Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
Karlis Zirnis has seen the heights of Alabama Huntsville Hockey, and this year, as Associate Head Coach, he has been a part of some of the needed work to get this program back to those heights. Coming into the regular season finale series against a Bemidji State team that is firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, he knows the importance of these games to the Chargers. This team, despite being locked into the seventh seed in the WCHA has a lot to play for. First off, they are playing to earn some points heading into the postseason where they will be a heavy underdog. After playing one of their better games this season, in a 4-2 loss on Senior Day to the Falcons of Bowling Green, the focus this week is on details. Zirnis said, “For us its just worrying about what we can do,.. we’ve just got to work and make sure we are physical.”
In addition, he noted that a lot of players have shown a lot of improvement from the first practice to now and credited his development for the growth in the team. He praised the growth of rookies Tyrone Bronte up front, and his offensive skills. On defense, he noted the consistent physical play Brian Scoville has brought to the Chargers and how he has grown into his role as a defensive defender capable of playing key minutes. Scoville’s poise has grown throughout the season, and his positioning to lay the big checks he does has constantly developed as Brian has.
For the weekend, Zirnis and the staff are focusing on developing their own game first. When it comes to facing the Beavers, look at how the Chargers can get entry into the neutral zone. Bemidji State is always one of the toughest teams to establish zone presence against, and this weekend projects to be no different. The Chargers have to play a more consistent game in terms of intention. That is, this ever developing group has to have a better sense of puck possession. Zirnis called out the positive effort of senior leader Connor Wood last weekend in leading that possession game.
Wood’s ability to hold the puck for long periods of time was the precursor to the Anton Malmstrom checking from behind major. Over long shifts, players take more penalties to compensate for their needed extra skating. That is how UAH needs to play to get a good result, focus on finding ways to possess the puck as long as possible, and realize what system the Beavers are in, then be able to defend against it, or strike against it while on offense.
This weekend, the Chargers are looking to win, of course. They are also looking to come into the WCHA playoffs on a consistent note of good hockey. They can take the Beavers closer to, or over to the wrong side of the tournament bubble if they pull off an unexpected positive result for themselves this weekend. If they can force some penalties through holding positive puck possession, and can keep things close, then the weekend could lead them into a better spot for the postseason than they are at right now.
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