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Season delayed as Chargers prepare and look for a league

The restart of Charger hockey is officially on hold because of COVID-19.

In a joint statement on Thursday, all Division I conferences announced that there will be a delay to the 2020-21 college hockey season due to the pandemic. Each conference will announce its own plans for the season, with the WCHA unveiling its revised schedule later in the fall.

“With 10 teams in five states, WCHA member institutions are currently operating under multiple state, local, university system, institutional and NCAA COVID-19 mandates,” the WCHA said in its statement. “Delaying the start of the season will provide league and member administrators the opportunity to continue detailed discussions regarding the implementation of a return to play plan that addresses the diverse guidelines all WCHA institutions must adhere to and recognizes the rapidly-evolving medical and safety environments that exist today.”

“It would be tough for us to play before January,” UAH athletic director Cade Smith said. “We’ll go with whatever the WCHA decides.”

Smith said teams traveling in buses and airplanes and going into locker rooms spreading the virus is the big concern.

Most fall sports at UAH and its primary league, the Gulf South Conference, have been cancelled. Charger basketball will not start before January.

The Huntsville Havoc, which shares the Von Braun Center with the Chargers, won’t begin their SPHL season until December. Venue limitations and capacity at the VBC will need to be worked out, Smith said.

“The University of Alabama system requires all athletes be tested every week, which is stricter than the NCAA guidelines,” Smith said. “How do we trace positives, how do we quarantine — these have taken much of administrative bandwidth.”

Smith said out of 150-160 tests this week, there were only eight positives. He feels that the protocols are working, and UAH head coach Lance West says his players are doing what needs to be done.

“The guys have been good at handling and protecting themselves and others,” West said. “They are preparing themselves as well as they can for when they can go.

“It’s been the hardest on the freshmen,” West said. “Their social interactions are limited and they are away from home. The veterans have been good at keeping them focused on what they can do as opposed to what they expected to do when they got to college.

“If you want to play, there are certain things they have to give up and choices they have to make.”

The Chargers are expected to have 13 freshmen this season, according to our commitment list, as West and his staff worked to build back the roster following the cancellation and restoration of the program. UAH is expected to announce the full roster soon once everyone has been cleared.

“That’s just the situation we were dealt,” West said. “We accepted the challenge together and found a way to get it done. You’ll see a team of hungry guys with something to prove.

“Everyone has a piece of where we’re headed. We will empower the guys that will set the tone for the future of the program. When we hit the ice, we will have the old-school, simple mentality of getting better every day.”

Meanwhile, the search for a conference home for the 2021-22 season continues. The primary target is now the Atlantic Hockey Association.

“I had a good call with the commissioner of the AHA (Robert DeGregorio, Jr.) about a month ago,” Smith said. “He laid out everything. I sent him a letter of interest, trying to gain an audience with their league about the application process.”

Atlantic Hockey currently has 11 teams, meaning UAH could become the 12th.

Smith says we could know by the time the Chargers play their first game this season, whenever that is, whether UAH has landed a spot in the conference.

The other option, the Central Collegiate Athletic Association, is now a long-shot at best. The CCHA announced the addition of the St. Paul-based University of St. Thomas as its eighth team on July 29, and it appears the new conference, comprising of seven WCHA programs, will be satisfied with eight entering its first season in 2021-22.

Hoof Beats: UAH announced the addition of former Charger goaltender Carmine Guerriero to the staff last Friday.

Guerriero played in 77 games for the Chargers from 2013-17. His .910 career save percentage was second best in UAH’s modern Division I era and fourth best all-time. His 3.19 career goals against average was fifth best in the D-I era and ninth all-time.

Last season, Guerriero was a volunteer goaltending coach at St. Lawrence.

Another former UAH netminder, Scott Munroe, has been named a player development coach at Total Package Hockey of Phoenix. Munroe, who played at UAH from 2002-2006, is the schools all-time leader in save percentage (.918) and helped the Chargers win the College Hockey America regular-season title in 2003.

Around the WCHA: Alaska Anchorage was given a chance to save its program after the Board of Regents voted Thursday to cut it following this season. The Seawolves must raise $3 million — two years of operating expenses — by February for the Board to consider reinstating the team. … The Alaska Nanooks team was quarantined as of August 30 after a player tested positive for COVID-19 following an on-campus gathering.

