UAH Hockey: Read beyond the shots on net conceded

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography )

Last week, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville got outshot 42-18 and won the series finale against Ferris State 2-0. While the difference is obviously concerning, there were some positives out of that game to take into the next weekend against Northern Michigan at the Von Braun Center.

First off, we will stipulate that no team wants to give up that many shots in the game. ever. Teams usually give up that difference in a big defeat.

What went right on Saturday?

Well, as we know, Karlis Zirnis runs the penalty kill in his role as an Associate Head Coach for the Chargers. In addition, he works with the team through breaking down video for them, with advice. While they conceded no power play goals on the weekend, the coaching staff, Karlis, and most fans at the Von Braun Center, did scout the Bulldogs well enough to know that netminder David Fessenden faced too many grade-a looks on Friday night. Through adjustments made through the staff’s continuous video work, UAH’s penalty killers actually did even better on Saturday given the tough circumstances they faced.

The team took penalties nearly back-to-back at least once, and had to adjust. Fessenden did see more shots on Saturday, but more than a few of them from Ferris State were not grade-a looks. The Bulldogs, to win, had to score more long looks against a compact team with speed. They were unable to do so. On both nights, UAH did a good enough job boxing out, for the most part, and working together cohesively to get the puck going away from their own end.

A simple shots on net count did not do that series justice, and does not showcase where this team is. While they are still getting outshot on most nights, the differences are a bit less, and the team’s ability to clear second and third looks has dramatically increased their ability to have sucess in the long run.

Take a look at the Chargers’ next scheduled opponent, Northern Michigan. Despite losing 5-1 to a strong Bowling Green team, they had one more shot attempt than the Falcons did. In addition, they forced Eric Dop to make 35 saves off 52 shot attempts. If you saw shots on net first, you could get a misleading thought on the game.

The same is true for these Chargers, credit the staff, lead by Zirnis, for working to adjust where shots on net where being allowed more than the amount. This staff knows what David Fessenden brings for them in net, and is crafting a system to match. To compare this correctly we could look to football. What the Chargers are doing in making this system is like what a team does to build an offense around their quarterback. Of course the underlying numbers need to be better, but they do not tell the whole story. What these Chargers do with this reality ultimately will.

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.

The Fighting Hawks Win the Pod: What’s Next?

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Over the past three weeks, the Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota have done quite well for themselves in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod, valuting into first place as we head into the second of half of an always competitive conference. These past few weeks have shown a lot about this team, with the good far outweighing the things that need working on to ensure a long postseason run, should one be played. Let’s look at the good and areas to improve on in the second half here.

The Good

This team has two capable goaltenders that can stymie the opposition. While Adam Scheel stole the show in the Pod, getting the majority of the reps, Fighting Hawks fans saw what happened last year. Peter Thome took Scheel’s job down the stretch, and given the weeks of having three games in three days this year, we think that Thome’s time in net is only just beginning. His “worst” game in the Pod was the loss to the Huskies of St. Cloud State, where the team in front of him did not do much. Both can start at any time, and for now Scheel is the number one. With that said, Thome has played well enough over his time at UND to get some reps in the second half, and should see it.

The depth of this team is even better than a year ago. Missing two defenders to the World Juniors Tournament, in Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, we have seen Ethan Frisch elevate his game into a Tucker Poolman-esque two way star that can contribute offensively. If Frisch can maintain this level of play this season, the NHL may be on his radar for some development camp invites soon, and perhaps a contract. He is smooth-skating, and seems less out of position than some of UND’s more offensively gifted defenders.

With that said, this team has a lot of good to it this year, and we will close with the most intriguing forward on this team. Riese Gaber has been the most electric player for the Fighting Hawks in this pod. He is in a three way tie for first in goals scored nationally, and yet, 31 teams passed on drafting him over 400 times when you include the drafts he has been eligible for selection in. Gaber is wearing Tyson Jost’s number that he wore as a Fighting Hawk, and has a better release than Jost ever had or will have. For a team built around puck possession and grinding a team down, Gaber off the rush is an extra arrow in their quiver that last year’s NCHC Champions did not possess. His shot alters how teams can attack the Fighting Hawks, and how conservative they have to be in defending the top line of UND. Last year, this group lost games where it turned pucks over and gave up a lot of fast break looks. That has happened this year, and will happen in the future, but Gaber on this roster has kept the team in more of those games and helped them win some more in the second half.

What to watch for

With all that good said, these improvements need to happen. This team seems to be turning the puck over a bit more in its own end, which have given teams a lot of grade-a looks. Those turnovers have a cascading effect as they lead into another area of improvement for this team, taking less penalties. The Fighting Hawks average 11.96 penalty minutes per game played, second behind St. Cloud State for most penalty minutes per game. That is another number that needs to come down a bit. While five minute majors and misconducts do affect that, this team can afford to take neither of those in this conference. Eventually, something of this team will regress a little bit as film and scouting over a more series-driven second half, and if the team keeps giving up six power plays per game or so, the penalty kill seems a logical pick.

