Ferris State 2, UAH 1

It was a wintry night in Huntsville, with many roads closed after a crusting of ice fell atop already snowy lanes.  It was great hockey weather, but for the home fans, it wasn’t a great hockey result.  The visiting Ferris State Bulldogs (13-18-1, 10-13-0 WCHA) scored two quick first-period goals and held on thereafter, winning 2-1 over the homestanding UAH Chargers (8-19-4, 7-15-1 WCHA).

Both Bulldog goals came on poor defensive zone passes.  At 4:33 of the first, senior forward Dominic Panetta (Baldwin, Mich.) picked a puck off and skated in alone on UAH sophomore netminder Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Qué.), potting a shorthanded goal.  Sophomore forward Chad McDonald (Battle Creek, Mich.) took a pass from freshman forward Tyler Andrew (Bethel Park, Pa.), who had just intercepted a puck in front of the UAH bench.

I expect that it’s no surprise that Michael and I have a backchannel during games.  Post-game, he commented, “Lost it in the first, didn’t win it in the 2nd and 3rd.”  He’s right.

The second period is notable only for its penalties.  An early UAH power play was nullified four seconds later by a holding minor.  Two penalties :07 apart by sophomore forward Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and freshman defenseman Richard Buri (Nitra, Slovakia) left UAH killing a long 5×3 situation, which they did fairly easily, allowing just three shots-on-goal on the disadvantage.  UAH is still the #1 team in combined special teams.

A carry-over penalty from the 2nd period gave the Chargers 1:55 of a man advantage on clean ice.  The home squad would score, as freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) took a feed from senior forward Alex Carpenter (Portage, Mich.) for a point shot that appeared to rattle around on bodies in front before going to the roof of the net past Ferris State senior goaltender CJ Motte (St. Clair, Mich.).  Sophomore defenseman Brandon Carlson (Huntington, Beach, Calif.) got the secondary assist.

Ferris State stymied UAH for the remainder of regulation time.  UAH pulled Guerriero (32 sv, 8-12-3) with 1:37 remaining, but the Bulldogs kept UAH to the outside and blocked shots.  Motte (18 sv) moves to 13-18-1 on the season.

The two teams face off again on Saturday night to conclude the season series, which the Bulldogs lead 2-1-0.

UAH 3, UAA 2

UAH (4-14-3, 3-10-0 WCHA) took an early lead on the strength of two first-period goals by freshman forward Max McHugh (Seattle, Wash.), followed by a marker from sophomore forward Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) just 2:03 into the second frame.  From there, the Chargers held on for a 3-2 victory over Alaska-Anchorage (5-8-4, 2-7-2 WCHA), points which moved them out of the basement in the WCHA standings.  (It’s a league game, Smokey.)

McHugh got things started early, taking a drop feed from junior forward Chad Brears (Cold Lake, Alb.) and rifling the puck home past Anchorage freshman goaltender Olivier Mantha (La Tuque, Qué.) just 3:59 into the game.  Freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) picked up the secondary assist.

McHugh dented the twine with just :32 left in the first period, when a centering feed from junior forward Jack Prince (Leicester, England) found the freshman with time and space at the top of the circles.  He ripped one through and past Mantha (17 sv) for his seventh goal of the season.  The secondary assist went to Brears.

Let’s stop here for a point that Michael made to me in a text: with 7-7—14, McHugh has already eclipsed the season scoring leaders for 2011-12 (Kyle Lysaght with 13), 2012-13 (then-sophomore forward Jeff Vanderlugt [Richmond Hill, Ont.] with 11), and 2013-14 (Prince with 13).  McHugh looks to be the first Charger to record double-digit goals since Matt Sweazey (Toronto) in 2008-09.  Max McCutie, we’re on the way back because guys like you are giving us a shot.

Marooney muscled the puck past Mantha (4-6-3) after junior defenseman Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) fired up a Misurocket™ and into the Seawolf crease.  Marooney’s goal was his second of the year.  Vanderlugt got the secondary assist.

