A “very dedicated” Josh Martin joins UAH: What he brings to the Chargers

Photo Credit: LSSU Athletics

Regarding Alabama Huntsville’s profile of their now 14 freshmen on the roster ” “I was just looking for a chance somewhere. ” Is probably the best summation of the persistence and dedication needed by many on this roster just to get seen and offered a scholarship this summer. Orator of that quote, Josh Martin, is the newest Charger that is eligible to play with his new team this weekend. He is as dedicated to rooting for his hometown teams in and around while.

Martin has not played a game of hockey against another team since last March for the North American Hockey League’s Lone Star Brahmas on March 7,2020. If the Chargers are able to play at home against Michigan Tech this week, and Martin makes the lineup on Friday, February 5, 2021, then 335 days will have passed in between. Martin was originally supposed to play for the Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage.

He started the fall semester at the University of Alaska Anchorage but did not stay there very long. The day after the Brownstown Michigan native moved to Alaska for the fall semester, he got news that the program would be folding following the season. While the Seawolves’ program is trying to be brought back with a fundrasing campaign in a bigger scope than the Save UAH campaign had to get, and we wish them success in that, players like Martin had to find another place to play.

Enter Alabama Huntsville, they were the first school to offer Martin a spot, and one that did so in a way that matches Martin’s style. That is, Martin, and this coaching staff are both “very dedicated” (as Martin said to describe himself) to continuous improvement and development. When Josh initiated the conversation with Karlis Zirnis and Lance West, Zirnis took the lead in talking with Martin. The Chargers, thanks in part to the ever-continuing hard work of Zirnis, where the first team to offer him a spot, yet without UAH, he might not have been able to play this year, and had to sit out his freshman season all together. Coincidentally, one of his roommates (Martin’s) is Frank Vitucci, who had no division one offers until West and Zirnis called him this summer.

During the recruiting process, the efforts to have the program reinstated and funded in the long-run played prominently in the talks to get Martin to Huntsville. Rightly, anyone who joined a team that announced it would fold would due their correct diligence before changing programs, especially to one that needed its second herculean fundraising effort to save it once more. As plain as day, the hard work of all involved with the Save UAH group, combined with the support Martin saw at the grassroots level in Huntsville for the Chargers are two major reasons why this stay-at-home and shutdown defender is a Charger. The coaching staff explained the long term plan to Martin, and knowing the full details of it, on helping UAH rise to their once held level of glory in this sport, and beyond it, Josh Martin signed up to go to UAH and help this team in their hunt to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Martin is a 6 foot, 3 inches tall defender that will remind people a lot of Bryan Scoville and Ayodele Adeniye in terms of how they all play. While we expect him to play a fair bit this year in the right circumstances, having Martin gives West some options on the back end. First, it would effectively give him two shutdown pairs if Martin plays with any of the fourth defenders not with the Scoville-Adeniye pairing. On the other hand, if the staff wants flexibility, then look for seven defenders to be used with some regularity, and Martin could play on another pair in times of needing a stop, and the more offensive defender could play when needing a goal . In addition, Martin finished as a disciplined player for Lone Star, taking only 14 penalties in 42 games.

After the deluge of the initial set of commitments this summer, this is the first true test to see what type of players Lance West wants to mold. If Martin can ever so slightly improve his acceleration skills, and get better in his own end throughout his time as a Charger, he has the experience the room he has to grow is limitless.

Donate: To help us cover more games and more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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Undrafted Free Agent Watch: Lake Superior State Goaltender Mareks Mitens

Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Mareks Mitens is one of the most reserved people in this game of College Hockey, at least in public. On the ice, he is one of its fiercest competitors, and has quietly put together a resume that goes beyond his top-line numbers at an improving Lake Superior State program. Every year since he came to Sault Saint Marie, he has taken on a bit more responsibility, until last year when he had the starting job full time for Damon Whitten’s Lakers.

How did he get to Lake Superior State?