With all of this said, if not for Boston College’s pedigree and Minnesota’s results, this team would be ranked number one in the nation after a grueling three week stretch of games. There is still work to do for this group, but this team does so from a good vantage point.

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.

David Fessenden-Dedicated to Getting Better

(Photo Credit: UAH Athletics)

David Fessenden is the incumbent netminder for University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) Chargers this season as a sophomore netminder. He is six feet and six inches tall and uses all of his frame in his game to his advantage. He was perfect in two periods to open the Chargers’ season against Robert Morris before leaving with an injury sustained in warmups. The barrage that the Colonials threw at him was impressive, but Fessenden played every shot the right way and worked to limit rebounds, not an easy task for any goalie let alone one playing in a season opener with 13 freshmen on the roster.

With that said, there is more to Fessenden then what fans saw on that sheet of ice in Pennsylvania.

The Parker, Colorado native is an incredibly loyal competitor as Charger fans and Northeast Generals Fans know. This quote from the time he comitted to the Chargers sums up a lot of what we have seen from him las year and this year, along with a hope for the future.

Head Coach and General Manager of the Generals Bryan Erixson had the following to say on Fessenden’s commitment:

“David has been with us almost since the beginning. He had to endure a lot being the goalie on a 4-win team two years ago, but never wavered in his love of the Generals. He bought in 100% on Day 1 and shared the organization’s vision of building towards the future. He is one of the main reasons for our dramatic improvement this past year. This commitment is a testament to all the hard work he has put in on and off the ice. He is a truly amazing young man.”

Like every returner on this team, Fessenden chose to stay and could have pursued their college hockey craft elsewhere given the sudden cutting of the program. Instead, he stayed and cemented himself as part of the legacy of the next chapter of college hockey in the south.

Moving back to the team Fessenden is backstopping this year, he had some interesting notes on the skaters he faces everyday that has somewhat been borne out through on ice performance.

When asked about his teammates who have the most deceptive shot, he noted how good all of the skaters on this team are, but on that specific trait, he noted junior forward Bauer Neudecker who is tied for the team lead for two goals, and freshman Frank Vitucci. He currently leads the Chargers with seven shots on goal in the first two games of their season.

As to what goalie Fessenden models his game after, he noted two goalies for their calm style and ability to stay composed under pressure. Both goalies Robin Lehner, and Andrei Vasilevskiy use their size and positioning to stay calm in net and control the game in their own end. Fessenden wants to do the same thing and harness that ability to stay cool under pressure moving forward. For him, developing includes things like honing the start to his game, among other things.

Why did Fessenden play goalie? Well he was simply drawn to it from the beginning of his time playing hockey. As he said he noted when he was younger “I want to try the guy with the pads.” He also thought the sliding around goalies get to do looked cool when he first decided to play the position. Fessenden has always been well liked throughout his life and has a number

Finally, when asked about what to expect from the Chargers this year, Fessenden said plainly “we are going to prove some people wrong.”

Look for more features on this unique roster as the Chargers persevere through a unique year, and as Fessenden said look to “prove some people wrong.”

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.

WCHA Preview 2020-2021

Oliver Francies, Kelsey Sagvold

Photo Credits: Kelsey Sagvold-Violet Turtle Photography

Unlike the NCHC, you will not find as many drafted players here. The WCHA is heading into its final year in its current form before all schools not from Alaska or Alabama resurrect the CCHA with new Division One School, St. Thomas, joining the fray next season. With that said, this league, this year will be fun to watch. It presents a more defensive style across the board, save one or two teams, and gives a lot of undrafted free agents a chance to make a name for themselves. Nonconference play starts on November 20. Most teams will simply play some conference-mates for an extra few games that do not count towards their conference record. With all of this said, we have our predicted order of finish with some players to keep an eye on for each team as we move forward this year.

  1. Minnesota State Mankato

The Mavericks last season achieved a rare feat They were one of only three teams to defeat a Fighting Hawks’ squad stocked with NHL ready talent and did so with the best team in this conference. Like many teams in this conference, they play defense well, but unlike teams further down these rankings, they have scoring up front that should have them competing for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament whenever this season starts. Dryden McKay is a stalwart netminder that will lead them from the back end, and up front, players like Julian Napravnik look to continue the strong offensive game that alum Marc Michaelis (Vancouver) brought to bear.

Top UDFA

For this team, it has to be Dryden McKay. The reigning WCHA Goaltender of the Year plays bigger than his 5’ 11” frame. His lateral movement and calm positioning make him tough to beat when the squad in front of him is rolling, as they often are. Look for him to get some NHL offers after this season, especially if the Mavericks reach their goal.

