UAH Hockey: Positives, and lessons learned on Senior Day

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Phography

Today, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville scored first again. Lucas Bahn walked down to the goal line and fired a puck off Bowling Green netminder Zach Rose and in to send the loud Von Braun Center crowd into a frenzy. Not long after that, Tim Theochardis scored on a turnover that left Bowling Green with a breakaway where David Fessenden had to defend against multiple shooters by himself.

After that goal, Alabama Huntsville found itself in a familiar spot. They had to answer back after having their opponent eqalize the score. They did just that as Drew Lennon put home a shorthanded tally to give the Chargers the lead that would last until the third period. Bowling Green scored two goals 54 second apart to go ahead for good, an added an empty net tally to secure the 4-2 win. Despite getting outshot, Alabama Huntsville played the Falcons much closer than they did in the opener, only getting outdone in shot attempts by 14 (50-36).

What have we learned about the Chargers today? Well, today’s effort was the best summation of what this team can do against top end talent when it plays together. Did they lose? Yes they did, on a beautiful goal from Sam Craggs, a turnover for the first goal and a power play conceded. Despite the result, there are some good things from today to remember that can serve as a guide for this group the rest of this season.

The seniors are still important

Connor Merkley, and Connor Wood both had big parts in today’s efforts for the Chargers. Merkley centered the second line, and went 12-10 on faceoffs. More than that, he provided some help on offense with the primary assist on Bahn’s goal. His physical presence in the top six is always welcome, and credit to Merkley for coming in after not playing for 23 days to put in the work he did on his line today. As for Connor Wood, well, his leadership and physicsal play lead to Alabama Huntsville getting extended power play time in the second period. Although they could not score on any of it, Wood’s determination to get to tough areas and his speed pose problems to all of his opponents. That same level of speed and truculence could land Wood a professional contract after his time at Alabama Huntsville is done. As Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis said of the seniors’ impact on the program ” They are people who care a lot about the program and giving everything they can to the program. They have been thru a lot and many ups and down and we are thankful for everything they done. ”

This staff sees the support it gets

Alabama Huntsville finished its home schedule second in the nation in perent capacity attendance behind only the University of North Dakota. As Zirnis notes ” I’m very thankful for the people come out and support us thru these hard times. It means a lot for our guys and our staff. We appreciate every person who has attended the game or supporting us via internet. I can promise you will we keep working hard to improve our hockey program and there are better days ahead of us.”

Game management

As Zirnis said ” We limited our mistakes in the game and played a lot more physical today. We had shoot first mentality and going hard to the net.” The game today was the most complete game that this group has played all year. They did everything they could to stay in the game, and limit mistakes. Bowling Green happened to bury one of them (the four-on-four goal) on rare turnover. Going forward, if this team can get one foundational building block from the Bowling Green series, how it played a team likely to make the NCAA tournament today would be one thing to take from the series moving forward.

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Lucas Bahn: Thankful and growing

Photo credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Alabama Huntsville defender, and Hendersonville, Tennessee native Lucas Bahn, and first line center Tyrone Bronte both have something in common about how they found the game of hockey. Despite living on opposite sides of the world growing up, both started off playing roller hockey. Bahn played at a rink about ten minutes from his childhood home, and grew up playing the game supported by an incredibly supportive family. Originally, Bahn was set to head to the University of New Hampshire, but he ended up coming to Alabama Huntsville.

Former Alabama Huntsville Head Coach Mike Corbett, who brought Bahn to Huntsville did a superb job of summing up what Lucas and his family bring to Alabama Huntsville.

“His mom and dad were supporters from day one, they are A1 people, Lucas wanted to be a part of our program, Lucas had the opportunity to be a part of another program and he didn’t want to.”

Further expanding on his comments about Lucas’ family, Corbett said that, “his parents are rockstars.”

To his family Lucas is thankful for all of them, saying “my family means everything to me, they’ve helped me in more ways than they could ever know.”

Lucas can do everything well for this team, and is their most consistent defender. Other than score a goal this season, Bahn has been a part of most of the key minutes that the Chargers have had in each game.