Well, he parlayed a superb performance at the 2016 U18 World Championship into a superb season of NAHL Hockey, leading the Aston Rebels to the Robertson Cup, and nearly to a title. While there, Whitten and his staff saw him, and outworked several other schools to get him to commit to the Lakers program. Along with getting Yuki Miura on campus, securing Mitens’ help were the first two major recruiting battles involving non North American players that Whitten won.

Since coming to campus, despite not being drafted, it is clear that he has the attention of the NHL. He has been to two development camps as a Laker, first with the New York Islanders, and then two years later with the Chicago Blackhawks. At that second camp in Chicago, he worked with Peter Aubry, his former goaltending coach at Lake Superior State. From there, Mitens learned some valuable tips to make his game better.

On his time there he said of what he learned, and on his progression since then ” I guess one of the biggest things was to slow my game down and understanding the space I fill up from different angles. I think I have improved a lot in those areas.”

On that, we see the noticeable progression in his game from year to year. When he first became a Laker, Mitens was the backup in a platoon scenario. In this, he had to play games where his team was getting outshot every single night. One of the highlights of that season for him was a 36 save effort against a particularly skilled Bemidji State side to earn a shutout. That game in February of 2018 showed how good Mitens can be at this level, and since then he has lived up to it.

For teams looking for a ready made goaltender able to compete for a backup job at the big level, or a number one AHL netminder, Mitens is the ideal candidate for this job already for a few reasons. First, his game is incredibly quiet. He moves in his crease with an efficiency that some goaltenders at the top level do not ever have. Second, his intelligence on ice is exceptional. That is, when he is on his game he will not make a lot of “great” saves, not because he cannot, but because he is well positioned on the vast majority of the shots taken against him. This positioning, and the delayed start to the NHL Playoffs also should have him being considered for a spot representing his country, Lavia, at the 2021 World Championships this spring.

Mitens’ .932 save percentage is the best of any Latvian goalie playing in non domestic competition, beyond the juniors level, this season to this point. Arguably he will have more wins on his resume when his Lakers can get some more goal support to him. The Lakers only average 2.05 goals per game, and Mitens still has four wins on the season (4-3-3). Those are numbers indicative of the team needing to provide him more support. He is steady in his net, does not give up many “bad” goals, and motivates the team in front of him.

If the Lakers can string together some goal scoring soon, then Mitens arguably should be considered in the Mike Richter Award (best goalie in college hockey) conversation, and perhaps even in Hobey Baker Memorial Award (best player) talks.

When his season ends, and his time as a Laker is done, the professional hockey world will get to see what we saw in Grand Forks, what Aston Rebels saw in the NAHL, and what Lake Superior State fans are seeing now. That is, they will see an underrated goaltender quietly put up gaudy numbers and keep his team in every game through superior positioning and sound quickness.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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AIC will earn an at large selection or better this postseason: Here’s Why

The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) are pretty good this year. So far, they have one loss in their conference play to an Army team that has started to find their game as of late. One of their non conference loses to Quinnipiac was in a tough 3-2 game that showed how well Head Coach Eric Lang’s team can adjust when needed. After losing the previous game on the road, they came to their home rink and stood shoulder to shoulder with one of the better offenses in the country nearly ow

In addition to their 13 wins to this point, the team is fairly strong on offense, and a resilient one, given the talent they lost from their second straight Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Championship. The team, coming into today’s game is ninth with 56 goals scored. The team is doing this not with a top “big” line like some teams do, but with a collection of depth players providing more and more of the scoring and grit for this team. The play of the line that Aaron Grounds is on, that has featured multiple players along side of him has provided the positive physicality that Eric Lang had two years ago when his team shocked everyone but themselves against St. Cloud in the NCAA Tournament.

During the broadcast of their 3-0 win over Holy Cross, broadcaster and Coordinator of Athletic Communications director Seth Dussault called AIC a “buzzsaw” and, well Seth has a point about not just this game, but the Yellow Jackets in this conference. Through watching multiple games this weekend, this AIC team had the most complete weekend of any team we saw. It is hard to find ways to get better from this week, but we expect this team to somehow pull it off, because that is all they have done throughout the year, find ways to develop.

