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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Hobey Baker Award Underdogs: Part one

This year, as is normal , the national conversation for the proposed winner of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award is centering around the NCHC, and Big 10 for the most part. While some of that is well justified, given the success of players like Shane Pinto and Cole Caufield, the lack of a discussion around many deserving players in these two leagues is not, and we will seek to provide more of that discussion for deserving players. We will work to highlights 2-3 players in each article to begin to scratch the surface of the true depth that Atlantic Hockey, and the WCHA have in Hobey Baker conversation.

For today, we will look at three players, Colin Bilek, junior forward for the Black Knights of Army West Point, senior defenseman Brennan Kapcheck and senior forward for AIC Tobias Fladeby. While Fladeby was not nominated in part due to his returning from an after missing more than a few weeks of hockey due to injury, that does not change his importance to Eric Lang’s group. W e have no doubt that the pace he was on would have earned him further consideration if healthy, and given his senior status and leading role in getting some of Kapcheck’s statistics, he merits some time of coverage here. Both Kapcheck and Fladeby will earn professional contracts when they are ready to make the leap to the next level, and at the beginning of the year, Fladeby’s pace had him high on our early consideration list for this award.

Colin Bilek

Of the top ten goal scorers in the country, only three of them have goals at even strength, shorthanded, and on the power play. They are Shane Pinto of North Dakota, Johnny Evans of the University of Connetoicut, and Bilek. He is everywhere his head coach Brian Riley needs him to be. He also has the 12 goals on the seaon on just 57’s hotss. Given his ability to find the net in somewhat limited shots per game, Bilek has become a key contributor on an Army West Point team looking to snag an at-large bid this season. In addition, he only has 12 penalty minutes for the year, showing the disciplined game he plays. He is the biggest scoring threat for Riley’s team on the ice, and off the ice is a leader at West Point. Look for Bilek’s national accolades to match the success of Army West Point down the stretch. As Riley said of Bilek ” the big thing when i think about Bilek.. he is more than just a goal scorer.. I think you’re a real good player when you make others around you better.. and he does that… he has an energy level like nobody that I’ve ever seen.”

Brennan Kapcheck

We do not know everything about AIC Hockey, to find a person that comes a lot closer to that ideal you would have to talk to Seth Dussault, AIC Communications Coordinator and one of the many good humans that work with this hockey team. Despite that, we can suspect that Kapcheck is one of or the most NHL ready player to come through this program in any iteration. As Eric Lang noted, about half of the NHL has already talked to him about Kapcheck, and it is possible in the right situation that Brennan could crack an opening night roster next season. He is a smooth skating defender with one of the most underappreciated hockey games in the country. He is about as smooth of a skater as as Troy Stecher, and just as fast.

Kapcheck’s intelligence and ability to generate offense make him a key part of a group looking to earn an at large bid. He has 14 assists through 16 games and sports a plus 12. He will not score as many goals as some defenders under consideration, but AIC is not where it is without Brennan Kapcheck setting so many looks up, and playing the sound game on the back end that he does. If the folks making the decision on the top 10 list want an offensive defender that is able to setup a lot of his team, he would be our suggestion.

Tobias Fladeby*

The senior forward from Norway has been one of the biggest reasons why Eric Lang’s team is in a good spot for at large consideration. He plays with speed of a scoring forward, but is also able to track back quite well, and plays on a good line featuring Chris Theodore among others. In only 13 games played, he already has nine goals. If you have not seen him, his play has some elements of Caulfield’s to it. That is, he plays with consistent speed, and generates a strong attack for his team, and is relentless to play against. His consistency on the first line has made players like Kapcheck better, and given Kapcheck’s consideration for the award, combined with Fladeby’s hard work, some notation of his work here is needed, if AIC makes a run to the Frozen Four, we suspect Kapcheck and Fladeby will be big parts of it.

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Army West Point earns 3-1 win over Sacred Heart: Now What?

