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 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.


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.

UAH 4, Air Force 2

It had been a year since the Chargers had taken a lead into an intermission and won the game — last year’s win over Bemidji.  And yet the Chargers went into the second intermission having taken a strong hold on their game against the United States Air Force Academy at the Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo, on Friday night.

After the Falcons opened scoring with a fluky goal where sophomore netminder Carmine Guerriero‘s (Montréal, Que.) clearing attempt bounced off a Charger defenseman and onto the stick of junior forward Max Hartner (Greenwood Village, Colo.), UAH knotted the game five minutes later when freshman defenseman Cody Champagne (Brookfield, Conn.) picked up a puck on the left point and fired it past Falcon sophomore netminder Chris Truehl (Stoughton, Wisc.).

The Chargers were strong with puck possession in the second frame, edging the Falcons 10-9 in shots on goal while giving up three power play opportunities to the home squad.  Junior defenseman Frank Misuraca (Clinton Township, Mich.) received an outlet pass from freshman forward Brennan Saulnier (Halifax, Nova Scotia), charging down the right side and ripping a shot from just inside the top of the right circle to push UAH ahead 2-1 with a little over half of the game gone.

The Falcons zoomed out to begin the third, forechecking hard and pressuring the puck deep into the Chargers’ end.  The Chargers met that intensity, but Air Force knotted the game at two when senior forward Cole Gunner (Richfield, Minn.) took a fine feed from senior forward Chad Demers (Grafton, N.D.) along the blue line to the top of the right circle.  Gunner skated into the slot and ripped a puck just under the crossbar and past Guerriero (24 sv, 1-3-1) with 9:51 remaining in regulation.

There was no apparent nervousness on Mike Corbett’s bench, and UAH played with purpose and pressure.  And then …

Freshman forward Josh Kestner‘s (Huntsville) second goal of the season came at just the right time, spurring the Chargers to push even harder while grounding the Falcons and Truehl (2-6-0, 20 sv).  Frank Serratore called his timeout and no doubt looked at his protégé a couple dozen feet to his left.  “Is he really going to beat me the first time he faces me?”

Corbett is now 2-3-0 against Serratores.

Junior forward Jack Prince (London) scored the empty-net goal on what was perhaps an ill-advised clearing of the puck 190 feet down the ice.  But they don’t ask how — they ask how many, and it’s Prince’s first goal of the year.

So let’s look at this.  There are positives here, and not just the first win of the year (although Lord knows that’s awesome).  But here’s what happened:

  • Puck pressure was really strong all game, and even if the Herd didn’t keep possession of the puck at all times and spent most of its time with the puck around the boards, the fact is that UAH was in the offensive ice for far more time than we’ve seen all season.
  • Guerriero and his teammates shrugged off a gaffe that led to a fluke goal.  Let’s be honest: last year’s team might have crumpled under that weight.  Instead, they tightened things back up, played with purpose and confidence, and took the game back to the Falcons.
  • The movement of the puck on the power play was really good, especially at the points.  Champagne’s shot was just the kind of thing that we’ve been seeing from UAH defensemen all year.  In fact, six of UAH’s fourteen goals come from blueliners: Misuraca with three, Brandon Carlson (Huntingon Beach, Calif.) with two, and Champagne’s goal tonight.  With the forwards struggling to score — only Kestner has multiple goals — the goalies need support from somewhere, and they’re getting it from the guys closest to them.
  • Misuraca’s goal came on a nice breakout.  Rather than forcing the rush up ice the way some of his compatriots do, he saw that he had space and took a feed from Saulnier.  Misuraca was looking to pass to the center of the ice after crossing into the offensive zone, but when there weren’t any good lanes available, he took the shot.  That’s the kind of play that we haven’t seen much of from the Chargers for the last two years.  Last year, we would’ve been indecisive and lost our speed advantage while either taking a poor shot or making an ill-advised pass into someone’s feet.
  • Kestner notching his second goal is big.  Two goals in nine games puts him close to double-digit pace; no Charger has potted 10+ goals since Matt Sweazey (Toronto, Ont., 12 goals) in 2008-09.  Kestner scored goals in bunches last year, but the question was there: would statistics in the GOJHL transfer well to NCAA Division I?  It may not be a jump, but his performance so far is a step up.  No pressure, Kesty. (Get a goal at home next weekend, okay?)
  • Guerriero was sharp despite not seeing 40+ shots.  26 shots on goal was the second-fewest that he’s faced in his career, bested only by his first home start in a 1-0 loss to Bemidji State.  The coaching staff really likes to argue that they have two equal goalies, but it’s starting to look like the little guy may be pulling ahead.  His .934 SV% is well ahead of sophomore goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, B.C., .909), and his GAA of 2.57 is a good bit better than his counterpart’s 4.00.  I certainly expect that the rotation will stay in place, and there’s no doubt that Larose is one heck of a goalie.  (In fact, my bet in the long run is that he’ll be the better college goaltender.)
  • Not only did the team get to carry a lead into intermission, but they held it for half a period — and then didn’t back down after going back level.  I can tell you nothing else about the game than that, and you’d be happy.