Hoof Beats: WCHA unveils uncertain schedule

Normally we would have a little fun this time of year talking about the release of the upcoming season’s schedule, but what is normal these days?

The WCHA unveiled its 2020-21 conference schedule on Wednesday, although it’s unknown when college hockey will actually be played again.

The COVID-19 pandemic still putting sports in America on hold indefinitely, so consider the schedule tentative.

WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson told the Bemidji Pioneer that the league is developing potential models in case adjustments are needed. The season may not start if schools are continuing distance learning into the fall.

Most of the WCHA schools released their full schedules, but UAH was not one of them. UAH is opting to wait for more certainty before officially releasing its schedule.

We do know some things about 2020-21, however. The Chargers would play 18 home games, with four non-conference games in addition to the 14 WCHA games. Twelve of the 18 at the VBC would come before Christmas.

The two non-conference teams visiting will be UMass Lowell and Omaha, both of which UAH visited to start last season.

With everything obviously subject to change, here is the 2020-21 UAH hockey schedule so far:

Oct. 9-10 vs. UMass Lowell
Oct. 16-17 vs. Omaha
Oct. 23-24 at Ferris State
Oct. 31-Nov. 1 vs. Alaska
Nov. 6-7 vs. Michigan Tech
Nov. 13-14 vs. Bowling Green
Dec. 4-5 vs. Bemidji State

Dec. 11-12 at Alaska
Jan. 1-2 at Lake Superior State
Jan. 8-9 vs. Minnesota State
Jan. 22-23 at Alaska Anchorage
Jan. 29-30 vs. Ferris State
Feb. 5-6 at Michigan Tech
Feb. 12-13 vs. Lake Superior State
Feb. 19-20 at Northern Michigan
Feb. 26-27 at Bowling Green

Latta transfers to Lowell: The Chargers lost their promising rookie from last season, and might see him on the opposing bench this fall.

Josh Latta, who lead the Chargers in scoring as a freshman last season, announced on April 22 that he was transferring to UMass Lowell.

Latta had seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 2019-20. Two of those assists game in the season-opening series at Lowell, which UAH lost 5-1 and 3-1.

If a new transfer rule gets passed by the NCAA, or if Latta receives a waiver, he could be eligible to play for the River Hawks this coming season. That would mean he would face his former Charger teammates on Oct. 9-10 at the VBC.

Recruiting updates: Aidan Flynn, a forward from Spring Hill, Tenn. who is expected to join the Chargers in 2021, is moving up to the AJHL. He signed with the Lloydminster Bobcats on Monday.

Flynn had 40 points in 53 games with the Nashville Jr. Predators last season.

On April 10, UAH got a commitment from Jacob Franczak to join the Chargers this fall. The foward from Edmonton scored 18 goals and 43 points in 53 games with Sherwood Park of the AJHL.

Franczak would be the third forward from Edmonton and Sherwood Park in this recruiting class, joining William Zapernick and Jarred White.

Speaking of Zapernick, the CBC did a feature on him and his friend, Brown University recruit Matthew Kinash, on how they are preparing for college hockey while self-isolating during the pandemic.

Long Island going D-I: In a move that took literally almost everyone in college hockey by surprise, Long Island University announced last week that it was planning to establish a Division I men’s hockey program to begin play this fall.

The timing raises many questions. Schedules for this season are essentially already done, and as stated before, it’s not a given that the 2020-21 season will start on time. LIU, which started a women’s hockey program last year, has no coach, no players, and no established place to play yet.

Holiday Hoof Beats

We’re hoping you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season while the Chargers are on break. Here are some UAH hockey news and notes heading into 2020.

Skate with the Chargers on Monday, December 30 from 5-7 p.m. Charger hockey players will be at Skating in the Park at 300 Church Street in downtown Huntsville.

In the classroom: The Chargers finished a strong fall semester, posting a 3.443 grade point average.

Charger commit Mosley shines: Ryland Mosley, a forward with Carleton Place of the CCHL, had an impressive showing at the World Junior A Challenge earlier this month.

The Arnprior, Ontario native, who will join UAH next season, had two goals and three assists in six games to help the Canada East squad reach the gold-medal game and earn a spot on the all-tournament team. Canada East lost to Russia 2-1 in overtime to take the silver medal.