Brian Riley, Head Coach of Army West Point, noted how deep his team is. Tonight, they built it to six with a 3-1 victory over the Pioneers of Sacred Heart in a game where the Black Knights only suffered one penalty for two minutes. This was done without Hobey Baker Candidate Colin Bilek scoring a goal. In addition, the discipline this team has been playing with on this streak is part of why they are now in third in the Atlantic Hockey standings. Riley was most impressed with Army’s forecheck, and their consistency in being able to keep pucks in the net and puck hunting to extend shifts and wear down the Pioneers. This paid off in the second period, as the three goals scored by Mason Kruger and Eric Butte (2, first multi goal game) proved to be the difference.

The leader of tonight’s effort on the score sheet was forward, Eric Butte. He put home two goals to mark his first multi goal game as a Black Knight, and keyed the victory. Riley said that pf the junior forward, “he’s somebody that we are counting on to give us some goal scoring.” In addition Riley said that, “Butte’s been working so hard.” Eric’s case is the classic one of a goal scorer with little puck luck, according to Riley, and he hopes that the hard work Butte does to generate possession will turn into more goals for him in the near future.

Of his team, Riley praised the second period start for them, as Mitch Matchlitt put home the opening salvo just 19 seconds in, with Hobey Baker candidate Colin Bilek providing the secondary assist. On the evening, Bilek showed his worth in all three zones, including putting up at least two tough shot blocks in the last six minutes of the game. Riley praised Bilek’s team first play, and consistency, two key traits for anyone in this game to have, especially the Assistant Captain of the Black Knights. Bilek’s ability to generate offense off the rush makes his team better, as tonight showed once more. In addition, he is often out there to keep leads for his team, and was able to do so tonight once more.

In net, Trevin Kozlowski played a confident game and kept his team in the game. “Trevin just feels very confident in goal right now. ” “We’re playing well because he’s playing well,” Riley said. Kozlowski finished with 27 shots on 28 shots faced on the evening. Throughout the year, he has arguably been the steadiest Black Knight on this team, and his confidence in net, and fluid game allows the team in front of him to push forward more, knowing Kozlowski’s got their backs. In addition to this, the solid and consistent defense corps of tonight, combined with the line lead by Jake Felker held possession and did a superb job suppressing high quality looks for the Pioneers.

Going into the finale, Riley already knows one big point of emphasis for his group tomorrow. While the Black Knights did a lot of things right, they did not control the middle of the ice well enough. This matters, because Sacred Heart is a quick team and relies on being able to skate into pucks through the neutral zone and fire passes to the weak side with speed. The Pioneers are a hard team to defend when they get through the middle with speed, and Riley and his staff will drive that message home to his team before the finale in West Point tomorrow evening. Should Army West Point earn the sweep, the number of people thinking they will merit an at-large bid will increase more than it has to this point.

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UAH Hockey: Look to the power play for clues

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

There were some good moments for the Chargers last night against Michigan Tech. David Fessenden kept the deficit to two despite Huntsville not getting a shot on net in the third period, and only attempting two shots during that time.

As assistant coach Carmine Guerriero said of Fessenden’s effort stopping 36 of 39 pucks

” Fez has just been putting in the work. Honestly, he’s an easy goaltender to coach because he wants to get better. He knows what he’s capable of but, at the same time, he also wants to perfect his craft so it’s been really nice to work with him. You’re going to get these types of performances from him night in and night out because of how hard he works.”

Beyond Fessenden’s effort, and the continued solid play of Bauer Neudecker, there are a lot of things the team needs do tonight, that all centers around things the staff has told us before. While no one is making any excuses for the effort last night.

As Carmine says of Tech’s pressure last night in the second and third period:

” I don’t think they made many adjustments at all. They pressured us a little more maybe but we just flat out didn’t play. Didn’t execute, didn’t skate, we weren’t physical. The one month of not playing showed tonight but that shouldn’t of mattered. I think it’s pretty obvious that we weren’t able to do our usual thing on the power play after we scored because they just pressured us and our guys weren’t ready. Their penalty kill out worked us plain and simple. We’re going to have to out work them.”