Let’s look at their eye-popping stats from the past week alone, courtesy of AIC Athletics

“AIC outscored Sacred Heart and Holy Cross by a combined 17-2 in the three games.

The Yellow Jackets outshot their opposition 115-55 and did not concede more than 20 shots in any game.

The Yellow Jackets went 5-of-17 on the power play and 8-of-9 on the penalty kill.

[Brennan] Kapcheck had a six-point week with six helpers to go with a +7 rating, while Dodero, Cole, and Janhonen all recorded five points on the week; a total of nine Yellow Jackets notched three or more points between the three contests.”

While some that do not follow this league do not see the implicit value in any of these statistics, we will note that every time we have had the chance to hear Head Coach Eric Lang speak about his team, along with the always evident humility and profound respect for the opposition, he notes things that his team can do more of, and improve upon. He now has a roster with so much depth on it, that three different goalies have wins, and all have shown they can handle the net for long periods of time. Oh, and Lang has multiple quality skaters that are sitting as healthy scratches each night.

That is, this Yellow Jackets team, this buzz saw of a squad that Lang has put together has shown their continued ascent throughout the year. This team, from its top scoring threats of Ellijah Barriga, Chris Theodore, Tobias Fladeby and others, combined with its solid depth of Grounds and Julius Janhonen, to so many others is one that during any other year where the pairwise was being used would most likely be an at large lock at this point. There are very few teams, in any conference, that can have their third or fourth goaltender come in and play at a top level, deal with sustained injuries or absences up front, and come out like these Yellow Jackets. If they do not meet the eye test to the Selection Committee after this week, we do not know what team would.

With all of that said, AIC has so many storylines on this roster, and so many areas Lang wants to get better on, that we think these Yellow Jackets should earn an at large spot, and that the league they play in, Atlantic Hockey, deserves at least two representatives. Look for the Yellow Jackets to focus on continued improvement in their penalty kill over the last few games of their season, and in playing complete games as they did this weekend against Holy Cross. If they finish strong, and nationally ranked, no one will be talking about AIC in this tournament the same way they did in 2019. Look for more on these Yellow Jackets in the weeks ahead.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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A Place for Everyone: Realignment of Division One Men’s College Hockey

(Photo Credit-College Hockey Inc.)

From the time a child starts playing hockey travel has been a big part of their lives. Weekend tournaments that are hours drive away as littles and then making the decision to move away from home to play junior hockey at young ages, many often before they can drive. This is just the beginning of the traveling that comes with being a college player. Countless players that we have interviewed speak of experiencing the game for the first time through a friend or family connection. From there they look to play at the next elvel, and for many, the pinnacle of their career is playing Division One College Hockey.

Division One Men’s College Hockey is a sport with a long history that includes the rise and fall of many programs, many due to the financial cost of competing at the top level of the sport relative to the revenue some are able to raise. Travel is a big part of that cost equation. Now people are going to argue that traveling is not a big enough expense to break the camels back. However, when the costs of the program range from 500,000 to three million dollars a year. Smaller schools bus a lot of the time to save money, while other schools fly more than bus. Our goal of this proposal is to further discussions on how can we make this setup fairer to the programs with smaller budgets, and provide a chance for further expansion in this game we all want to be bigger than it is.

I am suggesting taking all 61 programs and putting everyone in conferences in closer geographical range where possible. Where that does not work, we group programs based on institutional profile. Given the uncertain future of Alaska Anchorage Hockey, we will list them as an independent for this discussion, as their supporters to save it have a plan to compete as independents.

We will also list Alaska Fairbanks as an independent given the dearth of programs in the pacific northwest and ones that can afford to make repeated trips to Alaska. We hope that one of these conferences can work a scheduling agreement with the two Alaska schools in order to provide surety to them for some games each year. Both programs have a hard road ahead, but if the game we love keeps growing, it should get a little easier as more schools near them would help this problem of travel costs be ameliorated.