Lucas explained why he chose to stay at UAH after the reinstatement of the program this summer, saying “I decided to stay because I really enjoyed my first year.. and its close to home for me. I knew Westy (Head Coach Lance West) was coming back. I thought I would have a good opportunity to play a lot “

As his current Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis says of what Bahn brings, and his coachability that it is, “very easy to coach Lucas. Lucas is a very dynamic skater and uses his agility to his advantage. Lucas is a very smart player and takes coaching very well. Also Lucas is very good teammate with helping out anyway he can.” Bahn credits Zirnis for helping him become a better two way defender. This year, Bahn is making more cerebral plays on the defensive end, and is a part of why the Chargers have improved in playing team defense.

His stats and improvement from his first year to now show that. He already has more assists this year than last year, in 14 less games. In addition, a lot of what he brings is beyond the box score. His mentorship has helped players like Josh Martin integrate into the group faster, as the two have played well together, and both have a natural chemistry with one another on the ice. When Lucas plays with Dayne Finnson, he is the primary setup man for that pair, as Finnson’s slap shot is one of the harder ones on the team. On the power play, Lucas is the quarterback, and is a big reason behind the improvement in UAH’s power play from last year to this season.

Every game, Bahn typically wins multiple battles on effort alone, and several more due to his high hockey intelligence. Bahn is an incredibly cerebral player, and is often the reason why a goal is saved or created when he is on the ice. His mentorship of the freshmen that this team has is already paying off, with players like Josh Corrow seeing a more consistent amount of minutes as the year has progressed. As this program looks to build up from the foundation of this season, Bahn will have a role in adding to the foundation he is building this year. If offered the chance when his time comes, he would consider staying an extra year to use the extra year of eligibility offered to all winter sport student-athletes due to the pandemic-marred season that is happening. When you look at the growth of the program from game one against Robert Morris to where they are now in terms of playing more consistent each night, Bahn’s influence is a big part of that development.

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BGSU 5 UAH 0: Three Takeaways

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Tonight, the Chargers played a decent first and third period, where they made the Falcons of Bowling Green earn their looks, and played the team game the needed to. Then we focus on the second period, where at least 60 percent of it was spent with the Chargers defending in their own end. As this team has seen, time after time, giving high-octane teams multiple chances will come back to harm you, and tonight was no different. Despite a valiant effort by the Chargers, the Falcons used a four goal second stanza to put the game on ice. Here are three takeaways from this game.

Deja vu all over again

Remember when Bennett Stockdale scored the first goal against Minnesota State in the series opener? Well the Mavericks got the next four, including three in the second and won the game. Tonight, the Chargers had a few chances to score first. The best came off a good wrist shot from Frank Vitucci short handed that Eric Dop kicked away. After that, the Falcons went on to score four goals in the second, and one in the third to provide the final margin. The score was slightly different but the pattern remains. This team is facing a trial by combat nightly, and learning what they need to do in order to compete with the top talent in this game, Once they can improve game management, you will see less 4-0 or 5-1 results and more one or two goal games, like you saw from this team earlier in the year.

Trust the process

This team plays with heart. Yes that is a cliché to put it mildly, but the effort in the third period, and the fire that they came out with in the first matters. For a team with ten or more freshmen in the lineup every night, and a group that has 13 people on it who did not know they’d be on the Huntsville campus before June, they are playing with a remarkable amount of synergy. The results do not show it yet, but this is a group that fights for one another, and works hard for all of the game even when the staff gets a lot on film they don’t like, like the second period. Remember this through the final three regular season games. The story of this team is not so much the record, yes no one wants to only win three games in college hockey, but how they have grown throughout the year, and some key players that have emerged

What comes next

Sunday is senior day for this group with two seniors. Connor Woord and Connor Merkley. Credit both players for helpling this team develop, and buying in from day one to the new group’s teachings. They have not been on the ice as much this year as they could have been, but still play important roles. Connor Wood is the heart and soul of this tea, and his passion for the game is fun to see every night. Merkley’s breakaway against Ferris State was the game winner, and he has been a reliable leader for this program.

We say all of that to get to this. Sunday means a lot to this group, and this city. This town fought to save this program not for the end result of this season, but for the long term health of the game of College Hockey. To think that Lance West and this staff will not have this team ready to do everything they can to take on Bowling Green would be unwise. If the Chargers can get more quick outs like they did in the first and most of the third period, and use the speed they have, then options open up for this tean, and a chance to avoid a date with Minnesota State in the postseason becomes a little more realistic. Senior Day, and a chance to write some more history comes this Sunday afternoon at 3:07 PM.