The Chargers did this for parts of the game, mainly in the first period, and had some success. To get back to that tonight, will be their first order. One easy way to see how this is going is looking at the power play. The Huskies won the shot attempts on the power play 17-3 on the evening. This is despite UAH having one more power play than the Huskies.

If the power play can get things trending in the right direction, perhaps things could end a bit differently for the Chargers tonight.

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-Michigan Tech: Beyond the box score viewing guide

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

This weekend, for the first time since early January, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville are set to play a game of hockey, this time it is against the Huskies of Michigan Tech. The Huskies are a team that relies on strong systems, and physical play to suppress shot chances and wear down opponents. Looking back at the Chargers’ series loss to them in Houghton, the results indicated a better game by the Huskies in the series opener, and a more even one in the finale. The difference in the finale was former Charger Mark Sinclair in net, as he made more grade-a saves against UAH than Blake Pietila had to do the night before. The two present a dichotomy of sort in chance generation and suppression that arguably could dictate this weekend’s final outcome. With that in mind, here are three things we will be watching this weekend.

Defending in transition

Michigan Tech has a reputation for being a physical team. With that said, they are also a very structured team that is deceptively fast in their transition game, something that Alabama Huntsville has to do better on controlling this weekend. For an example of this gap showing in the numbers, look at the Saturday game. The Huskies used that speed through the neutral zone to generate 60 total shot attempts to a mere 34 for the Chargers. When Michigan Tech has their speed through the neutral zone, it is required for the Chargers to effectively keep to their system. Doing so can mitigate some of the speed that the Huskies have. Earlier on in the season, when Alabama Huntsville could not track back through the neutral zone, other teams, like Robert Morris and Michigan Tech made them pay for it with multiple high danger chances In the Sunday affair, when the difference was a bit more even, the pace of the game benefited the Chargers as they were able to stay closer to their system throughout.

Utilizing speed on transition

If Alabama Huntsville can track back through the neutral zone, their ability to accelerate to offense and provide their own quick looks could be a big part of this weekend non-conference affair. Alabama Huntsville generated four more shot attempts than the Huskies in the series finale in large part because they were able to get into the zone and did this with their quick ability to generate chances. Only one skater that game did not attempt a shot on net for the Chargers. Connor Witherspoon did not attempt a shot, but was nearly even on his faceoffs (6-7) and played a big defensive depth role, as he always does. As the Chargers get more repetition at this effort, they should be able to find the open looks a bit easier. While UAH had 52 shot attempts, 22 were blocked. For as fast as UAH is, they need to find the open look a bit more against this physical Michigan Tech team to have a better outcome at home than they did on the road.

Maintaining structure behind the blue line

The biggest improvement in this team, with 14 freshmen now on it is in its own end. That is, the structure of how this team defends collectively has improved from a year ago. Against the Huskies, on both nights where the Chargers stayed in their system and made the Huskies earn everything, the team did alright. When the system broke down and gave the fast Huskies openings, the Chargers had to scramble a lot in their own end, and most of the goals conceded were due to simple breakdowns, or a lack of structure, permitting an easier chance for Michigan Tech. This team, and its coaches often talk about being a collective group on the ice, since the first game in January we have seen more from these Chargers. How they can build on it will determine their fate this weekend.

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

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AIC is grooving: Head Coach Eric Lang explains why

Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics

The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) are playing at one of the best clips in the country. They are 26-4 in their last 30 games , and have just one conference loss in twelve conference games played this year. Head Coach Eric Lang is leading a team that has three goaltenders with wins, and rotates five lines of forwards, eight or more defenders, and has had four goalies see the ice.

Coming into the season, Lang, the ever humble person that he is, expected his team to be good, but is impressed by the consistency of this group. They are doing all of this after graduating 610 points of offense, and the goalie who set a lot of program marks at the Division One Level. As Lang said of his team, “we’re grooving pretty good right now.”

One reason that AIC has found their groove is the emergence of its depth in all parts of the lineup. Up front, the only constant player on Lang’s fourth line is Aaron Grounds, who has provided secondary scoring to compliment the physical game he plays. He is not alone for rookies having success on this team. There are plenty that have, like Hurricanes’ draft pick, Jake Kucharski who has filled in admirably for Stefano Durante when needed. Ryan McInchak also had a hand in the sweep over Holy Cross this weekend, playing the final 40 minutes of the opener, and all of the finale. What he was able to do is quite impressive as AIC noted.