The other thing to consider is that the Big Ten is the only conference that is not a single sport conference. We will not be realigning them. I know this will be a disappointment for a select group of some North Dakota or Minnesota fans, but it is very difficult to make changes to multi-sport conference and because their is a long term potential for full member Big Ten schools to add men’s ice hockey as a sport. The old WCHA is not coming back in any of these proposals.

First, let’s focus on the NCHC.

NCHC

North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, St Cloud State, Minnesota State, Colorado College, Arizona State, Omaha, and Air Force

This is a conference full of teams that have a lot of history and rivalries, and some like Arizona State that are getting new facilities. The only really long tip would be down to Arizona State. Putting these teams together brings together some old rivalries with the ability to create new ones, while keeping some old ones. In addition, for a conference that wants to truly be “national” in its reach, adding Arizona State and Air Force, gives them this ability to expand their footprint, and lets all of the Colorado schools play all of their rivalry games within the conference. For anyone who says Air Force is not a like minded institution in terms of putting the best possible hockey team on the ice, or one capable of competing with anyone, we would point you to their numerous near trips to the Frozen Four over the past decade with players overlooked by many other teams. In addition, any conference that has a service academy in it, especially ones with multiple alums playing professional hockey while serving, gets a built in pitch to bring in more players from all around the country.

Also, the Mavericks have shown their worth in the WCHA for years, and have a devoted fanbase that makes up their supporter group, and another program in Minnesota. Mankato has a wonderful building, fans, school, and so much more that make them a worthy candidate to join the NCHC.

In addition, Arizona State is working to get a new arena built by December of 2022. Given their current arena situation, we understand the reticence of the conference to admit them to this point. By the start of the 23-24 campaign, hopefully, the arena issue is no longer an excuse. Prior to a potential future Pac-12 Hockey Conference forming, this arrangement allows for a select few Pac-12 Schools that may want to field a team to have a few close partners to do so with.

Atlantic Hockey

Army, Canisius college, Niagara University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Union, Bentley, American Intentional College, Robert Morris University, Long Island University, University of Alabama-Huntsville, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst

With this set up you can create travel partners and do home and homes with the 6 schools closest to you. Yes, this will create an unbalanced schedule, which is to be expected within a 12 school conference.

We are proposing having six teams play each other in four games per year, home-and-home at each institution based on geography. That equates to a built in 20 games per year for each school. In addition, there would be enough crossover play in the conference that would get each school to 26-28 games, leaving 8-10 non conference games available to be scheduled .

Alabama Huntsville being in this conference would dramatically expand its reach down to the southeast, and show that this conference supports the game and wants an institution with a big capacity to make the conference more competitive, instantly. Also, with Alabama Huntsville’s potential work to get marquee games at Bridgestone Arena, after securing a new conference home, who among this proud conference would not want to take the tournament down south every few years? The impact of having that tournament in Nashville, and marketing right to sell it out would be exponentially great for this conference.

In addition, Union’s proposed upgrades to the Achilles Center, where their home rink is, will take time, and having a national champion in your conference adds more to the long term legacy right away for the Atlantic Hockey Association. The split, unbalanced schedule would allow institutions to also not need to schedule flights to Air Force, and keep missed class time for longer trips down, while maintaining the option for weeknight games were appropriate to maximize the utility of each road trip.

ECAC

Sacred Heart, RPI, Yale, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, Brown, Harvard, Clarkson, Princeton, St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Cornell

We switched Sacred Heart with Union College for this simple reason. The Pioneers are getting a 60 million dollar arena built on their Fairfield Campus set to open pending final approvals as early as 2022. Sacred Heart meets the other institutions in terms of profile and a group working together to make hockey a part of the student-athlete experience.

Hockey East

Boston College, Boston University, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Merrimack College, University of New Hampshire, Northeastern University, Providence College, and University of Vermont

This conference remains unchanged. The rivalries many schools have are already built into the schedule. In addition, the reach of the league with their deal through CBS for media rights is pretty decent, along with the impact these programs make. Why change the most compact conference, and one of this sport’s better interest and revenue generators?