But I’ll only really be happy with a sweep, and I’m betting that’s true for everyone inside that locker room.

NMU dominates third to pull away from Chargers, 4-1

For the first two periods, it seemed UAH was determined to build on Friday’s 1-1 tie at Northern Michigan and steal more points — even if it wasn’t a conference series against another WCHA team.

The Wildcats quashed that feeling emphatically in the third period, scoring twice and outshooting the Chargers 20-1, to turn a one-goal game into a 4-1 win over UAH on Saturday in Marquette, Mich.

UAH fell to 0-7-1 on the season, while Northern Michigan remained undefeated at 5-0-1. It was the fifth straight game where the Chargers scored one and only one goal.

In an interesting twist, the Chargers came out with the bulk of offensive chances in the first period. UAH made NMU goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, who faced only 19 shots all game on Friday, stop 14 shots on goal while only allowing eight.

UAH could not get the lead, though, and the Wildcats ended up with the first score of the contest like they did on Friday: crashing the net. Reed Seckel’s initial shot hit Matt Larose’s left pad, and Seckel put in the rebound for a 1-0 Northern Michigan lead at 8:05.

NMU made it 2-0 at 2:59 of the second period, as Brock Maschmeyer’s shot from the right circle beat Larose. Even though the Chargers were exceeding their shot on goal total from yesterday halfway through this game, they found themselves in another hole.

The game started to turn with 5:40 left of the second. During a Northern Michigan power play, Matt Salhany, who scored UAH’s lone goal in Friday’s game, stole the puck and took it down ice. He lost the puck after crossing into the NMU zone, where he was hit in the head by NMU’s John Siemer. Salhany was slow to get up, but did make his way to the Charger bench and would continue to play.

Siemer received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for the hit. On the ensuing major power play, Brennan Saulnier, all alone in the right circle, beat Dahlstrom high to cut NMU’s lead to 2-1 with 3:51 left in the second. Saulnier’s first goal at UAH was assisted by Josh Kestner and Brandon Carlson.

The power play was cut short after UAH committed a too many men on the ice penalty. It would remain a one-goal game heading into the final frame.

But the final frame was all Wildcats. They fired away at Larose, notching the first 15 shots on goal en route to 20 for the period. UAH simply could not mount much of an offensive threat.

Meanwhile, NMU built their lead. Maschmeyer scored his second goal of the game at 5:18 on another rebound, and Gerard Hanson made it the final 4-1 score on a tally four minutes later.

The Wildcats finished the game with a 41-23 shots advantage. Larose made 37 saves in another busy night for UAH goaltending. Dahlstrom had 22 saves for NMU.

The Chargers go on the road for the third straight series next weekend when they visit Air Force on Friday and Saturday. UAH returns home Nov. 14 and 15 to face Lake Superior State.

Thoughts As We Gear Up for the BG Series

[Hi, remember me?  I still write for this site.]

Today was the first of the season’s coaches’ luncheons.  Not only did we get a chance to hear from BG’s Chris Bergeron — always a pleasure — but we heard from new WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson, who is visiting the Rocket City for the first time.  After we heard from both men about the weather — de rigueur — it was time to get down to business.  Among the commissioner’s comments were these nuggets:

  • “I’m having a lot of fun in my first year as Commissioner.  … I want to be a very good listener.”  Funny, sir, the Internet has a lot to say about
  • “The league has a great plan, a great name, and a great history. … We’re looking to build new traditions, and one of those is here tonight with Bowling Green and UAH, both new entrants into the league.”
  • Since we’ve heard his clarion call for two or more teams in the NCAAs, I’ll finish with this one about the league post season.  “Who knows?  [The WCHA Final Five] could be down here someday.”  It sounds to me that the league is thinking about downsizing the tournament after the 2017 visit to the X.