From there, it was just hanging in there.  The Seawolves cut the lead to two on a power-play goal by senior forward Scott Allen (Edmonton, Alb.), who was assisted by freshman forward Tad Kozun (Nipawin, Sask.) and junior defenseman Blake Leask (Edmonton, Alb.).  The marker ended a shutout by UAH sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Qué.), who had 31 saves overall.

Kozun narrowed the margin to one when sophomore forward Brad Duwe (Solodotna, Alaska) fed him the puck after dekeing a Charger out of position.  Kozun’s shot rang the post on the way past Guerriero, who moved to 4-8-2 on the season.

The Chargers would hold on thereafter, as they were outshot 10-5 by the Seawolves in the final frame.  Worse still for the home squad, freshman defenseman Brandon Parker (Faribault, Minn.) was called for tripping at 16:32, and Prince was whistled for slashing at 19:33.  Mantha was out of the net for the final 2:10 of the game, but Guerriero closed all of the doors that his teammates didn’t.

This wasn’t a statement win for UAH — that would’ve been taking a 3-0 or 4-0 lead into the second intermission.  But this was UAH proving to itself that it could open up a big lead, play with fire, and pull it back in.  While last year’s UAH team, bereft of offense, would’ve never opened up a three-goal lead on an opponent, that team also would’ve likely not been able to hold it.  This team did, though — the lessons of Colorado Springs were learned.

The Chargers and Seawolves are back at it at 7:07 p.m. Central Standard Time in Huntsville.  Michael Napier will have coverage, and woe betide if you’re stuck watching the UAH broadcast on WCHA TV.  (More on that next week.)

UNO 2, UAH 1

The announcers on NCHC.tv for #12 Nebraska-Omaha (11-4-2, 6-3-1 NCHC) regularly lamented that the homestanding Mavericks were “letting the Chargers stay in this game”, a remark that kinda irked me on Twitter:

 

But the only way that UAH (3-14-2, 2-10-0 WCHA) are only going to garner national respect when they win these kinds of games.  Unfortunately for the Chargers, keeping an even shots-on-goal differential (31 for UNO, 25 for UAH) didn’t translate into a lot of Grade A chances.  As such, the lone UAH goal came off of the stick of senior forward Jeff Vanderlugt (Richmond Hill, Ont.) with just :11 remaining in regulation, cutting UNO’s final margin to 2-1 and denying sophomore goaltender Kirk Thompson (Surrey, B.C.), who made 24 saves to pull up to move to 2-1-0 on the season.

The Chargers outshot the Mavs 10-9 in the first period, but it was a late power-play goal at 18:56 that put the home squad up 1-0 heading into intermission.  :17 into sophomore forward Matt Salhany‘s (Warwick, R.I.) hooking penalty, Maverick junior defenseman Brian Cooper (Anchorage, Alaska) potted a goal on the nation’s #1 special teams unit.  Cooper’s fourth goal of the season was assisted by freshman forward Tyler Vesel (Rochester, Minn.) and freshman forward Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, Minn.).

The second period was fairly quiet — as was the whole game, really.  UNO had a speed advantage, but time and again, the recovering UAH defensemen would push the forecheckers wide and deflect shots and passes into the corner.  This is evident in the stats for UAH sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Que.), who made 29 saves in an effort that dropped him to 3-8-1 on the season.

UNO sophomore forward Justin Parizek (Lakeville, Minn.) scored his eighth goal of the season just :13 after freshman defenseman Brandon Parker‘s (Faribault, Minn.) slashing penalty ended, as the Mavs had the Chargers scrambling to return to their standard set.  Vesel notched his second assist of the night on the game-winner.

While UAH kept working to the end, the only reward was Vanderlugt’s goal, which was assisted by freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.).