CCHA

Western Michigan, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State University, Ferris State, Bowling Green, Bemidji State, Miami, St. Thomas

Regarding the two former members of this conference leaving the NCHC to return back to it, Miami and Western Michigan, this makes the most sense. It cuts down travel, and brings more marketability back to each program regarding playing their regional rivals. The amount of Michigan Schools in this alone would drive up interest in all of the Michigan programs playing one another, and would allow for some unique marketing of those games to take place. In addition, the only marginally long trip for any of the eastern time zone teams is to St. Thomas or Bemidji State, a far less expensive jaunt for them then their previous trips to the two Alaska institutions we are designating as independent institutions.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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Omaha-UND: Three predictions for the weekend

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Tonight, the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha take on the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota at Baxter Arena, in a game featuring one of the best Omaha teams since Ryan Massa lead them to the Frozen Four in 2015. Below are some thoughts on what will happen this weekend. Keep in mind that both starting goaltenders have the same save percentage heading into this game, yet Adam Scheel plays behind a more defensive defense. That is, UND gives up less shots on net per game, but arguably, the speed of Omaha’s is a bit higher. With that mind, here are three predictions for the weekend.

A split or better for Omaha is likely

Despite all of the adulation UND has been receiving, and rightly so for their play this far, due to the unbalanced schedule, they have not faced Omaha at all to this point. The Omaha group this year has the speed and scoring of St. Cloud, with a bit more physical prowess in front of the net. Because of that, this is the most complete team UND will play prior to the NCAA Tournament, should one happen. It takes a lot to get this Fighting Hawks team out of their rhythm for a full game, but when it happens, it happens fast and pretty uniformly. When Denver ran their Friday night win over UND, they did so by scoring first and forcing more mistakes from a team not used to making them. Omaha’s speed and scoring lead by Taylor Ward, coupled with the play of Isaiah Saville in net will get the Mavericks far this weekend.

Adam Scheel’s save percentage will decrease

The reason why Scheel’s goals against is one of the best at 1.77 goals per game, yet his save percentage is tied with Saville at .928 is because of the shot suppression skills of the team in front of him. UND is one of the most gifted teams in the country at shot suppression. Given that this team has to play Omaha for six of their final eight games, barring a perfect run of play, Scheel’s somewhat gaudy numbers will reflect the reality of where he is nationally. He is a top 20 goalie in the country that is made to look top eight because of the defense in front of him. Scheel’s biggest consistent concern is giving up high-danger rebounds that go in the back of his net. Omaha’s speed makes it harder for Scheel to get away with playing some rebounds how he has, thus the gap in his statistics whenever UND is unable to box out in front of the net.

Isaiah Saville will once again remind the nation how good he is this weekend

To have the numbers Saville has, facing more shots per game than Scheel, by a significant amount, is impressive. His lateral movement is close to NHL-ready now, and if his game can stay calm against the Fighting Hawks this weekend, than Omaha is in a much better position to use the inherent speed advantage they have over the Fighting Hawks to score more. Goalies that have any rebound control and lateral movement do well in most places, and Saville had enough of it to make his Mavericks the last team to beat UND in Grand Forks. Every indication of his resume this year shows he can do it again. When UND does have their game going, Saville’s ability to eliminate grade a looks through his positioning and movement will be the difference for Omaha this weekend.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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Three reasons why UAH is better through the first eight games

(Photo Credit: LSSU Athletics)

From last year, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville have improved quite a lot to say the least. Quantifying some of this improvement can lend context to where Lance West’s team sits as they hopefully can get back on the ice soon after their quarantine due to Covid-19 ends. As of now, the next series is scheduled to take place one week from Friday at home against Michigan Tech in non conference play.

Going into that game, and given the improvement of this team, we felt it prudnent do differentiate between this group and last year’s in some numbers not shown in the top line of most scores. That is, these stats better quantify the difference in the two groups, while providing some more context about what this team is, and where it is going.