Top Drafted Prospect

For a team with this pedigree to have only one drafted prospect speaks to both the market inefficiencies of the NHL draft overlooking players that may need more time to develop, and the strong development pedigree of Head Coach Mike Hastings and his staff. Anyway, the only drafted prospect on this team is Winnipeg Jets’ prospect Nathan Smith. The 6’0” forward had one of his best weekends against the Fighting Hawks, adding four points on the weekend where his team did not lose (tie, win). For Smith to take the next step, he will have to help replace the contribution of Michaelis. He finished his rookie season with 27 points (9G,18A) to his credit, and often sets up as a past first player who can win draws when needed (finished last season with only 52 shots on net).

2. Bemidji State

Zach Driscoll is back in net for the Beavers, if not for McKay slightly overshadowing him, Driscoll would be the best goalie in this league. Like many teams in this league, when they score first they are hard to beat. When they come from behind life gets a bit more tough for them. Head Coach Tom Serratore has a veteran group with only six freshman coming in. This large group of upper classman will be asked to lead the way for the only complete team that can challenge the Mavericks. Defensively, the Beavers play a more trap-style game through the neutral zone and focus on quality shots to win most off their games. This team does not need to dominate possession to win, just frustrate the skilled players they are facing through the neutral zone.

Top UDFA:

Zach Driscoll in net should get some looks at the next level. He plays a relatively calm game and benefits from playing behind a structurally sound defense. Tom Serratore’s system has elevated Driscoll to one of the better netminders in the nation, this year Driscoll will have one more chance to show why he deserves a look at the next level. If Bemidji State goes far on their relatively low amount of goals scored per game, he will have a contract from an NHL team next spring with a team needing a strong third goalie who can step up if needed.


No drafted prospects

3. Michigan Tech

Pictured is transfer goalie, Mark Sinclair who should contend for the starting job with Michigan Tech

The team with one of the best cheering sections in the country, Mitch’s Misfits, should have a lot to cheer about this year. Alabama Huntsville netminder Mark Sinclair transferred to Houghton after the Chargers faced an uncertain fate. Thankfully the program was saved this year and Sinclair should be the starter for a Huskies team that likes to play a bit faster than some of its competitors in this league, but still employs the same annoying defensive structure to earn looks.

Top UDFA

Mark Sinclair, from our time covering multiple Huntsville games last year, like many Huntsville goalies before him, had to face high shot volumes nearly every single night. He shined in the Chargers’ series loss to the Fighting Hawks with his athleticism and ability to remain calm despite facing 74 shots in two games. Sinclair’s ability to stay calm and fight off rebounds should serve him well on a Michigan Tech side that projects to do a little bit better at shot suppression than his former side. For a pro potential projection, he plays a similar style to former Charger, Cam Talbot, calm and steady in net with the ability to perform the high-wire save as needed

Top Drafted Prospect

Carson Bantle (Arizona) taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft is the only drafted prospect on this team. In two years for the Madison Capitals in the USHL, Bantle put up 69 points in 111 games. He is a quick forward with a 6’4” frame and an ability to create his own offense on a dime. That said, how Bantle is used by Head Coach, Joe Shawhan, should be interesting to keep an eye on. In those same two years he was -34. While plus minus is not the holy grail for a forward, we expect Bantle to get a little bit better in his own end playing in Tech’s system.

4. Bowling Green

The Falcons play a style of hockey similar to the Mavericks, lacking some of the Mavericks’ shot suppressing skill in their own end. That said, this team is always interesting to watch. Every year the Falcons utilize arguably a faster lineup than the Mavericks, and do well, yet, recently every year seem to come short of their ultimate goal. Senior Eric Dop will lead the way for this team in net. The senior netminder will start the majority of games for a Falcons squad looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Top UDFA

Eric Dop will determine how far this team goes. The 5’10” netminder came onto the scene strong in his junior season last year. In his first year of full time starting work he went 19-11-3 with a .902 save percentage in his first full year of starting. While those stats could be built on, Dop looks to build on his game. His athleticism is his biggest strength, and having time to develop the mental side of his game for two full years before taking the net should help him out this season. If Dop can improve on his 2019-2020 campaign he could get a look from a team willing to take a chance on a developing goalie. As Dop’s season went on, he grew into the role, and we expect a further progression this season.

Top Drafted Prospect

Brandon Kruse (Vegas) is the player to watch for this team. A senior leader who has put up 108 points in 120 games for the Falcons, Kruse will play a lot of the big minutes for a group looking to get to the next level once again. Kruse is a 5’9” winger who plays in all situations for his head coach, Ty Egner. If Kruse keeps his pace up, either the Golden Knights will sign him, or he will start in the top six in the AHL next season.