There were plenty of things to like tonight:

  • The SOG differential was far more even than I expected, given UNO’s talent level.  That was a very workmanlike effort for the Chargers.
  • Mike Corbett definitely has his shutdown line in senior forward Doug Reid (Innisfil, Ont.), senior forward Craig Pierce (Roswell, Ga.), and sophomore forward Brent Fletcher (New Westminster, British Columbia).  I think that Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson is still complaining about the Bulldog Line’s harassment of his top line; UNO coach Dean Blais probably feels the same way.  There were a couple of shifts tonight where Pierce was an absolute wild man, seemingly every where at once and using his body to full effect.  Make no mistake: those guys really, really give a crap.
  • Carmine looked very good in net — the game-winner was a slapshot glove/short side that ricocheted in off of the post.  Will he start tomorrow night?  My guess would be that sophomore goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, British Columbia) will get the nod to keep him fresh.  UAH plays all five weekends in January, and since it’s reasonable to think that Carmine starts at least seven of those games, you need to keep Larose in the groove.
  • Penalties!  The boys only committed four penalties for eight PIM!  That’s half of the usual total!  Sadly the blazing hot streak of the PK units seems over, but we’ll take the result.
  • There was just a lot of energy all night long, and let’s be honest — it’s the weekend before Christmas.  The boys went to Alaska right after finals.  They couldn’t really go too far afield before going to Nebraska on Thursday.  They want to see their families just as much as any of the rest of us do.  These pre-Christmas games are really, really hard to play, and you have to respect that the boys came out with jump all night long.

The two teams tangle at 5:07 p.m. Central to finish UAH’s 2014 slate.  Michael will take care of you on Sunday night.  Y’all have a great time with friends and family in the last week-plus of the year, no matter how you choose to celebrate it!  UAH hockey is better for your support and interest.

Michigan Tech 4, UAH 2

UAH (3-10-2, 2-7-0 WCHA) was perfect on special teams on tonight, killing all seven Michigan Tech (11-2-0, 9-2-0 WCHA) penalties, scoring on their own power play, and potting a short-handed goal just 1:08 into the game.  But sharp-angle shots and relentless forechecking by the #6/5 team in Division I saw the Huskies come away with a narrow 4-2 win (on an empty netter) in front of 1,880 fans — many of whom were clad in Black and Gold — at Propst Arena in Huntsville, Ala.

Senior forward Craig Pierce (Roswell, Ga.) got the crowd fired up just a minute into the game, breaking out of the Chargers’ end with the puck and slashing through the slot.  He whiffed on his first shot, but the puck stayed with him and he slipped one past Husky junior goaltender Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont.) for a 1-0 lead.  The goal was Pierce’s third of the season and the Chargers’ third SHG of the 2014-15 campaign.  Assists were credited to sophomore forward Brent Fletcher (4th of season, New Westminster, B.C.) and sophomore forward Cody Marooney (3rd, Eden Prairie, Minn.).

Tech freshman forward Dylan Steman (Hanover, Minn.) would knot the game at one with his second collegiate goal, scoring when a delayed penalty call 0n freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) let the Huskies use their speed advantage to slice along the boards in front of the Chargers’ bench and let Steman find a pass from junior forward C.J. Eick (Appleton, Wisc.).  The assist was Eick’s first of the year.

The Chargers would then kill Champagne’s penalty — we’re told that goals on delayed penalties do not vacate the penalty as they do in most leagues — and one by sophomore defenseman Brandon Carlson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) just 2:35 later.  In all, the Chargers killed four penalties in the first period, and it felt like the Chargers were doing well to stay with the pack.  Optimism reigned that the penalties would slow.

Indeed, that optimism was met, with the Chargers committing just three penalties for the rest of the game, one coming in the late minute when Fletcher was whistled for charging.  Unfortunately for UAH, time at even strength did not lead to many shots on goal, as Tech showed their bona fides as a top-flight team.  The Huskies took a 2-1 lead 2:21 into the second period when freshman forward Alex Gillies (Vernon, B.C.) scored on a low-angle shot from the left circle that beat Charger sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Que.) high over the right shoulder.

The Chargers registered just four shots on goal in the second frame against 12 for the Huskies.  Lest you be worried that the overall shot differential of 34-14 was influenced by killing seven penalties, the Huskies landed just seven shots on goal in those opportunities.

One Charger shot did find twine, as senior forward Jeff Vanderlugt (Richmond Hill, Ont.) pounded a puck home off of a feed from junior forward Jack Prince (Leicester, England).  The goal was Vanderlugt’s team-leading fourth of the season, with Prince recording his fifth assist (and team-lead-tying seventh point).  Freshman defenseman Brandon Parker (Fairbault, Minn.) notched his team-leading seventh assist of the year.