Shooting Percentage

First, shooting percentage is one of the most noticeable improvements in the first eight games for this team. One year ago, the Chargers had five players with a double digit shooting percentage and shot a mere 6.5 percent as a team. Neither of those statistics are something worth shouting about, to say the least. This year’s group is significantly better. They are shooting 9.3 percent as a team this year. While that is not what this team wants to have as a top line number, the underlying facts of it are a bit better. So far, nine players have a double digit shooting percentage, as the team is generating better scoring chances than they did through this time last season. If the Chargers keep finding their game on offense, as they did on the Friday night game against Ferris State, one thinks that number would rise, and soon. This team shows it is able to do a lot with some opportunities, with more, the sky is the limit for them.

Plus Minus

Again, while not perfectly indicative of this groups sucess, it is a lot better than at this point last year. In the previous campaign, these Chargers were a combined -104 through eight games. This season, they are -10 through eight games. This is probably the best indication of the improved team defense this team has. While not perfectly indicative of how this team is playing, it shows a bit better how they play when at even strength, which was one of their downfalls from last year. This team is, just at even strength, 90.3 percent better as shown through defense at even strength. Karlis Zirnis’ penalty kill mentality of outworking the opponent has made its way to the rest of the team .

Goals scored

As a team, the Chargers have 17 goals through their eight games this season. While everyone wants that number to be higher, in context compared to last year its an improvement overall. Through that amount of games last year, they had 10 goals scored through their first eight games. While this team has some more things to work on to rise up the standings, these improvements are another sign of the delete the past mentality. All of these statistics should not be taken as a pure guide to UAH’s improvement, but sign that this team is doing things the right way and is looking to improve from a better base than it had through eight games a year ago.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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How Omaha can beat the Fighting Hawks: Find the power play

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

The Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha are the fastest team UND will see the rest of the way this season. Team speed in the opposition alone gives UND pause, but there is another thing Omaha has to do with that speed in order to win this weekend.

Draw penalties

While UND has a size and strength advantage on most teams, Omaha included, they are also more undisciplined than the Mavericks. They have made up for it with a sterling penalty kill, getting through 88.24 percent of their short-handed time unscathed. With that said, Omaha is putting home 20.37 percent of their power play chances. This team is fast enough with Kevin Conley and Taylor Ward, amongst others, working to get their teams as many reps as possible.

Why does this matter?

Well, UND’s penalty kill is typically more aggressive when teams like to dither in the offensive zone and pass the puck looking for the perfect opportunity. Colorado College did this frequently, and thieir extra chances to score fell by the wayside. Omaha’s system is one more comprised of simplicity off its own speed, leading to more shots on net, and rebounds. Despite his sterling record, Adam Scheel’s biggest liability is getting over laterally on rebounds to prevent that second or third look from going into the net. Taylor Ward, and others for the Mavericks like to make good defenses defend, and know how to get shots on net quickly. This year, Omaha also can arguably afford to be aggressive, because Isaiah Saville has an identical save percentage to Scheel, and is quite decent stopping breakaway attempts.

The speed of the Mavericks will utimately generate some extra power play time for them, and do not sleep on the Omaha penalty kill as well. It leads the nation, killing 94 percent of its short-handed work without harm to the scoreline.

While Omaha will of course take advantage of some power play looks, the bigger prize to them is arguably getting UND out of his rythym. Despite having the skill and makeup to play two top lines and plug guys in, Head Coach Brad Berry is choosing to spread out his best players and vary the lines as much as possible. If you want all four lines to play equally, killing too many penalties is not good for that mission, because it forces teams to shorten their bench for not ideal reasons. Eventually, that will come back to harm this team, and as we said monday, this Omaha team will make UND pay for more of their penalties, especially the needless ones in the offensive zone.

For all of their talent and skill, the Fighting Hawks are one of the more undisciplined teams in the country based on the amount of penalties they take per game, and where they typically take them. If they keep things simple and race to the net, Omaha can take advantage of that. Last year, the Mavericks shattered the aura of Ralph Engelstad Arena and proved that a team playing the right way can beat the Fighting Hawks on home ice. This year, Omaha looks to use this series to again catapult them to a higher position in the race for a NCAA Tournament selection.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell

Attention NCHC: Omaha is here

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

As we said last month, the Mavericks of Omaha are very much for real, their speed game is finally being complimented with consistent defense to allow the skill of their starting goaltender, Isaiah Saville, to shine through.

