Words from Conor Witherspoon: UAH Hockey building for the future

The Chargers of Alabama Huntsville have had an eventful past month. Their program was cut and then subsequently given four days to raise 750 thousand dollars to keep it going for a year while looking for a new conference home following the 2020-2021 season. After raising well in advance of the needed sum, the Chargers are now lead by acting Head Coach Lance West. He has scoured the continent for more players to fill the gaps caused by multiple transfers and some recruits choosing to go elsewhere when the program was cut before being reinstated one week later. The team and its newly formed Advisory Board are laying down building blocks for a strong pitch to multiple conferences to find a permanent home following the 2020-2021 season.

That leads us to Conor Witherspoon, the Michigan native has had a wonderful junior hockey career culminating in two years being a key piece of the Shreveport Mudbugs in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The playmaking forward finished his last season in the NAHL with 30 assists and five goals in 52 games.

Witherspoon is a 5’11” defensively sound forward from Metamora, Michigan. One thing to keep an eye on with his development is his propensity to be a leader. In his last two years playing for his Flint Powers Catholic High School side he was an alternate captain, and in his final year with the Mudbugs he earned the honor as well. For the Chargers and West to add to the long-term legacy of UAH Hockey and ensure its success in Division One Men’s College Hockey, he needs a program of leaders to build around. Witherspoon and many in this recruiting class fit that mold.

As to what he wants to study at UAH, Witherspoon is leaning towards a business program of study at UAH, but is not sure what he wants to major in just yet.

Below is some more from Witherspoon on why he chose UAH, and more:

Unkind iron: Lakers lose WCHA Round One series opener 2-0- Now What?

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into this weekend, the Lakers of Lake Superior State are undoubtedly the underdogs in their quest to upset the second seeded Beavers of Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA Men’s Hockey Playoffs. Despite being one of the best defensive teams in the second half of the season, ironically it was two bad attempts to get out of the zone that did the Lakers. Adam Brady opened the scoring ledger for the Beavers as he found a pass from Aaron Miller and deposited what turned out to be the game winner against Lakers’ netminder Mareks Mitens who finished the night with 33 saves on 35 shots faced.

The Lakers’ inability to clear the chance from the Beavers lead to the goal that barely got past Mitens. In the first period, the Lakers held the better of play with 10 shots on net. Unlike the Beavers’, the Lakers could not capitalize on their chances all night. Their best period, the first included two hit posts from Max Humitz and Pete Veillette.

After not scoring in the first, the Lakers were again victimized by an inability to clear. Alex Adams found Owen Sillinger on the back door and he deposited the insurance marker. Bemidji State netminder Zach Driscoll finished the game with a  27 save shutout on the evening. Those goals coming at 3:07 of the first and 4:21 of the second period proved decisive on this night in a game that Bemidji State controlled the pace of for about the last two frames of hockey.

Now What? 

Heading into game two, some things to watch for with the Lakers come down to a simple ask. Score first, the Lakers had the better run of play for the first few minutes of the game and throughout the first period at large. Bemidji State Head Coach Tom Serratore noted that his team “played like the road team” throughout the first period. The Lakers were moving their feet and generating chances and forcing Bemidji State to adjust to their speed, which they later did. The Lakers missed their best chance to shape the narrative of the game by not scoring first. As noted, they hit two posts in the first period alone.

Lakers’ Head Coach Damon Whitten noted the value in getting ahead of Bemidji State. If the Lakers can earn a spot at the net front with more regularity in the Saturday night affair, they may have a better chance at earning a game three. In addition, as Lake Superior State Captain Max Humitz noted, his team needs to stay out of the penalty box. The amount of penalties that Lake Superior State took sapped the Lakers of a chance to get back into the game at five on five hockey, where they looked the best. On the penalty kill, Whitten did note the positive play of speedy forward, Yuki Miura, who consistently blocked shots and used his poise to help clear pucks time after time.

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UND Sweeps Bemidji State- What to look for next

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tonight at a sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks needed to get off to a good start in their series finale against an always tight-checking Bemidji State Beavers side eager for a split. They did just that as 36 seconds in, Jordan Kawaguchi made Beavers’ netminder Henry Johnson pay for playing the puck behind his own net. He created a turnover and fired the puck to Grant Mismash who buried it in the wide open net. This goal set the tone for the period and evening at large. 16:56 into the first period, Cole Smith used a wrap around to end up bouncing a puck to Mark Senden who found the back of the net in tight shooting to an empty net as Johnson over played the first shot.