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UAH-Bowling Green: Three things

Photo Credit-LSSU Athletics

This week, the Chargers take on Bowling Green in a home and home series on Wednesday and Sunday. The Falcons are a team on the edge of NCAA tournament consideration that plays with as much speed as Minnesota State, but does not control possession as much as the Mavericks. This week presents two opportunities for the Chargers, a chance to grow and show what they’ve learned, and a chance to maybe spoil at-large considerations for the Falcons.

Easier said than done, as the Falcons have five times the amount of players with double digit points than the Chargers do. Brendon Kruse leads this team, and has an impressive group of forwards with him, and two starting goaltenders behind him. In addition, the Falcons have the capability to score goals in bunches and make you defend for long stretches of time.

Here are three things to watch for from the Chargers tomorrow

Scoring first is only part of it

Multiple times over the past few series, UAH has gotten on the board first. Should that happen tomorrow, they have to figure out how to manage the waves of pressure the Falcons will send upon them. If not, well, this team will have to face 50 shots or more on net a night against David Fessenden. Despite the recent history of this program, all involved in it do not want that shot counter to get anywhere near 50.

Bronte the beauty

Tyrone Bronte is the best forward on this team right now in terms of chance generation, and speed. His line, which has featured Bauer Neudecker through most of the year will have to lead things for this team to have a chance. Bronte’s pace and Neudecker’s shot are the two best offensive traits this team has, and how they leverage them will go a long way to determining the final score tomorrow night. In addition to all of this, it is rather astonishing that Bronte had no Division One offers before UAH Head Coach Lance West reached out to him in June. He has become an instant leader for this team, and should earn a spot in an NHL Development Camp this summer if he wants to attend one (if they are held).

Protect big save Dave

The biggest factor in this series, above all else is how this team protects David Fessenden, their starting goaltender. If they keep the Falcons to the outside and force a lot of blocks and low velocity muffins, as they did for the first 45 or so minutes against Lake Superior State on Friday night, then a lot of options can open up. The other part of this equation is in transition. Can this team win some more puck battles to chip pucks out. What has happened the past few weeks shows that there are still elements for growth from Lance West’s group, and no matter what happens in these next two games, know that it is all part of a much longer journey. This is a team that firmly believes that luck is made through winning the process and repetition. Their systems have improved from last year to this year, as has their record. What needs to come next is replication. Can you earn your chances when the other team has momentum. If they can earn a few more clears on one or no shot attempts, more good things will come their way.

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Bennett Stockdale: More on his path to UAH and development as a Charger

(Photo Credit: UAH Athletics)

Freshman Alabama Huntsville Hockey forward Bennett Stockdale grew up Ottawa and has been around hockey almost all of his life. As he said ” Growing up in Ottawa my whole family were huge Senators fans and had season tickets so I’d go to most of the home games with my family, I became pretty obsessed with them and hockey by the time I was three.” The Stockdales are a hockey playing family as his sister, Kathryn is playing for the University of Connecticut Women’s Hockey Team in her freshman season as well.

He has been around the game all his life, and almost had his dream of playing Division One Hockey not become a reality before Lance West reached out to him in June. During the pitch, as Stockdale said on what the pitch from the team was, ” Coach West was really excited about the players that would be coming back and the culture in the locker room. With the program returning he also talked about the security and support of the program.” The consistent pitch proved resonant with many on this team, as 12 freshmen over the summer heard versions of it, and became members of Charger Hockey in part because of it.

In his time at Alabama Huntsville, Bennett has shown flashes of the leader he became for the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League. He is, at his best, a power forward with speed, and an eye for scoring goals, all while being responsible in his own end. In his time with the Tomahawks, he played extensively against Tyrone Bronte before joining forces this year. In the top six, Stockdale is a force on the left side, and brings his power and finesse to each game. On playing against Bronte he said, ” playing against him was always fun but Its been great to play with him. He’s a really hard worker and makes it pretty easy to play with him. Playing on the same team as him has definitely allowed me to see that even more.” That hard work is very much part Stockdale’s game as well.