The Chargers didn’t keep the game level for long, as sophomore defenseman Shane Hanna (Salmon Arm, B.C.) winged a puck at the net from an even steeper angle than Gillies, beating Guerriero (3-6-1, 30 sv) to put the Huskies up again.  The Chargers would kill two more penalties in the remaining minutes of the second, but the visitors carried a one-goal lead into the locker room for the second intermission.

UAH came out stronger in the third, bringing more pressure and getting deeper into the Husky defense.  But Phillips (11-2-0, 12 sv) stopped all six Charger shots on goal, keeping his teammates clean on the defensive end.  Assistant captain and sophomore defenseman Cliff Watson (Appleton, Wisc.) ended the Chargers’ attempts at a comeback, lofting a puck that rolled past a Charger lunging to swipe it into the corner.  Fletcher’s final penalty with :37.5 left ended any chance that the Chargers had in coming back.

Mike Corbett tells me all the time that there are no moral victories, and he’s right.  But I heard a number of people — my old broadcast partner Mike Anderson being one of them — tell me that they were proud to see the strides that this team had made.  This wasn’t last year’s blowout against top team St. Cloud State.  This was a solid effort from a team in the bottom half of the WCHA against a team at the top of the league.  You’re not going to win a lot of those games, but it’s not unreasonable to think that the Chargers couldn’t come out and win this one tomorrow night.  We’ll see if that happens, even though there will be few paying attention given that we’re up against the Iron Bowl.  Oh well.

Special teams notes

UAH is now 7th in the nation in PIM/G at 17.1, less than a minor a game out of 2nd and just a major behind Cornell in 1st (22.4), who have played just eight contests.  The Chargers’ combined special teams are still #2 in the country, with a 64.0% rate that comes in just 1.0% behind #1 Harvard.

UAH 3, Ferris State 2

The boys are back.  I repeat, the boys are back.

The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (3-8-2 overall, 2-5-0 WCHA) never trailed in this hockey game, scoring in the first two minutes and holding the lead for the next 31:08.  The homestanding Ferris State Bulldogs (6-6-0 overall, 3-4-0 WCHA) pulled even midway through the second, but two third-period goals pushed the home fans to the brink, and the Chargers held on for a 3-2 win at the Robert L. Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids, Mich.

The Chargers are now 3-1-1 in their last five games.  Their last two-game win streak against Division I opponents came when that Cam Talbot guy was in net, backstopping the Herd to the 2010 CHA Championship.  The last stretch of at least 3-1-1 was also in 2010, when UAH won the replacement game from the Amy Bishop shooting at Niagara, lost by one goal and tied Bemidji at the VBC next weekend, and then beat Robert Morris and the Purple Eagles for that NCAA berth.

If you want to look at the last three-game winning streak, it also comes that season: two wins at home against Niagara, a road win there before being called home, then a home win against the Colonials.  Oh, and last night, Talbot shut out the Flyers and Bemidji alumnus Matt Read.  #CHAForever

There are three major stories to the evening’s proceedings.  They are: junior forward Chad Brears (Cold Lake, Alta.), an overtaxed but strong penalty kill, and sophomore netminder Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Que.), who made his fourth start in five games.

Brears

Brears hadn’t lit the lamp all season, but he did it twice tonight on five shots-on-goal.  His first goal came at 1:48 of the first, when a splendid feed across the goal mouth from freshman forward Max McHugh (Seattle, Wash.) and an entry pass from senior defenseman Graeme Strukoff (Chilliwack, B.C.) gave him the time, space, and angle that he needed to rip the puck hard past Ferris senior goaltender CJ Motte (St. Claire, Mich., 6-6-0, 15 sv).  The primary assist put McHugh temporarily atop the team’s scoring chart.

Brears would score the game-winning goal on the power play in the third, when a point shot rattled from freshman defenseman Brandon Parker (Faribault, Minn.) around and found his stick after touching that of junior forward Jack Prince (Leicester, England).  The assists for Parker and Prince pushed them to six points, alongside McHugh.  It was a fine night for Chad.  Cheers, buddy.

