s a leader who’ll quickly become a fan favorite.
Jack Jeffers, 6’0, 185, 1997, Oakville, Ontario, Markham Royals (OJHL) – Jeffers had a superb final season of junior hockey scoring 23 goals, 56 assists, and 79 points in 54 games played – good for fifth overall in the OJHL. He was a fixture on Markham’s top line all season long and factored heavily in the team’s success. After he suffered an injury during Markham’s second playoff game, the squad was quickly eliminated from contention. A Second Team OJHL All-Star, Jeffers still exhibits many of the same attributes that had him on NHL Central Scouting’s radar in 2016: exceptional speed, lateral quickness, offensive instincts, and playmaking ability. These skills, combined with four years of high-level junior hockey experience, should result in a quick transition to college hockey. Like Neudecker, he’ll be counted on to help fill the void left by departing seniors Josh Kestner, Tyler Poulsen, and Brennan Saulnier.
Tyr Thompson, 6’0, 180, 1998, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Whitecourt Wolverines (AJHL) – The long-time commit will finally be heading south this fall following three successful seasons in the AJHL. In 2017-2018, he had 16 goals, 30 assists, and 46 points in 54 regular-season games to go along with a goal, seven assists, and eight points in 14 playoff games for a strong Whitecourt team. Tyr, who is originally from Alberta, played youth hockey all across the continent as his father, Rocky, a former NHL tough-guy and current head coach of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, worked his way up the coaching ladder. The ever-changing hockey melting pot that he grew up in is reflected in his play: He’s a versatile playmaker who does everything well and can contribute up and down the lineup. As the son of a former enforcer and current coach, it should not come as a surprise that he also has a good hockey IQ and an edge to his game when needed. I anticipate Tyr will be a jack-of-all-trades for Coach Corbett, providing a steady presence both on the ice and in the locker room.
Ben Allen, 5’9, 170, 1997, Allen, TX, Melfort Mustangs (SJHL) – The Texan began the season with the vaunted Penticton Vees in the BCHL, but was traded midseason to the Melfort Mustangs, a team in the neighboring SJHL, where he’d get more playing time. The trade paid dividends, as Allen plotted seven goals and seven assists in 16 games down the stretch for Melfort. He’s another guy whose got a high hockey IQ, really understands the game, and can skate. Similar to Tyr Thompson – who was ironically a teammate of Allen’s in minor hockey – his versatility, leadership qualities, and mature approach make him a welcome addition to the 2018-19 Charger squad.
Dayne Finnson, 5’10, 190, 1997, Arborg, Manitoba, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) – Make no bones about it, after losing three of his top six defensemen, Coach Corbett had to sign an impact defenseman who could step in and play top-four minutes. Fortunately, he was able to do just that when he secured Dayne Finnson’s commitment back in March. Finnson, a farm boy from rural Manitoba, plotted an impressive 41 points, including five goals and 36 assists, in 56 games played for the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL. His point total was first among defensemen on the Grizzlies, and good for sixth overall in the entire league. He continued his strong play on into the postseason, with two goals, five assists, and seven points in 12 playoff games before the Grizzles were eliminated in the second round. In sum, this past season was Finnson’s second with the Grizzlies, who brought him out west following a 2-year stint of prep hockey with the New England powerhouse Salisbury School in Connecticut. An excellent skater with good vision and a strong first pass, Finnson will remind many Charger fans of outgoing senior Brandon Parker given his stature and ability to jump up into the play from the back end. Don’t let his height fool you, though: Finnson is tough as nails and can dish out absolutely bone-crushing hits like this one back in November of 2016:
Drew Lennon, 6’2, 180, 1998, Bloomington, IL, Lone Star Brahmas (NAHL) – Given the Chargers’ aforementioned need for defensemen, it likely came as a huge relief to the coaching staff when Lennon announced his commitment to UAH towards the beginning of the season. As noted when he first committed, Lennon, who is originally from Illinois, has played junior hockey all over North America these past few years. After a year in Connecticut playing for the Connecticut Oilers (EHL), Lennon went to the opposite coast with Prince George in the BCHL in ’16-17, and then to Texas this season. Regardless of where Lennon’s gone, he’s put up solid numbers and continued to improve. Although the two goals, 16 assists, and 18 points he notched for Lone Star in 58 games this year may not jump off the page, they’re pretty good considering the shutdown role he often played for his team. In keeping with the theme of this class, Lennon is also a strong skater who works hard and plays a heady game. As one scout put it, “his value lies behind the red line,” but he still has some serious upside offensively. It’ll be up to Coach Corbett and whoever replaces Matty Thomas as the defensive assistant coach to unlock Lennon’s offensive potential. In any event, expect Lennon to get playing time early and often as a freshman.
Bailey Newton, 5’11, 190, 1998, Halton Hills, Ontario, Oakville Blades (OJHL) – Newton, a physical blueliner who served as Oakville’s captain this past season, recently pledged his commitment to UAH where he’ll be reunited with former Blade Christian Rajic. Widely lauded for his work ethic, leadership qualities, and character, Newton is bona fide defensive defenseman who does a lot of little things on the ice that are necessary for a hockey team to be successful. The former draft pick of the OHL’s Erie Otters shadows other teams’ top players, kills penalties, and stands up for his teammates, as evidenced by the 124 PIMs that he piled up during the regular season. He wasn’t tasked with being an offensive contributor, and his goal, 16 assists, and 17 points in 53 games reflect that. However, Newton could very well develop into more of an offensive threat, as he – like everyone else in this recruiting class – is a good skater with ample hockey smarts. Hockey abilities notwithstanding, this is a kid who’s been team captain just about everywhere he’s played and is revered by both teammates and coaches alike. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case in college.