Another thing in Stockdale’s play that stands out is his physical play, and high hockey intelligence, which plays well with the scoring threats on either top six line he is on. That is part of his work to model his game after Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point. That same physical play also comes from playing within the structure of West’s system, another improvement to his game he noted that the coaches were a big part of, in getting him to the Division One Level.

The development has shown, and the staff has given him more time in the top six recently. For as nervous as Bennett was in not having an offer until June, he has not shown it. He has added some physical play on whatever line he is on, and knows how to drive the offense forward positively. Stockdale and the Chargers are getting ready to take on Lake Superior State tomorrow night, and Saturday night as well.

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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UAH Hockey: Credit the Returners-Part Two

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

The Chargers of Alabama Huntsville have done quite a lot in this pandemic-marred season so far. Part of that is how well the 13 freshmen have integrated into this group. Another part of that is the exponential growth of those who came back. This is the second part of our series documenting the sucess of the retuners. If you did not get a chance to look at the last bit of info on some of the returners, there will be a link at the bottom of this article to go back and check that out. Since writing the first piece, we have seen Bauer Neudecker continue to thrive on Tyrone Bronte’s line and showcase the sneaky shot that David Fessenden and others know about. In addition, his linemate Lucas Bahn has pitched in in some key moments, especially on the power play. He leads a power play ranked fourth in the nation coming into the weekend.

As we said before, and as is still relevant now,” in order for this team to thrive, the returning players who toughed out so much to stay Chargers have to improve. Given the unique year this is, some returners are playing for ice time next season with their play this year. That is, due to the pandemic, the NCAA is allowing players with more academic work to not have this year count against their eligibility. Therefore, all players, especially the returners are competing for ice time now, and a roster spot next year to some degree. As Carmine Guerriero said when we talked to him, they have all bought into the new way these Chargers are playing, and it has showed.”

Let’s look beyond the top line numbers and look at how some more players have improved year-over-year.

Dayne Finnson

The junior defender put home the most thrilling goal of the season so far, and one of the most thrilling at the Von Braun Center of any scored in this program’s Division One existence. His improvement goes beyond that. For starters, he already has more goals in 8 games this year, than in his previous 64 games over his first two seasons played (two this year, one in the previous two seasons). In addition, he has both of those goals on the power play. When you look at reasons why this power play is fourth in the country, the blue line’s contribution is a big part of that. For Finnson he is also two points from equalizing his points output last year (has five in eight games this season, and had seven in 32 games last year). We knew Finnson could defend well before this year, but him adding as much offense as he has done to this point is a welcome addition to the diversity of point contributions the Chargers need.

Drew Lennon

The junior defender, with one three point game against Ferris State, exceeded his career pont total in his first  two seasons in one game as his three points were a big factor in the thriller. Beyond that, he plays a cerebral game, similar to Bahn. He has shown an ability to find the opening when setting up the offense, as shown on the nice pass he made to Quinn Green earning him the secondary assist on Ben Allen’s equalizer against Ferris State with 2.3 seconds left.  Throughout the year, look for how Lennon compliments the assertive game he plays on the scoresheet. He has the potential to stretch defenses like he did against Ferris State. Given the speed the Chargers have up front, Lennon’s keen eye on offense becomes even more critical, as he showed against Ferris State.

Ben Allen

The third line center for the Chargers scored the equalizer against the Bulldogs last Friday, his ability this year stretches far beyond that. He plays on a line with Peyton Francis and Connor Wood. All three of them provide superb speed and energy that helps extend what these Chargers can do. On that goal, he got the primary assist from Quinn Green, a speedy freshman who spent last weekend on the first line with Tyrone Bronte and Neudecker. That shows his ability to move around when needed, and the staff likes the speed he plays with. From watching him play last year against North Dakota, his ability to defend was apparent to those watching then. This year, he has gotten noticeably faster and provided West with more options for every situation Having a few players that start in the bottom six of your forward corps that can move up in key moments is part of building a better program. Allen has two points this year already, and is on track to far exceed the 16 games played last year if he keeps playing his role as he is.

All of the returners have provided a needed element to this team, and we will have updates on all of them including ones not discussed in this upcoming article. All of them, even ones not mentioned in the first or second article have improved their games and provided the leadership this team needs.

