Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
13 freshmen, and no certainty in net. That is what the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville faced when they went into their opener against Robert Morris. They of course had to deal with this because of their program being cut and then reinstated soon after over the summer. A new staff with Lance West at the helm, working with Carmine Guerriero and Karlis Zirnis had their work cut out for them just to get a team to that point of the opener, let alone through a tough WCHA schedule.
This staff did just that. The work started out in the summer, where Zirnis and West spent a lot of time watching video and finding 12 freshmen to come to campus and compete as a part of a program looking to start over. One of those players they found is their first line center, Tyrone Bronte. He had no division one offers in June, and had to earn a spot on the top line for the Chargers with his speed and hockey sense. His story of being discovered late and getting a lot of time is not uncommon for anyone in this group this year.
Bronte’s main linemate, Bauer Neudecker improved his game dramatically from the previous season. His shot, combined with his sense and leadership on the team are some reasons why he is the captain of the Chargers. What stands out about Bauer’s leadership is how he has bought into the process, a common trait on this group, and worked to help others get better. He talked to us about trying to take the extra year of eligibility to be a fifth year captain after next season. Like so many in this group, Bauer wants to be a Charger, and wants this group to keep developing. With Neudecker, Bronte jumped onto the scene and proved that he belongs. On the back end, Lucas Bahn’s leadership stood out for similar reasons. He chose to come to Huntsville and stay through the reinstatement of the program.
On the ice, his game has improved as he finished the year with six points (two goals, four assists). More importantly, he has played more minutes this year than any other Charger defender. His quiet leadership and ability to work with the new staff has lead to a lot of his success, and his effort, again this effort is common among this group, will help him and the program. We will spend a lot of time this offseason talking to more in this group about this year, but Bronte, Neudecker, and Bahn up front are three players that stand out to us among this group.
In net, the Chargers did not really know what they had with David Fessenden. Now they do. Fessenden is a top flight goaltender in college hockey who had many a high-save night for the Chargers. While the record does not show it, his statistics do. Night after night, the Chargers faced in excess of 35 shots per game, and Fessenden still saved 91 percent of them. While this team has things to work on going forward, finding a starting goaltender is not one of them. Ensuring he does not need to make 70 or more saves over a series is. We hope to publish more about his development from year one to this year, and on what he is working on for year three.
Before their season finale against Lake Superior State, Guerriero said of how they want the team to play ” I just want to see a passionate group tomorrow. I want to see a team who stays true to and plays HERD hockey. Our identity has made us successful this year. When we get away from that, we hurt ourselves. At the end of the day, I want to see guys playing hard and with pride.” This team did that all year, they worked together to play HERD hockey. Their collective physicality and effort throughout the year which produced some good results, and showed the staff how they can take this group to the next level.
He also said ,”Play with passion, play with pride, and play for each other. At the end of the day, we have to be selfless and willing to do anything it takes to win.” Those two sentences describe all of this program’s efforts this season. They worked to get better each day, and build the foundation for this program. Regardless of the future, which we have written about and covered, and will continue to look for more on, what this team did to be competitive in their games, sweep Ferris State at home, and show the world that a team that finished the year with 14 freshmen, many of whom had no division one offers, and some, like Bronte, who took on big roles, all leading the way with guidance of senior leaders Connor Wood, and Connor Merkley, both of whom set the example and showed the grit and physicality needed to compete at this level. While both may not be back next year, as this group moves forward, the example those two have set will resonate in Huntsville for years to come.
We will have more on this season, and stories about Chargers Hockey in the summer and beyond. This program needed a fresh start this season, and they got one. Beyond the box score, this team proved that it is on the course, as of now, of heading in the right direction.
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