Simon Chen, 5’10, 180, 1997, Beijing, China, Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL) – This kid has to have the most unique background of any UAH recruit, ever. Born in China, Chen played minor hockey there until his desire to develop his game exceeded his country’s limited hockey resources. Not knowing that New England prep schools typically recruit their players, he enrolled at the Brooks School and ended up being the only “walk-on” to make the team. Later, after playing for a couple of different U18 teams in the Northeast, he headed out to British Columbia to play for the Cowichan Valley Capitals in the BCHL, where he spent the past two seasons. After his first season with Cowichan, he was invited to attend the Vancouver Canucks Development Camp, where he got a chance to compete with a number of top NHL draft picks and prospects, as well as share his unique hockey background with a larger audience.
His 52/2/9/11 line this year belies the improvements he made in his second season of junior hockey. And given the fact that Chen has really only played top-flight hockey for a few years, he’s got a tremendous amount of room to grow as a player. It’ll be fun to watch him get better, and, hopefully, achieve his goal of playing for China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. For more detailed info on Chen’s background, check out these other pieces done on him:
Ben Allen will be joining the Chargers next season.
Two members of UAH’s 2018-2019 freshmen class were on the move this past week in trades that were likely perpetuated to give both players more ice time in their final seasons of junior hockey.
Ben Allen (Allen, Tex.), a 1997-born forward who had been with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, returned to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, where he played last season. The Vees had 10 — yes, TEN — forwards committed to NCAA D-I hockey programs alone, so it’s no surprise that ice time was hard to come by.
Allen, who had four goals and seven assists with Penticton, will now be on a playoff-bound Melfort Mustangs squad where he’ll be counted on to play top-six minutes and put up points.
Bauer Neudecker (St. Louis Park, Minn.), the aptly named former Mr. Hockey candidate from hockey-mad Minnesota, was traded from the team that drafted him this past May, the Dubuque Fighting Saints, to the Sioux City Musketeers.
The trade is already paying dividends as Neudecker scored a goal, his first of the season, in his first game as a Musketeer in the U.S.’s top junior circuit, the USHL.
SIOUX CITY GOAL SCORED BY #17 BAUER NEUDECKER! He gets his first goal of the season and his first goal as a Musketeer in his first game with the Musketeers! We are all tied 3-3! #MusketeerNation
Josh Kestner has been on a goal-scoring pace not seen at UAH in over a decade. (Photo by Todd Thompson/RiverCat Photography)
Some statistical analysis as we hit the halfway point of the season:
• The 6-9-1 overall record may not seem like much, but it is the Chargers’ best 16-game start since the 2005-06 season, when they started 8-7-1.
• UAH is only 1-7-0 on Fridays, with the lone win coming against last-place Alaska Anchorage at home. The Chargers are 5-2-1 on Saturdays, with the two losses coming against non-conference foes Notre Dame and Cornell on the road and both currently ranked in the top six. Five of the eight series this season have been win-loss splits, including the last three weeks.
• The Chargers are scoring 3.30 goals per game in WCHA play, second in the league behind Minnesota State (3.80). UAH is tops in power play efficiency in conference games at 25.0 percent.
• Josh Kestner has 10 goals in 16 games this season, already a career high for him and more than his team-leading nine goals last year. He’s the first Charger to reach double-digit goals at this point of the season since both Jared Ross and Bruce Mulherin did it in the 2004-05 season. Kestner is third in the WCHA in overall goals scored and first in power play goals with five. Nationally, Kestner is 19th in goals per game (0.62) and tied for fourth in power play goals (five).
• Now that Jordan Uhelski has played over 1,500 career minutes at UAH, he qualifies for ranking in the program’s all-time leader boards. His .907 save percentage would be sixth all-time and fourth in the modern Division I era, just behind Cam Talbot (2007-10). His 2.81 goals against average would edge him over Steve Briere (1997-2000) for fourth all-time and second in the modern Division I era (behind Scott Munroe’s 2.76).
• For those of you who still care about goaltender win-loss records, Uhelski already has 12 career victories in two seasons, matching Carmine Guerriero’s four-year total. Uhelski has made 33 starts, while Guerriero made 72. Uhelski is getting more goal support now that the Chargers are scoring about a half goal per game more than last season, and about 1.5 goals per game more than Guerriero’s first season (2013-14).
Recruiting update: Last week, UAH received a commitment from Drew Lennon, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenseman playing for the Lone Star Brahmas in the NAHL. Lennon, who is originally from Illinois, has played junior hockey all over the continent these past few years. After starring with Rocky Mountain Roughriders U16 AAA team in 2014-15, he went on to play for the Connecticut Oilers in the EHL in 2015-16, and the Prince George Spruce Kings in the BCHL last season. Drew is known for his strong defensive play and skating ability. His size and reach make him difficult to play against, and he’s yet to reach his offensive ceiling. Through 27 games this season, he has two goals and five assists, but has a goal and three assists in his last eight games, so he’s starting to heat up.
Bauer Neudecker signed his National Letter of Intent with UAH, so he’ll be a member of the 2018-19 freshmen class. He has five points in 17 games for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, the same team the produced UAH captain Max McHugh.
Tyr Thompson, another forward expected in the 2018-19 recruiting class, has been playing at a near point-per-game pace this season (31 points in 29 games) for his Whitecourt Wolverines (AJHL) squad. Thompson and Neudecker headline what is shaping up to be another solid recruiting class for Coach Corbert and his staff. — Asher Kitchings
WCHA media poll: The Chargers are currently sixth in the latest WCHA Media Poll, conducted by Tech Hockey Guide. UAH fell a spot from fifth after the Chargers split at Northern Michigan over the weekend.
UAHHockey.com has a vote in the poll, which has a representative covering each WCHA program.