Hockey prospects and recruiting site Neutral Zone gave Mosley’s performance an “A” grade:

“Mosley was the heart-and-soul guy for Team Canada East. The returning player was named captain, and gave a full effort in every game. He was in on the forecheck, battled to win pucks, and used in all special teams situations. His work ethic and detailed play stuck out. He scored his team’s only goal against the powerful USA team in the semi-finals.”

White to join 2020-21 class: UAH received another forward commitment for next season on Sunday when Jarred White made his annoucement.

Through 34 games this season with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL, White has 42 points on 23 goals and 19 assists. The Crusaders are 32-3 this season.

The Chargers currently have six known commitments planning to join the program next season.

This week in the WCHA: Not much action as most teams stay on holiday break, including the Chargers. Interesting holiday tournament action abound for the teams that are playing.

Saturday, December 28
Lake Superior State vs. #13 Providence, 3 p.m. (Catamount Cup at Vermont)
#2 Minnesota State vs. St. Cloud State, 4 p.m. (Mariucci Classic at Minnesota)
Bemidji State at Minnesota, 7 p.m. (Mariucci Classic)

Sunday, December 29
#2 Minnesota State vs. Bemidji State or Minnesota, 4 or 7 p.m. (Mariucci Classic third place/championship)
Bemidji State vs. #2 Minnesota State or St. Cloud State, 4 p.m. (Mariucci Classic third place/championship)
Lake Superior State at Vermont, 6:05 p.m. (Catamount Cup)

Monday, December 30
Michigan Tech vs. #18 Michigan State, noon (Great Lakes Invitational at Detroit)
Ferris State vs. Michigan, 3 p.m. (Great Lakes Invitational at Detroit)
Miami at #11 Bowling Green, 6:37 p.m.

Tuesday, December 31
Ferris State vs. Michigan Tech or #18 Michigan State, 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. (Great Lakes Invitational third place/championship)
Michigan Tech vs. Ferris State or Michigan, 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. (Great Lakes Invitational third place/champioship)

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Hoof Beats: Trying to stay positive through the off week

How do keep chins up when a team has been struggling to find their first win as the Chargers have?

UAH is 0-3-1 in the last two series. In three of those games, the Chargers have either matched or bettered the opponent in shots on goal, a vast improvement from the first six games. The three losses were essentially one-goal affairs with an empty-net goal tacked on the end.

“I won’t call it ‘puck luck,'” UAH head coach Corbett said during Tuesday’s media session. “You get what you deserve. This is where our program is at, where we have to take that next step and just win the game.”

Still, Corbett said the Chargers have been encouraged over the last four games.

“The biggest thing is making sure (the players’) attitude is right, making sure they’re understanding that we are getting better, that we’re improving and how close it is, because these kids like to see the final result.

“We had six breakaways and missed five of them over the weekend. If we score one, does everything change? Who knows, but our guys need something like that to cling to. The great thing about it is we’re getting those opportunities. We’re showing those things and being positive about it.

“I wouldn’t say frustrated, but we’re all at the point where we want to see some results, but we have to understand that our process has to stay the same. Now we just have to finish. We’re at the finish line, now we have to finish, and that’s just getting that puck over that red line.”

Corbett said the upperclassmen need to be a leaders for the freshmen.

“A lot of times you can camouflage your own frustration by helping someone through theirs. I talked to one of our captains about that — go through that process with (a younger player), and it will probably be very therapeutic for you.

“It’s easy for those younger guys to be frustrated. Part of why we like this group so much is that they came from very successful programs where they have won. We want that leadership, that winning mentality in our program. So it’s been frustrating for them, but that’s where (upperclassmen) have to be able to lead them and show them the way.”

The coaching staff will be recruiting this weekend during the off week, and there will be a captains’ practice on Friday.

“They don’t want to hear it from us anymore,” Corbett said. “They want to start seeing some results, so they’ve got to bond together. We’re keeping it simple and saying we don’t need a ton, we just need that extra 10 percent, that second effort, and I think the older guys can help them with that.”

The Chargers’ next series is Nov. 22 and 23 at Bemidji State (3-3-2 overall, 3-1-0 WCHA). The Beavers outscored Lake Superior State 12-2 in a sweep at home last weekend. If the Chargers (0-9-1, 0-5-1) want to improve their chances for victory, they’ll need to cut down their 4.17 goals allowed per game average in conference games.