5. Lake Superior State

Pictured is Mareks Mitens, senior netminder for the Lakers


The Lakers are a speedy team. Up front they will need to replace the scoring contributions of graduated forward Max Humitz and a big senior class that left the Upper Peninsula. The Lakers are a Jekyll and Hyde squad. When this team is rolling, they are able to minimize high danger chances and clear pucks to their fast forwards to maximize high danger looks. When it is not, well, the other team can and often takes up residence in the Lakers’ own end. For evidence of how up and down this team can be, watch the returning players’ play in their first round loss to Bemidji State. When this team can score first, as they did in their Saturday win, their speed builds and makes it hard for a lot of the defense-first teams in this league  to adjust. In their Friday and Sunday loses, they got scored on first and had to catch up. It is a cliché to say that scoring first in hockey makes life easier, but this team under coach Damon Whitten is emblematic of that.

Top UDFAs

Mareks Mitens, Yuki Miura

These two have developed every year and in Mitens’ case has had some looks at the next level with two stints in development camps (Islanders,Blackhawks). Miura has gone from a healthy scratch to a defensive stalwart for the Lakers and has some of the best speed and skating ability in the WCHA. Miura has blossomed into a key contributor in all phases for this team, and should get a look at least in the ECHL, if not the AHL next season. Both can get to the next level with some time in the minors and both are going to be leaders for this team this season. If Miura can add a few more goals to his tally, especially first goals, than Mitens’ job will be easier.  For Mitens, if he has to see a few less pucks this year, we expect scouts to take note of his skill moving side to side and stopping more of them. Its’ easier to scout a goalie when they face an average amount of shots per game, compared to the wildly inflated shot totals Mitens has faced in his time with the Lakers so far.

Top drafted prospect

Arvid Henrikson (Montreal)

The Habs’ draft pick has some more work to do on the back end. He will be called on to play a bigger role for the team this year as he will play an important role in the needed shot suppression this team needs to have in order to rise above their station. The 6’5” defender also needs to increase his two points In 37 games to get a look from any NHL squad in any form. Henrikson has to chip in some offense to compliment the physically brusing game he brings in his own end.

6. Northern Michigan

The Wildcats have a lot of unknowns coming into this season. A team that finished third in this conference last year, lead by a lot of senior leaders, has to find replacements for them, and fast. This team has only three seniors, and one of them, Joseph Nardi, has been with the program for four years. The other two are transfers looking for new homes after coming from different schools. Can the Wildcats finish in the top half of this league again? Sure, but they have a lot of leadership to replace to do so.

Top UDFA

If the Wildcats want to do anything of note this year, Griffin Loughran has to continue his success up front for this team. He is a 5’7” forward who plays with a bit of snarl to his game to compliment his offensive skill. In two years, he has 53 points in 72 games played, a respectable number for the West Seneca, New York Native. If he wants to make it to the NHL, he needs to chanel his snarl more productively, as in those same 72 games, he has 163 penalty minutes, which works out to him spending at least four minutes in the box on average for most of those games. A team in need of leaders, cannot have one of them frequenting the penalty box. If Loughran can hem that PIM number in a bit, the Wildcats will get more out of one of their key players.

No drafted prospect

7. Alaska Fairbanks  

The Nanooks have an interesting team to watch this year, if you can stay up late enough to see their games. Mitens’ platoon mate at the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championships, Gustavs Grigals is a good goalie in his own rite and the Nanooks seem to have a way with developing players over the years to reach the next level, as Colton Parayko and his development path would indicate. While the Nanooks need to find a new conference situation after this season, this year could set up quite well for them if Grigals can handle the net, and if we see development in the large junior class that they have.

Top UDFA

Grigals needs to take the next step and own the net, similar to what Mitens did for the Lakers in his first year of starting, for the Nanooks to have a chance to succeed. While we expect Mads Emil Gransoe, to get some work this year, the net is Grigals’ to lose heading into this campaign. Grigals is a 6’2” goalie with a flexibility in his game similar to Mitens. Grigals frame allows him to play a more conservative style than some of his peers in this conference, but Grigals confidence in net regardless of score is a big asset. Assuming there are development camps next summer, he will get a chance to show his stuff to a few NHL teams this next summer if he can command the net this season.

No drafted prospect

8. Alabama Huntsville

Pictured is Lucas Bahn, sophomore defender for the Chargers

Like their Alaska breatheren, the Chargers need to find a new conference after this season. With that said, the Chargers have had themselves an offseason with a lot more activity than one would normally want. First, right before Memorial Day, their program was discontinued, before being allowed to raise over 700,000 dollars to reinstate it for this year as they look to find a new conference. In all of this, only one of the original recruits from the class now departed head coach Mike Corbett signed stayed with the program (Ayo Adinye), and new head coach and program alum, Lance West had to sign a vast recruiting class pretty quickly. This team also lost its starting goalie, and a few of its top players to other programs as well. With all of that being said all of those players that West has brought in, combined with returners, have some promise to establish Charger Hockey this fall.

Top UDFA to watch

Connor Wood is a senior leader for this team who will need to step up to provide a bit more offense than he as in previous years. He is defensively the best forward the Chargers have coming into this season and needs to improve offensively. That being said, we expect him to earn a minor league deal to try and work his way up the ladder.