Next up was BG boss Chris Bergeron, who noted that “this is the first team of guys who wait to me and my staff, ‘I want to be a Falcon, Coach.’ ”  This is what every coach wants, to be sure.  Make no mistake: this is Bergeron’s program, and after an 18-win season last year, they look to be on the way up.

In talking about recruiting, Bergeron says that they often have to answer the question, “What does 1984 (the year BG won their national title) have to do with 2014?”  This is a common refrain from all coaches whose programs’ past success is in their rear view mirror.  We know about that ourselves: the D-II days are long set in stone, and Jared Ross, Scott Munroe, and Cam Talbot are not walking through that door.  Lastly, in discussing the scuffle for recruits, Bergeron said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get into a (physical) fight with Gavin Morgan, that’s for sure.”


Lastly, we heard from Coach Corbett, the man who is inspiring confidence all through the Tennessee Valley. The team lost a couple of close games last weekend at CC, 3-2 and 4-3, and of the weekend, Corbs said, “Last weekend was a culmination of everything that we started last spring.”  He mentioned the turnover in the locker room between graduation and the release of a handful of players.  Returning players were pushed through a grinding physical regimen combined with team-building exercises.  When the players returned, “everybody passed the eye test, and we picked up where we left off.  They held each other accountable, and we threw eight freshmen right there with them.”

It isn’t just that new blood that is sparking the team.  “There’s a little swagger and a glint in some guys’ eyes,” Corbett said, “especially with Vandy (Jeff Vanderlugt) and Doug Reid.”  Of the big man, Corbett said, “Jeff Vanderlugt had the best weekend that he’s had since I’ve been here,” a sentiment echoed to me later in the hallway by UAH assistant Matt Thomas.

But that new blood is important.  “The five freshmen saw the ice, and they just need more experience.”  Cody Champagne, Max McHugh, Brandon Parker, Brennan Saulnier, and Josh Kestner generally stayed out of the box (a slashing minor to McHugh on Friday followed by hooking minors to Saulnier and Kestner on Saturday), took some shots (six on Friday, five on Saturday), and were a combined -2 on Friday and -5 on Saturday.

When it comes to goaltending, Corbett is still really thrilled with what he has in Matt Larose and Carmine Guerriero.  “They’re both going to play this weekend because they’re both pretty damn good.”  Corbett mentioned that Rick Ice has been coming in as a volunteer goaltending assistant coach, which has made an impact on their development, “especially because Gavin doesn’t have to speak to Carmine in half-French, half-English on the side.”  Corbett also praised Jordan Uhelski as “more than just a third goalie”, saying that “he’ll make it very hard for us to recruit another goalie for next season, because he’s that good.”


Some thoughts:

  • BG is a solid program on the rise.  They lost a lot this offseason, but they will be looking to prove themselves early in the season.  They have to view coming into Huntsville as a chance for a road sweep, since two close games against a team that won just seven games last year doesn’t mean instant respect (unless you’re a USCHO poll voter).  Also, BG is one of the two teams that the Chargers defeated last season, and you know that losing in OT on home ice still smarts for those guys.  Corbett likened this game to “two freight trains heading down the same track,” and I think that’s what you’ll see.
  • Graeme Strukoff is apparently out with a lower body injury.  Get well, Struky.  His injury opens the ice for appearances by Anderson White and Richard Buri.  I would expect Ben Reinhardt to get top-four minutes alongside one of the freshmen, and my guess would be Champagne.  I’m probably wrong.  I wouldn’t be surprised for White to see the ice one night while Buri gets it on the other one.  Hopefully they’re both willing to make their physical presence felt on the ice, as that’s definitely how they’ll continue to get ice.
  • Corbett noted that the team has increases in both speed and puck possession, to which I can only say, “Hallelujah.”  I’m really excited to see McHugh, Saulnier, and Kestner in the flesh.
  • The native-son cheers won’t be for Kestner only, as Bryan Siersma is on the roster to provide needed depth after a couple of committed players were unable to be on this year’s squad.  Welcome home, Bryan.  Hopefully you’ll get some ice time at home soon.
  • Seriously, we need a home win, and it would be amazing if that came off of a Josh Kestner goal.  No pressure, Kesty.  None at all.  (Top shelf, stick side, please.)
  • Lastly, I can’t confirm this, but I have heard that one of Michael’s colorful suggestions for this season has come true.

See everyone at the rink!  I’m not broadcasting this year, so you can find me in my game-worn Cam Talbot black third jersey upstairs by the pep band.  Michael and I will figure out tweeting as the games go by.