Link to first article on the returners.

https://seamoresports.com/2021/01/06/uah-hockey-credit-the-returners/

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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UAH Outplays Not Outscores Michigan Tech: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Today, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville played a lot more complete of a game against the Huskies of Michigan Tech. Like in their last series finale against Lake Superior State, this team went down 2-0, this time on a power play and a long point shot goal. After that, these Chargers reminded us again that the past is not prologue for this group. They fought over the last part of the first period resulting in a Noah Finstrom goal from some hard work in front of the net. His first collegiate coal was the final marker of the game as the Huskies took the finale 2-1.

With that said, these Chargers are more than the box score. While we imagine Head Coach Lance West was not a fan of the result today, the effort he saw from this group definitely was. The second two periods were played pretty evenly for parts, and others had the Chargers controlling play. They did everything but score a goal in the last two periods and the total shot attempts for the night prove it. The Chargers out attempted the Huskies 52-46. With that said, 22 of those salvos were blocked, and 10 went wide. If one only noticed the top line stats, they would not grasp the magnitude of this result for Alabama Huntsville.

Effort, and What Comes Next

Every coach that we have talked to for this team has lead us to one word, effort. That is the singular word by which these Chargers look to rise up the table in the WCHA this year, and prove, once again, that they belong in the Division One Level of Men’s College Hockey. There were many effort plays by Alabama Huntsville today that will not show up in the box score for the amount of momentum and energy brought their way,.

The best example of that effort came from Connor Wood in the second period. After Connor Merkley took a defensive zone penalty for tripping, Wood and Tyrone Bronte lead the penalty kill onto the ice. Bronte won the faceoff and was able to get the puck out of the zone. Next, Connor Wood raced down to the offensive zone and nearly won the puck on a shorthanded chance. His pace forced Eric Gotz of the Huskies to either play him straight up, or take a penalty to prevent a shorthanded chances. Wood earned some four-on-four time for his team instead of facing a power play that had already put one home on them today

Of course UAH fans want their team to win games, as fans of teams in every sport do, all of the time. With that said, these Chargers are building something greater, designed to start a new chapter for this program with happier endings than it has had over the past decade. With that said, remember that with this being a pandemic year, meaning that everyone has the option to have an extra year of eligibility, combined with the culture of this team, what you saw on the ice from this team is a launching pad to something greater in the future. Every day West and his staff preach zero excuses, and care about development. That fact has already paid off in multiple on-ice areas for these Chargers. More importantly, the culture of the team has already taken shape. That is, their mentality. Not many nights over last season did the Chargers get behind and have the belief that they could come back. The new culture, and the buy in of the returners, combined with a recruiting class full of people passed over by most other Division One schools, has already changed that.

As to their next opponent, finally, the Chargers are set to head home to the Von Braun Center and face the Bulldogs of Ferris State next weekend. Despite losing both games, the Bulldogs are more than capable of playing with these Chargers, and are getting back their World Juniors netminder in Logan Stein this week. That should reinforce the defense for them a bit. The Bulldogs are looking to prove their doubters wrong, and we picked them near the bottom of the conference to start the season. They outshot the Falcons of Bowling Green on Friday night despite losing to them 6-1. How Stein plays upon his return coupled with the improvement of a young team that was sitting home during the postseason, like these Chargers, will determine the fate of the Bulldogs.

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UAH Loses 4-0 in WCHA Opener: The Good, and Improvements Needed

(Photo Credit: LSSU Athletics)

The Chargers of Alabama Huntsville came out today against the Huskies of Michigan Tech, and played a game that had a few good things about it, but left some questions that this team still needs to answer. David Fessenden played well in net for the Chargers, especially in the first period, surviving 9 Huskies’ salvos in the first frame. In the second, Michigan Tech put themselves ahead for good, outshooting UAH 17-5 and scoring three of their goals. The Huskies tacked on an insurance marker in the third to round things out.

The Good

The first period was a defensive effort by this team the way Lance West and Karlis Zirnis would like. The buy in from every Charger was there, and of the nine shots Fessenden faced, really only two or three were high danger chances that Fessenden was able to stop. In addition to this bit of good, we continued to see the speed of this team. Systemically, that is the biggest difference for these Chargers every night. Fundamentally having this team speed kept this game closer longer than it should have been. Despite only having 34 shot attempts, these Chargers showed their system and its ability to stretch out games.