9. Ferris State

The Bulldogs are a young team, like the Chargers, and like Alabama Huntsville, have a lot of questions to answer coming into this season. Roni Salmenkangas leads this team in net, and will have to face a lot of high shot games to have a chance to get the Bulldogs into the postseason.

Top UDFA

Salmenkangas is another good goalie in this league, and could set himself up to earn a development camp look this upcoming summer. While looking at his stats from the past year, keep in mind that like Sinclair and others, he had to face high volume games with regularity and did not have much help in his own end. His style and frame, combined with his high hockey sense make him a developmental prospect to watch if he can help the Bulldogs rise up the standings this year.

No drafted prospect

10. Alaska Anchorage

The Seawolves are currently trying to save their program beyond this season, and facing a similar lack of funding issue that the Chargers did. With that said, the Seawolves finished last in the conference last season, and will have some work to do.

Top UDFA

Joe Sofo will be a key piece for this team. Like Wood with Alabama-Huntsville, Sofo is a defensively sound forward and a senior leader. If the Seawolves want to move up the standings, he will have to chip in more offense than he has in previous seasons for that to have a chance.

No Drafted prospect

Fighting Hawks limit grade a looks en route to 3-1 win over Western Michigan: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into their final regular season series at home, this Fighting Hawks team had some questions to answer. Chief among those was how it would respond after only taking one point in a series for just the second time of the season.  As we saw tonight, St. Cloud State is roaring back into the top half of the league and is earning the respect they demanded after winning against the Fighting Hawks on Saturday.

Back to the Fighting Hawks, this Men’s Hockey team actually had to win a game while getting hemmed in their own end for a large portion of the deciding period in the third. To their credit, they bent but did not break. Adam Scheel made a triumphant return to the net saving 26 of the 27 shots he faced and earning third star in the process. Judd Caulfield potted his third marker against Western Michigan, and fourth of the season to open the UND scoring ledger 9:52 into the second. After that, Matt Kiersted wired home a scintillating seeing-eye point shot past Western Michigan goalie Brandon Bussi to provide the game winning goal.

For the Broncos, Dawson DiPietro slammed home a rebound to the far side of Scheel to provide the only blemish on his otherwise spotless night 4:35 into the third period. To close the evening, Westin Michaud tipped home a nice looking Gabe Bast point shot to provide the insurance marker against Ben Blacker, who replaced Bussi after he left due to injury caused by a disallowed UND goal. Collin Adams made just enough contact with Bussi in the crease to merit the goal being waved off on video review. It was, to put it nicely, a call not liked by the home fans. Later on in the game, Ronnie Attard walloped the head of Shane Pinto with 1:16 left in the affair and was sent to the dressing room a bit early. That was the lowlight of a fracas-filled third period, to say the least.

What does this mean for Saturday

North Dakota

This game had all of the hallmarks of a first round NCAA Tournament game. The playoff intensity vibe really turned up in the third period after DiPietro made it a one goal game. To UND’s credit, the Fighting Hawks hung tough playing without Cole Smith and having to juggle lines around again. When 66 percent of your defensive specialist line (Cole Smith and Gavin Hain) both are out, others have to step up, and Casey Johnson played one his most complete games of his UND career seeing some of the most ice he has since coming to UND. We could see Smith back in Saturday as he was recovering from a minor practice injury and informed the coaches he needed the night of rest to get back to his normal self. Credit to the coaches for not pushing Smith through his injury to play extra.

If Smith is still out tomorrow, one potential option for this team should be moving Jasper Weatherby to his own line to center things. Western Michigan played UND almost even in the faceoff dot, losing one more draw than they won (30-31). Weatherby with Pinto and Michaud down the stretch of a game when benches are shortened to fit the needs of the team is one thing and a good deployment of his skills. Weatherby only won two of the six draws he took, and one of them lead to the Kiersted tally.

In net, Adam Scheel played his best game of the year in terms of the quality of shots faced throughout the game and being able to hold a team in the game against a desperate opponent. His defense limited shot quality in the third, where Western Michigan got 15 shots on net to UND’s seven. There were a few points throughout this one where Scheel needed to be sharp to hang on for the win and he did. This team has two brilliant goalies who can win against any type of team they face, and will most likely use both Scheel and Peter Thome throughout the rest of the season and should UND win its first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament, we could see the other goalie play the next night. Since we have started covering this team, Scheel and Thome are the best tandem we have seen in net, and credit to this coaching staff for using both of them when needed.

Western Michigan 

Other than the third period, the Broncos did not do enough to make Scheel work much throughout the night. The Fighting Hawks kept the majority of the first 40 minutes’worth of shot attempts to the outside for the Broncos and it shows on the shot chart. If you are a fan of the Broncos, you want to bottle up the good effort from the third, remove the dirty hits that Attard brought on Pinto which ended any hope of a comeback, and try to get to the middle of the ice a bit more. This team has to play with a little more speed to have a chance against UND. The Fighting Hawks are so good at playing a compact zone defense that in order to earn goals, you almost have to not worry about zone time. Teams that play through the neutral zone and avoid the pinching UND defenders are the only ones that have beaten or come close to beating this team this year.

