Series Preview: at Bowling Green, March 6-7

Times: 6:07 p.m. CT Friday
6:07 p.m. CT Saturday
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The Chargers finish the regular season at No. 13 Bowling Green looking to lock down their first WCHA playoff berth. Puck drop in Ohio is Friday and Saturday at 6:07 p.m. Central Time.

UAH needs just one more point to clinch a spot in the WCHA playoffs, which begin next week. Otherwise, the Chargers will need either Alaska-Anchorage to not win or Lake Superior State to lose twice.

All-time series: The Falcons command the all-time series at 12-3-1, including a 5-1-1 record against UAH in Bowling Green. BG has won 10 of the last 11 meetings, with UAH’s lone win coming last season.

Back in October, Bowling Green won both games in Huntsville by scores of 5-0 and 4-1.

Josh Kestner

Josh Kestner has four goals in his freshman campaign. (Photo by Chris Brightwell)

Charger recap: UAH (8-22-4 overall, 7-18-1 WCHA) lost its last two home games of the season against Alaska.

On Friday, Josh Kestner scored twice to give UAH a 2-0 lead, but the Nanooks tallied four unanswered goals — three in the third period — and won 4-2. Carmine Guerriero made 37 saves as UAH was outshot 41-15.

On Saturday’s Senior Night, UAH would get on the board first again just 20 seconds in as captain Doug Reid scored. Alaska scored twice to take the lead before Max McHugh put the Chargers back in front at 3-2 with a pair of goals. The Nanooks then stole the game, tying it with 6.3 seconds left in regulation and winning it just 15 seconds into overtime, 4-3. Guerriero stopped another 37 shots.

Guerriero’s save percentage is now at .926, fourth in the WCHA and 18th in NCAA Division I. His goals against average is 2.58.

McHugh’s goal total stands at 10, becoming the first Charger with double-digit goals since Matt Sweazey scored 12 goals in the 2008-09 season. The freshman leads UAH with 21 points.

Other top scorers for UAH are Jack Prince (5-9-14), Chad Brears (3-10-13), Jeff Vanderlugt (6-7-13), and Brandon Parker, who has a team-leading 12 assists. Frank Misuraca is tied with Vanderlugt for second on the team in goals with six.

UAH Tale of the tape
(WCHA rank)
7-18-1 WCHA (8th)
Record 19-10-5
15-8-3 WCHA (3rd)
1.74 (9th) Goals/game 2.97 (3rd)
3.18 (8th) Goals allowed/game 2.41 (5th)
15.9 (2nd) Pen. minutes/game 12.8 (6th)
15.9% (5th) Power play 15.2% (7th)
82.3% (8th) Penalty kill 90.1% (1st)

About the Falcons: Bowling Green (19-10-5 overall, 15-8-3 WCHA) is the only team in the WCHA that has locked up its seeding. The 13th-ranked Falcons will be hosting a first-round series next week as the No. 3 seed, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to play for against the Chargers.

Bowling Green has lost four of its last five games, including 6-1 loss on Saturday at Alaska-Anchorage that dropped the Falcons to 14th in the Pairwise rankings, which are the primary tool for determining the teams for the NCAA Tournament. This puts BG on the bubble, and they can’t lose points to an eight-win UAH squad and expect to get an at-large berth.

The Falcons have many offensive threats, with 10 players with double-digit assists this season. Freshman Brandon Hawkins is the point leader with 24, with 12 goals and 12 assists. Sophomore Kevin Dufour has 13 goals on the season — including three against UAH back in October — followed by Ben Murphy’s 11. Dufour’s linemates, sophomores Matt Pohlkamp and Pierre-Luc Mercier, along with freshman defenseman and Philadephia Flyers prospect Mark Friedman, top the Falcons with 15 assists each.

Junior goaltender Tommy Burke has had the most playing time this season, playing in 51 percent of the Falcons’ minutes, posting a 2.27 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in 17 starts. Freshman Chris Nell has been solid as well, with a 2.32 goals against and .917 save percentage.

WCHA Standings Record Pts.
Minnesota State** 20-3-3 43
Michigan Tech** 19-5-2 40
Bowling Green** 15-8-3 33
Bemidji State* 11-10-5 27
Alaska^ 12-12-2 26
Northern Michigan* 11-11-4 26
Ferris State* 11-14-1 23
Alabama-Huntsville 7-18-1 15
Lake Superior State 7-18-1 15
Alaska-Anchorage 5-19-2 12
** Clinched home ice in first round
* Clinched playoff berth
^ Ineligible for postseason play

Around the WCHA: Minnesota State looks to win the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA regular season champion for the first time. The 2nd-ranked Mavericks need only one point at Bemidji State to do it.

No. 4 Michigan Tech will need to sweep rival Northern Michigan in a home-and-home and hopes Minnesota State loses twice to snatch the Cup for themselves.

As stated before, Charger fans will pay attention to two other series.

In the Governor’s Cup, Alaska-Anchorage hosts Alaska needing two wins and a bit of help to get into the WCHA playoffs. UAH clinches a playoff berth if Alaska-Anchorage loses or ties either game.

Lake Superior State hosts Ferris State also needing a single point to clinch a playoff spot. If UAH gets swept and Alaska-Anchorage sweeps Alaska, the Chargers will need the Lakers to lose both games to still make the playoffs.

Here’s the schedule for league teams this week. All times are Central. All games can be seen online on WCHA TV.

Friday, March 6

UAH at #13 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.
Northern Michigan at #4 Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
Ferris State at Lake Superior State, 6:37 p.m.
#2 Minnesota State at Bemidji State, 7:37 p.m.
Alaska at Alaska-Anchorage, 10:07 p.m.

Saturday, March 7

UAH at #13 Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.
#4 Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
Ferris State at Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
#2 Minnesota State at Bemidji State, 7:07 p.m.
Alaska at Alaska-Anchorage, 10:07 p.m.

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.