What to improve on

Like fouling at the end of the game in basketball to extend it with hopes of your opponent missing a foul shot, one has to use the time and space given by your trap system to put home some goals. These Chargers, tonight, did not do that. They were outdone in shot attempts by a margin of 26. That will not win you many games in any league on any night. On Michigan Tech’s first goal, they had a sustained shift of more than a minute of zone time leading to the goal by Brian Halonen. The Huskies wore down the Chargers, and he got a tap-home goal Fessenden had no chance to stop. Between condensing the box a little bit to increase the blocked shots, and finding ways to get quicker exits, the coaches are probably looking to tweak how they execute their systems to stand up to these Huskies tomorrow afternoon.

In addition to this simple fact, the Chargers need to not try for stretch passes nearly as much as they did. When they got a stretch through, it was not on the tape of the receiver most times, and it did not go anywhere. These Huskies live to make your life tough when trying to attack them, and this game brought no exception to that rule.

Finally, on offense, this team has to string together shifts from time to time. We cannot recall many instances in this game where the Chargers changed on the fly while holding possession in the Michigan Tech end. Blake Pietila is a superb goaltender all on his own for the Huskies, and is even better because of the system he has in front of him. The more these Huskies score before their opponent can catch up, the harder things get. To get Michigan Tech out of sorts, you have to score first. We saw flashes of the speed we are starting to get used to, but need to see more of it in the finale.

Regardless of the result tomorrow, this team needs to show the get-back it has had in the first four games of the season. Even if they come home from Houghton with no WCHA points, they need to string together some more positives before Ferris State comes to town in a series that could determine who plays either the toughest team in the WCHA, or who makes the postseason tournament if it needs to be shortened due to COVID-19 concerns.

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Ayo Adeniye: Loyal and Grateful

Photo Credit: UAH Athletics

Ayodele (Ayo) Adeniye is a textbook study in the value of working hard, and a player emblematic of the type of person that College Hockey welcomes with open arms on a yearly basis. He is a freshman defender for the Alabama Huntsville Chargers, and six feet, five inches tall. For those who have not seen him play, he has some elements of Columbus Blue Jacket, Seth Jones, to his game. Ayo plays a persistent, two way game where he will not light up the points column each year, but he will work his best to keep the other team’s top players off the scoresheet as well. He is the only pre-reinstatement of Charger Hockey recruit that stayed committed to this school despite having an offer to go elsewhere.

Growing up in Columbus Ohio, Ayo was exposed to sport itself, naturally. Both of his parents had athletic backgrounds, as does Ayo’s extended family, but none of them had ever played hockey. When Ayo was three years old, his mom, Lisa Ramos, took him to a High School Hockey game after a birthday party, and from that moment, hockey has been Ayo’s passion, and hopefully one day, it will be his professional career following his time as a Charger.

A few years later, Ayo had to deal with some hardship on his climb up the development ladder. His AAA team, the Ohio Blue Jackets, cut him. As a result, two times per week for his time before leaving to play hockey in the south, Lisa drove him two hours each way to practice with the Cleveland Lumberjacks program. This for Ramos is a four hour round trip, combined with games and other excursions.

The year following his time in Cleveland, he went to the Florida Eels program, and began to work his way up the ladder once more. As his coach at the time Frank Scarapaci illuminated on the following when Ayo committed to the Chargers: “ [Ayo] had so much promise.. We could see it at training camp. He had great vision on the ice. He was so mature for his age. He was not afraid to jump in on the play. This fit right in line with the Eels style of play using the defense on the line rush. Ayodele worked tirelessly on his skill set. He often stayed 3 hours on the ice daily working with the older Elite team. He developed into a very strong defenseman with clean hard passes on the breakout, he battled relentlessly in the defensive zone where he established deeded rights in the crease. This young man never back down no matter how big or strong the opposing forwards were… he was a very explosive skater; he had a very heavy shot on the offensive blue line. His pucks got to the net. He was a consummate threat on the power play… I couldn’t be happier for Ayo and his family. When we got him a few years ago we knew he was a special player. His skill, speed and size easily stood out especially knowing how young he was. It’s not easy for a young player of 16 to step into a lineup of 20 year old’s and not just compete but contribute and that’s what he did. He’s a real respectful kid who is always wanting to get better so I’m excited for him getting this opportunity… Ayodele is a high character young man. He came from a loving and supportive Mom and Dad who made enormous sacrifices to allow this young man to reach his goals. It makes us all very proud here at the Florida Eels to have played a part in Ayodele’s life to help him reach and realize his goals and dreams of one day playing NCAA Division I college hockey. Less than 1% of all players garner this opportunity and we could not be more proud and excited that this is happening to Ayodele.”