Whatever the result, the finale on Saturday night should be a fun one at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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.

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.

UND Earns 4-1 Saturday Victory over Omaha: What’s Next?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Last night at another sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks earned a 4-1 Saturday victory over the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha. Collin Adams potted the game winner in the first period, and was joined in his scoring efforts by Casey Johnson, Mark Senden, and Shane Pinto. Taylor Ward added a goal for the Mavericks on the loss.

What happened? Well as Mavericks Head Coach Mike Gabinet noted on Friday night, his team needed to do better supporting the puck carrier in the offensive zone and build some cycle time into the game to slow down UND. The Mavericks were very unable to do that last night. Every time they found the zone, they would get an occasional look or two than have to back check against a UND team that often times likes to reside in its opponents’ defensive zone.

UND Assistant Coach Dane Jackson noted the improvement in his defense from Friday. The Fighting Hawks tracked Omaha better and made zone entry a lot more contested, leading to less offensive zone time for the Mavericks and UND’s eventual goals.

The Mavericks had plenty of chances to earn the sweep, but hit three posts on the evening. In addition, they had multiple odd-man looks that went wide of the net and required no action from Adam Scheel, who played well in net making 18 saves on 19 shots faced.

Finally, Shane Pinto did play well on this night for the most part, but did something very unnecessary that could have him on the wrong end of some supplementary discipline from the NCHC. He retaliated for a marginal hit from Joey Abate with arguably one of the least disciplined choices in his arsenal. Pinto came back over to Abate when the play was moving away from that area and violently cross checked him in the back, right between the numbers as well. He rightly earned a game misconduct and a five minute major which UND did survive unscathed; however that is not the point of this part of the recap. If the NCHC wants to showcase itself as the best league in Men’s College Hockey that cares about its players, it needs to strongly consider suspending Pinto for the opener of UND’s Miami of Ohio series next weekend if not more. Has UND had bad things happen to their players and not get called majors or result in suspensions, well yes, the knee on Jacob Bernard-Docker Friday night was pretty bad but was in the run of play and the Maverick who caused that did not do anything but skate through the area. Pinto went back and cross-checked Abate for some odd reason away from the play. Doing things to players away from the play that are injurious in nature deserves a harsh looking at and potential suspension. Pinto is one of the best players on this team and he has been and still is a joy to watch for the Fighting Hawks, this is an issue with the game itself. When players retaliate and its away from the play, there needs to be action taken to discourage it in the future. Ask yourself this, in the NHL if a player on the other team did that to one of your favorite players how would you feel?

Let’s move on to next week now for UND.

For Miami of Ohio what I would like to see from this team 

First off, Adam Scheel played great Saturday, but I will note this until Peter Thome this year gives me reason not to do so. Thome needs to play one night next weekend. He stabilized the team Friday night after Scheel was pulled, and looked calmer in his game on limited work than he did through a lot of last year. While Jackson noted that Scheel has been “money in the bank” for this team, in a sport where losing one game in its tournament ends your season, that statement alone should not justify sitting Thome all year. If Scheel is injured or has a bad game or two ahead, one would think seeing more from Thome would be reassuring to fans of this team. Ask St. Cloud State fans about how good “money in the bank” is from a goalie come Tournament time the past two seasons. Scheel looked better, but Omaha also did not capitalize on some odd man chances and did not event test him on a few of them. Having two goalies that can play and  limiting the workload of your number one (Scheel) occasionally should not be viewed as any sort of bad thing.

With that said, one more thing to watch as the team heads on the road to Oxford to take on Miami of Ohio. That team, much like the Mavericks, plays a transition game and likes to score laterally on the rush. The defense of the Fighting Hawks needs to be able to track the forwards through the neutral zone consistently to ensure smooth sailing on the road. The RedHawks scored most of their goals in their November series here in transition on lateral feeds to get Scheel moving the wrong way.

Here are some thoughts from Jasper Weatherby on the weekend and UND’s next opponent

 

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.

6-3: How Nebraska Omaha Upset UND and what to watch for Saturday Night

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Throughout this Friday night fracas at the Ralph Engelstad Arena between UND and the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha, one thing was clear really early. The bad start this team had against Alabama Huntsville before finding its game was not a one-off. The Mavericks, while not getting enough consistent pressure in the offensive zone to sustain long zone time, scored their goals on quick transition plays and made Adam Scheel’s life tough.Getting scored on first and letting teams hang around, for the first time in conference play, has finally grounded hopes of going undefeated in conference play. In addition,  Scheel was pulled after allowing four goals on the evening. His replacement, Peter Thome played well on limited shots faced.