“Some of the things we have to cure within our defensive systems, we’re working on a little bit each day,” Corbett said. “Bemidji is scoring a lot of goals right now, that’s the biggest thing we’re looking at for them. We’ve got to tighten up defensively and figure out where our flaws are.”

Chargers in the pros: Josh Kestner is on a roll with the Toledo Walleye.

Kestner has a 10-game point-scoring streak, tied for the longest in the ECHL this season. In 11 regular-season games played, the Huntsville native has 12 points on four goals and eight assists.

Here’s how former Chargers are doing in the ECHL so far this season (through Nov. 13):

TeamGPGAPts
Josh KestnerToledo114812
Brennan SaulnierRapid City136410
Tyler PoulsenRapid City14448
Cam KnightTulsa6235
Matt SalhanyAdirondack11235
Kurt GosselinCincinnati12123

In the NHL, goaltender Cam Talbot continues to back up David Rittich in Calgary. He made his fifth start on Wednesday, stopping 29 of 31 shots in the Flames’ 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars at home. Talbot has a 2.69 goals against average and .907 save percentage this season.

Alaska teams to play next season: College sports will continue for another year at Alaska and Alaska Anchorage, the schools announced on Friday.

That means the Seawolves and Nanooks hockey teams will be playing in the WCHA for the 2020-21 season.

The future is still uncertain after that. The conference is facing its demise in 2021 as seven schools plan to leave and form a new league, leaving UAA, UAF, and UAH searching for a new home.

This week in the WCHA: All times Central. All WCHA conference games (*) can be seen on FloHockey.tv (online subscription).

Friday, November 15
Bemidji State at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
Alaska at #18 Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
#17 Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage, 10:07 p.m.

Saturday, November 16
Bemidji State at Ferris State, 5:07 p.m.
Alaska at #18 Northern Michigan, 5:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
#17 Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage, 8:07 p.m.

Youthful Chargers raise talent if not expectations

Both the coaches and media have UAH finishing just out of the WCHA playoffs this season, picking the Chargers to finish ninth in the standings. The WCHA coaches and media polls were released Wednesday during the conference’s preseason teleconference.

The Chargers have a lot of freshmen on a club that won eight games last season and finished eighth in the league. That leaves a lot of uncertainty.

But UAH head coach Mike Corbett is high on this recruiting class, quite possibly the highest-rated since his tenure began in 2013.

“I like their speed, and we’ve also added a little bit of size,” Corbett said “We’ve got some guys in the 6-0 to 6-2 range that can get up and down the rink.

“There’s guys who have played a lot of junior hockey who can not only contribute in college hockey but also be leaders for our team.”

Returning players such as senior Austin Beaulieu and junior Christian Rajic will also provide that leadership, Corbett said.

Junior goaltender Mark Sinclair, who posted two shutouts last season, will be very important with several underclassmen on the back line. “It’s great when you have a guy back there you can trust,” Corbett said.

A more in-depth preview on this year’s Charger squad will come in the next two weeks. The season starts on October 5 with UAH visiting UMass Lowell.

Minnesota State was easily the top pick in both polls, getting all 10 first-place votes in the media poll and nine in the coaches poll (because coaches couldn’t vote for their own team).

The Mavericks won both the regular-season and playoff championships last season, and three stars from that team return to make the preseason All-WCHA team (player of the year pick Marc Michaelis, forward Parker Tuomie, and goaltender Dryden McKay).

Bowling Green was picked second in both polls, while there was some fluctuation from third to eighth place.

2019-20 Mankato Free Press WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll:
1. Minnesota State (9 first-place votes), 90 points.
2. Bowling Green (1), 82.
3. Bemidji State, 63.
4. Northern Michigan, 61.
5. Michigan Tech, 59.
6. Lake Superior State, 58.
7. Alaska, 39.
8. Ferris State, 36.
9. UAH, 30.
10. Alaska Anchorage, 20.

2019-20 WCHA Preseason Media Poll:
1. Minnesota State (10), 100.
2. Bowling Green, 89.
3. Northern Michigan, 72.
4. Michigan Tech, 68.
5. Bemidji State, 62.
6. Lake Superior State, 57.
7. Ferris State, 37.
8. Alaska, 27.
9. UAH, 26.
10. Alaska Anchorage, 12.