From there, Ayo continued to get better, going back to the Blue Jackets before playing the last two seasons with the Carleton Place Canadiens of the Central Canadian Hockey League (CCHL). He was teammates with current Charger and sophomore Peyton Francis for Francis’ final run in junior hockey. Ayo noted that, of all the team he has played with that the 18-19 Canadians group was “most fun team I’ve ever played for.” Ayo enjoyed the town and the culture of it as well, and he was part of a great group. He finished his time as a Canadian with World Juniors netminder for team Canada, and Northeastern Freshman, Devon Levi.

Now, because his family lives six hours away from Huntsville, in Gulfport Mississippi, they are able to come visit and hopefully see him play at the Von Braun Center in the new year, a luxury they have not had for more than a few years given Ayo moving everywhere he needed to move up the ladder to Division One Hockey. He thanked Lisa and his entire family for their support multiple times during this interview, and the sacrifice they made of letting him travel for the game at 16 is another of the many they have made for Ayo to get to this moment.

Moving back to the current season, Ayo rooms with a fellow big freshman defender, Bryan Scoville. The six foot, three inch defender hails from Agawam, Massachusetts and plays a similar game to Ayo. They have been together every game to start the season and compliment one another. Unfortunately, Ayo did not see Scoville’s first goal, a rebound tap home goal against Lake Superior State because he was being tended to after a minor cut so he could jump back in the game. As soon as Scoville got off the ice and he was able to though, Ayo gave him a big hug. The two compliment each other so much, Adeniye noted that they often know what the other player will do in given situations ahead of time.

Going forward, Ayo personally is hoping that his play on the ice gets him to an NHL Development camp soon so he can show what he can do against a team’s top prospects and generate more interest going forward. As he said of a potential invite ” it would mean everything to me,”

As to this current Chargers group, he had similar thoughts to Tyrone Bronte on who is the fastes, noting that Francis has strong straightline speed, but with the puck, Bronte seems to be faster, while also giving credit to one of the leaders on this team for his speed, Bauer Neudecker.

Ayo sees the potnential for greatness in the program as well, and gives a lot of credit to the Advisory Board for moving things forward positively towards the long term sucess of the Chargers, saying ” it helps us get our foot in the door.” Because of the board, and who sits on it, the team is able to have the potential to do things it has not had before, and the board and their planning hopefully make the team more attractive to the conferences they are pitching to join.

Saying that, based on some of his conversations with former Chargers, they have seen the improvement in team play and the culture change. They see and Adeniye knows that the development process works, as he said, ” once we get some experience under us  we are going to be a dangerous team.” For him, the biggest on-ice moment the team had was playing to a draw against a very veteran Lake Superior State team. Mentally, that shows this young group that they can get points and win against more teams this year than in the past.

The biggest cultural difference is the dynamic of the team this year, even off the ice. As Ayo said,” The team is truly one group this year, everyone is together and wants to be around each other.” Coaching wise he gives a lot of credit to the leader of the Chargers, Lance West for controlling the locker room.

In addition, he positively called out new Associate Head Coach Karlis Zirnis, saying what Karlis says goes, and that he runs the show as well.

Finally, West’s first thing he said to Ayo sums up where both West and Adeniye see UAH Hockey heading. As West said when thanking Ayo for staying a Charger, according to Adeniye, “We are in it for the long haul and looking to become a top team with Division One Hockey.”