Towards the end of the game, UND had a chance to tie things up with under three minutes left to play and an offensive zone faceoff. Teemu Pulkineen took the draw for Omaha and won it against Shane Pinto. Then Martin Sundburg found the puck and put it into the empty cage to secure the victory for Omaha. For UND, they lost only their second game of the season with a few things to fix going into the finale on Saturday night. Omaha on the other hand had a lot of things go right, but were able to use their speed to put UND on their heels all night. Their ability to play a speed game finally translated into a win for UND’s opponent on the road this year.

What to watch from Omaha 

Head Coach Mike Gabinet had his team well prepared for the opener. He was generally happy with the effort and consistency of the team along with the strong work of Saville in net (26 saves on 29 shots). He kept Omaha in the game when the team faltered on clearing looks and were hemmed in their own end.  Saville played a very sound game and his ability to stay level and not over pursue a lot of looks made his life easier in a game where he was tested.

What to look for from the Mavericks comes down to how much zone time they can get. Omaha played fast through every zone but offense. The way to beat this North Dakota team is using your speed to take them out of their element. Through scoring first, boxing out in front of their net, and working  to get quality shots on net they can make UND’s life even more tough if they can carry their transition speed and the mentality needed to get the quick looks to hold the puck a bit and make Saville’s life a little easier.

What to look for from UND 

Peter Thome needs to start a  regular game this season, perhaps even the series finale against Omaha. I am not saying Adam Scheel is unfit to start, he is a great goalie most nights with tonight being a rare exception. If this staff wants to feel better about its two goalies, then the only way to help them is to play them both regularly. I am interested to see how Adam Scheel responds in net the next time out.

In addition, for UND fans , this game had to feel like a flashback Friday to the last two seasons for a night. The team is arguably the best or one of the best in the nation at puck possession. That has translated into a lot of rebounds in front of the net and tougher chances for the goalie to stop. Omaha did a wonderful job of clearing the net and keeping UND’s chances far enough away that they were lower percentage looks.

Tonight, look at Scheel and how he responds on defense along with how well this team can establish a net front presence. Those two things will arguably play the biggest role in determining the outcome of the series finale Saturday at the Ralph.

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.

 

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Bring the Chargers to the Winter Classic: A few reasons why

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Next year, the Minnesota Wild will host the 2021 Winter Classic at Target Field as part of a celebration of the game in Minnesota. As part of this celebration one would have to think given the history of Minnesota College Hockey, a Minnesota team would also get to play outdoors as part of this wonderful event. This event, to any program that could participate, would be the largest exposure in terms of viewers and reach that their school would get all year. Hopefully both Men and Women’s schools get a chance to play.

Now, as you see in the title, I would strongly ask the decision makers at large to consider an opponent for a Minnesota team to play for this outdoor game. The University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers should be part of this experience. Head Coach Mike Corbett has built a program at the Division One Level largely on his own fundraising efforts. He not only coaches a team in a market that is a newer one for the game we all love, but he fundraisers for them. He runs so much of the Chargers program and they get so little exposure even among legacy media outlets that the Chargers have a story the national audience would love. A team on the brink of being cut being saved by Corbett and his fundraising, and one fighting daily to bring college hockey to the southeastern most locale in the country is a story made for a Netflix series, and the Winter Classic as well.

Why do I say this? Well Corbett talked to us after the Saturday finale where his team held tough against the Fighting Hawks in a second 5-2 loss, and mentioned exposure. His program barely makes television at all despite representing a school that churns out engineers for NASA, and other quality companies in the area. The amount of free media coverage the school and town would get could not be adequately measured.

Imagine for a minute, the amount of Huntsville fans that could be created from tuning in for a few minutes to watch this game. Now you may be saying why them? This program has to find out what to do in the 2021-2022 season and beyond as they are one of the programs not looked on with favor from the departing members of the WCHA. This team needs a chance to showcase its school, its town and its market on a national stage. Playing a Minnesota school on the national stage is one easy way to show the commitment of the NHL and all its partners to growing hockey nationwide.

Corbett tried to schedule one-off games against Penn State and UND in Nashville at the home of the Predators around the Hockey Hall of Fame Game next year, and was unable to find success in doing so.This matters here, because it shows his dedication towards finding his program more exposure, and the Winter Classic is a great place to meet that goal.

Therefore if the Chargers want to play a destination game, the Winter Classic could be an option if those in power would allow them to participate. To me, the Winter Classic should be a platform to grow the game for all, having a Women’s Hockey Tournament and having the Chargers play perhaps a WCHA game against say the Mavericks of Minnesota State-Mankato, or Bemidji State would be a good way to promote all who want to play the game.

If the Winter Classic folks wanted to, they could schedule multiple outdoor games at Target Field over two days or even on the first, given the right time for the ice to improve. This event would be a great way to promote college hockey to new fans across the country, and Americans love a story of underdogs working to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. To me, the Chargers are that team for this moment.