We will reintroduce most of the key players on this team with an excerpt from our preview of Omaha

As we wrote back in September in our NCHC preview for Steve Kournianos Draft Analyst on these Mavericks:

“The Mavericks display a free-flowing, up-tempo style that is at its best when it forces the opponent to defend on turnovers. Although they were hit hard with several key graduations on defense, the goaltending of starter Isaiah Saville (VGK 5th/2019) will play a critical role in whether or not Omaha can finish above .500 for the first time since 2016. Additionally, coach Mike Gabinet will ice two critical transfers in former North Dakota puck-moving defenseman Jonny Tychonick (OTT 2nd/2018) and ex-Michigan winger Jack Randl (2000). They will join a trio of top-scoring wingers in Tyler Weiss (COL 4th/2018)Taylor Ward (1998), and Kevin Conley (1997). Therefore, scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem considering the notable transfers and returning firepower up front. It should be the Mavericks’ ability to limit the chances against, however, and minimizing the amount of energy Saville has to expend that could swing Omaha into one of its best finishes in recent team history.”

This team, and the players listed in this preview, are contenders for the Penrose Cup this season, full stop. Over his time this season, Taylor Ward has been one of the more impressive forwards in the country, leading his team with seven goals scored so far. Omaha plays a balanced game as eleven of it skaters are averaging at least a point every other game (.5 points per game or better).

Why does this matter?

Well take the Fighting Hawks, their opponent this weekend. Only eight of its skaters meet that same standard of depth. In addition, between the two teams, we see the better goaltender wearing whatever uniform Omaha will wear each night. Isaiah Saville is one of the more chronically underrated goaltenders in the country, let alone the NCHC. He comes into the weekend with nearly identical statistics to Adam Scheel, the likely starter for UND. The pair both have a .928 save percentage, and based on watching the two of them faceoff over their careers, Saville is the one more ready to move to the next level, now, not Scheel. It is harder to get a read on the impact of a goaltender like Scheel who has constantly played behind one of the best defenses in the country, than it is Saville. While Omaha’s defense has improved, helping with some of Saville’s improvement, it still relies on speed and breakaways more than teams like UND to get goals.

This opens up Saville to face more high-danger looks, an area where he showcases his superb lateral movement to make the play. When you play behind defenses like Scheel is used to being behind, you tend to not get a sense of what your own numbers mean. When you are the goalie on a team that is more up-tempo and can win regardless of a shot clock, well, you learn about your goalie pretty fast. The other area we see a sterling record from on Saville’s success is his rebound control. He typically makes the first save in a sequence and will concede a low quality chance, or none at all more than Scheel, who is prone to higher danger on his rebounds.

Back to the team in front of Saville, they are fast. We note this because this speed at high capacity is often tough to play against for teams like UND who prefer to play teams with one “big” line and shut them down through out working them. While you can outwork Omaha, most in this country, including UND, may have trouble outskating them. The Mavericks live on the edge a lot more than UND, but this year, for them, it is paying off with their strong 9-4-1 start against a conference full of teams that play similar styles to UND.

As we said last month, and will bring home here, noting this was written before the originally scheduled start to the NCHC season for UND was postponed:

“How this team plays UND this weekend and beyond in the second half will show how much these Mavericks have grown. How they can play the Fighting Hawks on back-to-back nights and what they do to agitate their system will once again serve as a model for other teams, and come tournament time will probably be used by coaches of other teams to pre-scout ways to beat them, or at least make their lives a bit more difficult on the ice.”

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Northern Michigan Hockey: A work in progress

Leader of the Wildcats of Northern Michigan, Grant Potulny, made no excuses for where his team is in the standings. He knows that his team has dealt with a lot of challenges this year due to the pandemic to start. From starting late, to having multiple games in rapid succession, to dealing with a league that has some of the top goaltenders in the country, the Wildcats have already faced a lot of adversity.