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: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell

Why Alabama Huntsville should be extended an NCHC invite: My thoughts

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

With the news official that seven of the ten WCHA Men’s Hockey teams will leave to revive the CCHA (announcing the name was the news) after next season, three men’s teams need a home. I have a solution for one of them. Extend an invite to the Chargers to join effective in the 2021-2022 season. I have a few reasons why, part of which extends from seeing how passionate Head Coach Mike Corbett is about his program and how he has brought them back from the brink of being shut down once.

Define “National”

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, as it stands, and especially if it loses the Red Hawks of Miami of Ohio, the Broncos of Western Michigan, or both, will cease to have a consistent presence outside of the upper midwest and Mountain West. The conference is, as it stands, the thing that binds together disparate institutions across multiple divisions with one goal, making Men’s Hockey their flagship sport. The Chargers share that goal. They would be another Division Two school with one Division One team in this conference.

Currently,the Chargers play in a shared complex with the Southern Professional League’s Huntsville Havoc, and before their final weekend this season have averaged 1483 fans (in a mere 12 games) in a building that seats 6600. While that is not ideal, the team is currently building a recruiting class from all around the world with less support arguably then last year’s new entrant to the NCAA Tournament, AIC. This year, AIC fresh off their tournament success and in the middle of another Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Championship season, has only averaged 706 fans in a building they share with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League. The arena capacity is 11294.

I say all of that to say this, do not use attendance as a reason to keep the Chargers out. Huntsville itself is a beautiful city within a short two hour drive of Nashville and even closer to other beautiful Tennessee cities like Chattanooga. If you want to grow college hockey as a sport, adding new men and women’s teams while helping the ones in it stay in it is a big deal. Also, when UND fans sell out Bridgestone Arena in October as the Fighting Hawks take on Penn State they will only be two hours north of Huntsville.

Chargers’ Head Coach Mike Corbett tried to schedule the Fighting Hawks around that time but had no luck. If accepted into the NCHC, in conference, a school with strong ties to NASA would play a school with a strong flight program at least twice a year.

Give him help

Immediately, Head Coach Mike Corbett would get a lot more donations to his program if he had to fund trips to NCHC schools, and would get a lot more eyeballs on his program. Right now Corbett holds what amounts to two full time jobs at most Division One Schools. He fundraises for his own program, a very rare thing for a Head Coach to do at this level, all while working on building a team and trying to get the Chargers to have a better future as a program. Having a national television deal’s money coming to the school, combined with a better streaming deal would be a big infusion into the coffers of the Chargers. The Chargers’ external media coverage (if you write for UAHHockey.com you are excluded from this) the past few years, other than when they were on the brink of losing their team, has been, to be frank, not good enough.

Our coverage of the Chargers in their efforts to upset UND this January has been the most extensive of any non local media/blog news source I have seen in the past few years. This program deserves a chance to show what it can do. If Corbett can keep a team afloat and produce an NHL goalie (Cam Talbot) while helping graduate several players onto pro hockey and pro careers in other wonderful endeavors. imagine what he could do for hockey in the south with even a bit of a fair playing field.

Who do we want this sport to be for?

If you truly support hockey being for all, as we do here, I would strongly ask that you consider supporting finding the Chargers a new home, in my mind ideally in the NCHC. Yes, there would be a talent gap immediately and for a few years the Chargers and teams on the lower end of the table would battle for positioning, that alone is not enough to disqualify them from being in the NCHC. Do I think the Chargers would be a better team than a lot of people would give them credit for and make teams sweat close games like they did to UND for a bit? Yes I do.

However, I truly believe that this sport is better when it brings in more people from around the world, supporting programs that grow the footprint of your game are something that the NCHC should strongly consider. In addition, as college sports do not have relegation we do not kick teams out of conferences for finishing last for a number of years and nor should we. If college sports are about the student athlete experience, having the NCHC play games in a building that has more seats than a few of its own barns do is something I would consider, along with giving student athletes more of a respite from the cold weather in the dead of winter.

I think Corbett and the Chargers have shown that through their fundraising efforts and willingness to go anywhere to play the game, that their fans would respond well to being a part of the most title-laden conference in Men’s College Hockey.They are outdrawing a team that was one win away from a Frozen Four last year as well. If a man doing two jobs with little external support bar his own donor base can keep a program afloat in a conference that does not provide anywhere near the exposure of the NCHC, imagine what his program could do with a level playing field.

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, 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: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.