These are some thoughts after seeing the Chargers play, seeing how dedicated Corbett is to making his team better, and growing the game at large is arguably the best way to expand the amount of schools offering the game. His team would relish the opportunity, Huntsville would get national television coverage, and the game of hockey would reach people it likely never has before.

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.

 

UND sets the standard with second 5-2 win over Alabama Huntsville: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming in, we knew some things about the Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville that proved true. Like always, they have goalies with high compete levels that often times stand on their heads to keep their teams in games. Like Carmine Gurriero and Jordan Uhelski along with others before him, Mark Sinclair did just that, saving multiple grade a looks en route to giving up four goals on 37 shots faced. One of those goals was a highlight reel-between the legs maneuver from Sinclair’s junior hockey teammate at Chilliwack, Jordan Kawaguchi. When asked if he had seen that move from him before, he said “probably”.

What we did not expect from this team, especially one that had not the best faceoff statistics coming in was how it played in the dot tonight and chopped down one of UND’s biggest strengths to size. The Chargers finished plus four and plus six in the dot in eaach of the first two periods before finishing the night ahead of one of the best faceoff teams in the country 30-29.

As Chargers Coach Mike Corbett encouraged “read the box score the way its supposed to be read.” The man who not only is the reason for Huntsville having Division One Hockey, but also its chief fundraiser for its continued existence, noted how hard his team competed and how close they fought the number one team in the nation. For the Chargers they took away a lot from a weekend where they got swept 5-2 each night (one empty net goal per night). Josh Latta stepped up on the weekend with three points, as his line was arguably the best the Chargers had this weekend. Corbett was quite pleased to see Latta’s line find the scoresheet again.

Sinclair played outstanding continuing a streak of good play since Thanksgiving, and this team gained confidence it will need to make the WCHA Postseason as they jump right back into conference play this Thursday against Bemidji State at their rink, the Von Braun Center. Regardless of whichever team you may support, if you are able to, I would strongly urge you to email Coach Corbett at michael.corbett@uah.edu and ask how you can donate or help spread awareness of the program. Make no mistake, Huntsville is not the only program that needs help, but given the precarious position they and their counterparts in Alaska find themselves in, raising money is tough.

If we want NCAA Division One Men’s College Hockey, to grow beyond 60 Division One teams, and encourage more Women’s programs to play along with this expansion we need to expand the reach of the sport, that means supporting those programs that are in newer markets and urge schools around them to join through supporting them. Helping the Chargers and Coach Corbett fund raise is a huge part of that.

To put this in perspective for Fighting Hawks fans, this school has the Champions Club, the Alumni Foundation, and many other private donors who donate to this team yearly. They play in a 100 million dollar rink given by the Engelstads that quite frankly has more amenities than some professional rinks do and is more full on a percentage basis than more than a few NHL rinks.  The Chargers have an arena that seats about one-fifth of the Ralph, share it with an SPHL team and have one man, Corbett, lead a smaller staff and spend time fundraising. Email the man and see if you can help, not because this writer told you to, but because supporting the growth of college hockey should be a goal we all aspire to. We all want as many people to enjoy this sport as possible, and donating to the Chargers and other similar programs goes a long way towards that goal. 

For the Fighting Hawks, this weekend, one could argue, serves as a Rorschach test for what you think about where this team will be. An optimist could say that the team showed its depth and resiliency in its ability win games in different ways. Someone a bit more concerned could rightly point to how the lowest ranked team in the country got multiple odd-man rushes and good chances against a team that routinely dominates possession stats. The team looked a little better with Shane Pinto back from World Juniors, but not having Jacob Bernard-Docker on the back end yet hurt this team immensely.

Also, no matter your thoughts on the team, I think we can put Jordan Kawaguchi in the top end of the Hobey Baker Award conversation. That third goal of the night off a rebound was a sight to behold. To go between the legs from that close of an angle against his former teammate had to be a tough move to do in front of one, let alone over 11,000 people watching.

Also, Adam Scheel, UND’s netminder, played ok all weekend, however of the goals he has given up, he has shown a propensity to give up cross ice feed plays off the rush. In addition he seemed to be fighting the puck at times both nights. UND’s defense is so good at boxing out that long shifts leading to goals are hard to find for teams. Perhaps Nebraska Omaha may look for those quick outlets through the neutral zone to find cross-ice looks. The Mavericks are sure fast enough to do things like that, and the NCHC season is far from over.

Scheel did not have to make as many grade-a saves as Sinclair did, but one wonders what a team that can hang with the Fighting Hawks a bit better from a shots on net percentage wise will be able to put up against them. Also, next week keep an eye on the faceoff dot for the Fighting Hawks. They should win that battle easily but if the Mavericks can utilize their aggressive wingers to help on more 50-50 battles, those numbers could turn out similar to tonight’s final tally (30-29 Alabama Huntsville).

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and 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 UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, 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.