Oh, and all of that is true before them dealing with injuries to four of their top eight scorers from last year, so far only having one of them, defender Andre Ghantous return to the lineup. His speed and ability to score from the back end is something the team needs now.

First, on dealing with the pandemic, Potulny was effusive in offering praise to all coaches in the WCHA. All of them are working to reschedule games and play as many as possible. We conducted this interview on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, the Wildcats found that they were playing Michigan Tech in a Saturday/Monday home-and-home series to make up for the postponed series against Alabama Huntsville. In game one, the Wildcats lost 2-0 despite outshooting the Huskies 32-31 on the evening, including a 15 shot flourish to finish the game.

Coming into the season, the Wildcats had higher expectations than their record. But so far, they have not gotten what they wanted out of this year, despite fielding a relatively fast side optimized for their bigger ice sheet. Things changed quickly with multiple injuries occurring, and the team having a very haphazard start to the season due to Covid-19 cases ravaging their program. Due to the pandemic, the Wildcats could stand to benefit from the extra year of eligibility afforded all student athletes. Potulny and his staff have had initial discussions with all three seniors in the program about staying next season.

Going back to this team, one thing that has to change is team goaltending. To Potulny’s credit he put the burden on everyone to improve, not just those in the net for him. To help Nolan Kent and his two partners in the net have a better chance, Potulny is working on his system, along with developing the individual talent needed to ensure that the Wildcats do not let up copious high percentage shots each night. In general he said of their statistics ” “they know where they’re at.” To get their goaltending back on track, all of the goalies have been working on some things individually to help sure up their fundamentals.

Finally, Potulny had some nice things to say about Joseph Nardi, the captain of Northern Michigan, and a player looking to earn a professional contract after his time as a Wildcat is done. Potulny said “he;s a guy that coaches love to have on their team because you cant play him enough.” Nardi’s speed and skill will make him an underrated option for an NHL team looking to get a little faster whenever Nardi ends up leaving the program.

As to the Wildcats, well, there is a lot of season left, and if they get their goaltending handled, have more than enough speed to compete in this league.

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UND-CC: Things to change for the finale

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Tonight, the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota ran the show on their way to a 4-1 victory in which time, space, and goals were mostly theirs for the taking. With that said, both teams had some things they would like to fix before the finale tomorrow. Below are some of those things.

UND-Fix the penalties

Tonight, UND took far too many chances to play shorthanded.

Luckily, the penalty kill of Assistant Coach Dane Jackson, and Adam Scheel in net did enough to save the day. With that said, on an average penalty per game basis, UND leads the NCHC in penalties conceded. In practical terms, it means they take more penalties than anyone else and have to kill penalties more. Even the best penalty kill will give up a power play marker at times. If this team can take a few less penalties each night, they keep everyone a bit fresher, and keep their whole team engaged in the game. This engagement helps them not do other things like badly turn pucks over at terrible times to help opponents back into games they should not be in.

This Fighting Hawks team is one of the best in the country. For them to make and win a Frozen Four, this statistic should look to change ASAP. If it does not, this team opens itself up to a bad special teams day ending their postseason far too soon for their liking.

CC: Capitalize on your chances

What do we mean by this?

Well, the Tigers are a fast team, for starters, but were unable to use that speed to consistently agitate UND netminder Adam Scheel. That has to change for the Tigers to have a chance to earn a split.

Why does it need to change?

Well, to put it succinctly, UND will win the shots on net and possession battle, most likely. Nearly any team that is not ranked has to play nearly perfect just to have a chance against UND, and tonight the Tigers did not do that. They had some chances, and had to earn a goal or two beyond what they go to get this game competitive, and did not do that. Looking at the Tighers without their star, Grant Cruikshank, leaves us with the same questions about this team we seem to have every year. Given all of the talent they have, when will that translate into points in the NCHC? Well, they need to figure out how to find a goal or two more tomorrow to earn three NCHC points.

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