As AIC noted ” The rookie goalkeeper, who came on in relief of redshirt freshman Jake Kucharski in the previous night’s win, has stopped all 37 shots he has faced so far in his collegiate career. He is the first goalkeeper to earn a shutout in his first start in the Division I era of program history.”

This depth is in addition to the scorers on this team. AIC soundly defeated Holy Cross without senior forward Tobias Fladeby. He is a scoring forward on AIC’s first line with a sound shot and prolific skating skills. His linemate for most of the year, Elijah Barriga is a junior center that came to AIC from UNLV. A top six forward on a nationally ranked team came from one of the better club hockey programs in the country. Lang noted that Barriga went to UNLV in part to work on his academics for a year before he was able to even play at the Division One level. His staff was undeterred, as Lang said ” we were scouring everywhere”, and because of where Elijah was playing after his time in junior hockey ended, he did not have to sit a year and was eligible right away. Lang wondered where Barriga went to school initially, researching where he went to school. He credits UNLV’s staff for supporting Elijah in his move to the Division One level, and now Barriga is one of this team’s many leaders on the ice, and in the classroom.

Another scoring forward for this team that has come on strong is Julius Janhonen. Lang could not say enough good things about the Finnish forward who is only in his first year in North American hockey. The staff was lucky to even get Julius to campus, as he had some issues getting into the University of Massachusetts to play for the Minutemen, where he originally committed.

As Lang noted, Julius liked the strong European representation in AIC’s recent history, and made the choice to come to AIC. Lang is over the moon about the potential of Janhonen, saying “we got pretty lucky on him” coming to campus, and that ,” he could be an NHL prospect at the end of the day. Janhonen has eight points in 13 games played, and uses his speed to find the open areas of the ice to make plays. Like so many players on this team, he can play anywhere as a forward, in every role Lang needs him to, and has the potential to succeed at each one. There is so much depth to this team, the staff can rotate players in and out to preserve effectiveness, and not have to rush players like Durante or Fladeby back to game action before they are both ready to come back to the lineup.

When making the case for his team Lang harkened back to the series loss at the hands of Quinnipiac in December. While the Bobcats handily won the Friday affair, AIC had more chances at even strength, but could not stay out of the penalty box against one of the most organized power plays in the game. They followed that up with a battle at home on a Saturday and lost 3-2 despite getting a fair amount of good looks. In a year with limited non conference opportunities, Lang took the time to note the history of this program in the NCAA Tournament, their 26-4 record in the last 30 games, and more.

At the end of the day, depth is this team’s biggest advantage over its opponents. As Lang said “This is the deepest team I’ve ever had.” That depth, and competitive drive his players have extends off the ice as well. As Lang took the time to mention, his program is one of the very few, and potentially the only program to have either a valedictorian or salutatorian for the past five years.

When you look to who may be in the postseason in March, AIC, on the strength of their conference record, and consistency throughout the year, combined with past history, is a strong candidate for an at-large bid, according to Lang.

More importantly, his team of good humans is leafing the way on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community of Springfield and beyond. Lang’s team reflects the person who coaches them. They are all competitive, humble, and ready to do more on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community.

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

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

(Photo Credit-College Hockey Inc.)

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

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

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

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

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

First, let’s focus on the NCHC.

NCHC

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

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

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

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

Atlantic Hockey

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

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

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

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

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

ECAC

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

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

Hockey East

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

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

CCHA

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

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

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

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

Omaha-UND: Three predictions for the weekend

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

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

A split or better for Omaha is likely

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

Adam Scheel’s save percentage will decrease

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

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

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

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Three reasons why UAH is better through the first eight games

(Photo Credit: LSSU Athletics)

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

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

Shooting Percentage

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

Plus Minus

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

Goals scored

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

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Northern Michigan Hockey: A work in progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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