Penalty Kill

After giving up three, third-period power play goals against Air Force, the Chargers limited Lake Superior to one on Friday and none in ten on Saturday.  Tonight, the Chargers again had problems staying out of the box, committing nine minor penalties resulting in eight power play chances for the homesteading Bulldogs.  The Chargers nearly killed them all, but the Bulldogs struck gold on their seventh when sophomore forward and New York Islanders draftee Kyle Schempp (Saginaw, Mich.) scored to make it a 3-2 game.

A late-period interference penalty by Strukoff led to the Bulldogs pulling Motte for an extra attacker with around :50 left.  While you hate to see them get all the opportunities, the fact is that the Chargers have killed 21 of their last 23 penalties, a 91.3% clip that’s well above their season rate of 84%.

One concern that I (and I’m sure that many of you as well) have with all the penalties is that you take Prince off of the ice.  Anyone who’s watched UAH play even-strength hockey for any length of time has come away with good impressions of Prince and his freshman linemates Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and Josh Kestner (Rocket City, U.S.A.).  Prince leads the team in shots on goal (30) despite losing ice time every time that his team is down by a man or more.  Saluter is second with 24 and Kestner fifth with 19.  With UAH mired at 1.92 goals per game, you want your volume shooters out there as often as you can.

Guerriero

What is there to say about Guerriero?  Last year’s squad struggled with puck possession, and when they did finally get it across the center line, they were often there just to dump, change, and chase.  What we’re seeing right now is a lot better than that, but it still starts between the pipes for the Chargers.  CG35 made 36 saves as the Bulldogs outshot UAH 38-18.  If he wasn’t the best player in blue out on the ice tonight — you could argue that Brears was — he was in the top two or three.

The confidence that exudes from Guerriero radiates out through his teammates, and it’s really clear to me that Parker and fellow freshman defensemen Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) and Richard Buri (Nitra, Slovakia) know what to do with the puck when they get just a little room to move it out of the zone.  Combine their work with that of Strukoff, senior Ben Reinhardt (Arnprior, Ont.),  junior Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) ,and sophomore Brandon Carlson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and the Chargers have a solid D core that feels like it improves every weekend.

But it’s always going to stop and start with the fantastic Québécois, who pushed his GAA down to 2.23 and his SV% up to .939.  The WCHA is clearly a goalies’ league, what with Motte (8th), Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlström (Smedjebacken, Sweden, 1st), and Michigan Tech’s Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont., 2nd) all in the top ten of Division I net minders in terms of goals-allowed average.  Guerriero currently stands at 31st, but more outstanding efforts from him that are coincident with his teammates limiting shot opportunities and strongly possessing the puck could see him pick up his first collegiate shutout.  (I’m sure that folks in Bemidji might start in here by saying something about small sample sizes, but the only people that take that course at Bemidji are math majors, and …)

Random thoughts

  • The go-ahead goal from junior forward Alex Carpenter (Portage, Mich.) was a fantastic workmanlike goal.  He and Saulnier worked to corral a bouncing puck low.  Carpenter hasn’t gotten to play competitive hockey since 2010-11, his final year in the USHL.  After not getting ice at Western Michigan, he came to Huntsville and seems to have found a place to play after sitting out a transfer year.  Alex, we’re excited for you.
  • Sophomore forward Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) just kept popping off of my TV screen tonight.  He had two shots on goal, stick-checked a number of pucks, and was really active on the PK.  The Shattuck St. Mary’s product should be joined next season by his brother Joey.
  • Carlson (3), Brears, and Marooney were the only Chargers with more than one SOG.  I’d do something with ±, but they don’t have that for our players.

So the hopes for tomorrow:

  1. Six or fewer minor penalties, no majors.
  2. Fewer than 30 SOG.
  3. At least 28 SOG.
  4. A road sweep.

Keep up with the game tomorrow night, and we’ll be back then.

Oh, one last thing: while the Chargers are 3-1-1 in their last five matches, the hated Bemidji State Beavers are 0-5-0.  The teams are tied for sixth in the WCHA standings with four points apiece.