That would remain the margin through the first period and most of the second as the Fighting Hawks controlled the pace of things through the game. Jonny Tychonick added an insurance marker in the second as Mismash would add a primary assist to his ledger. He found Tychonick activating into the rush and wired across a superb pass. Jonny potted his first career goal on that rush and slammed into the boards in celebration. As UND Head Coach Brad Berry noted, it was good to see him finally get rewarded for the offensive prowess he brings to the UND blue line. Colton Poolman added an empty net marker late in the third period to restore a three goal lead after Aaron Miller found the back of the net for the Beavers 18 seconds earlier.

Now, the Fighting Hawks have one week to get ready for a one game date with the Huskies of Michagan Tech at the Ralph. How they continue the last five periods of play from this weekend will determine the result.

Beyond the scoring, UND goalie Adam Scheel played well tonight, especially as the game progressed and made more tough saves throughout the waves Bemidji State was trying to throw at the Fighting Hawks. He finished with 19 saves on the night and had a big role in keeping things calm as UND grew its lead.

In addition, Brad Berry praised Jasper Weatherby for the consistency in his game. He has begun to fill the very important role vacated by Rhett Gardner. Weatherby is now the center the staff looks to when they need a big draw won in the defensive zone to stymie a potential chance. Adding his skill at the dot is a big addition to the team this year. While he did not score for the Fighting Hawks he again spent a lot of the night parked in front of the Bemidji State net and tipped some pucks wide and just missed a few others.

In addition,  the staff mixed up the lines a little bit tonight. They rewarded Josh Rieger with time as the seventh defenseman and slotted in Casey Johnson up front. Both players played their roles, and we could see them more this year. The lineup changes were made in part due to how last night’s game finished and the coaches wanting to get different players some game action.

Next week will provide another test against the Huskies of Michigan Tech. Tonight, against a decent Bemidji State team that makes life tough for their opponents when able to defend we saw the blueprint to win for this team executed to perfection. Score early, and make responsible plays throughout to add insurance as needed. When this team can make other teams open up their game to try and score just to catch up, good things will happen.

This team has too much skill to try and play grind heavy games as a first resort if not needed, if they can get one quick and defend that allows them to roll all of their skaters and not need to worry about shortening the bench. It may not seem like much now, but spreading out minutes for as long as possible will help later on in the year. Developing depth to add with skill is not a bad idea, and hopefully this team can do so as we progress in this still early on season.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories you will not see elsewhere about UND Hockey and other college hockey teams, please click this link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story we right as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Magnificent Mitens: How Lake Superior State Swept Bemidji State 2-0

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee from Violent Turtle Photography)

Last night at the Sanford Center, Lake Superior State faced a strong Bemidji State team lead by senior goaltender Michael Bitzer. The Lakers were coming off a strong 2-0 shutout of the Bemidji State Beavers on Friday night. Last night, they recived a superb 36 save shutout from freshman netminder Mareks Mitens, and a timely go-ahead goal from Max Humitz 1:14 into the second period plus an empty net power play insurance marker from Diego Cuglietta to provide the same result. Mitens finished the night with 36 saves, including stopping many high percentage shots from the low slot and just outside his crease.

 

This game had some themes running throughout it. The Beavers utilized their speed all night and forced the Lakers to play in their own zone the majority of the night. The shot attempts on the evening were 81-29 in favor of Bemidji State. The Lakers were able to counter this with strong defense and superb effort from Mitens. He did not look out of position on any of the saves he made all night. Mitens even anticipated multiple deflections coming from Beavers on the attack and set up well to stop them.

Mitens poke save

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee for Violent Turtle Photography)

Also, Lake Superior State skaters did a superb job of blocking shots, and clearing rebounds from in front of Mitens. On the night, the Lakers blocked 16 shots as a team. They were lead in that category by Colin Saccoman who finished the night with four blocks and a primary assist on the Max Humitz goal to earn third star honors on the evening. Mitens took home second star honors for the shutout, and Humitz earned first star honors for netting the game winning goal.

Another theme of the evening was the Lakers’ ability to counter Bemidji. Whenever there was a long sequence in the Lakers’ defensive zone, they were able to use some timely speed and smart puck decisions to clear the puck. They generated their best chances, including the Humitz goal in the second on the counter attack.

Also give credit to Lakers’ forward Yuki Miura. In only his third college hockey game, he played outstanding. On the top line, he generated the secondary assist on the Humitz goal. He found Saccoman who set up the Humitz goal.

Another thing that stood out to me was the main review of the game. It happened in the third period. The Beavers looked like they had scored. However, it was waved off  after a prompt review for goaltender interference. Leo Fitzgerald skated across the crease and bumped Mitens which prevented him from playing the puck. Mitens knew it and immediately voiced his concerns on the ice about it. To the officials’ credit, they quickly reviewed the play and got the call right.

Finally, Mitens played just as strong for the Lakers tonight as he did for team Latvia in the 2016 U18 Worlds when we first saw him. It would be smart for Latvia to consider taking Mitens to the IIHF World Championships in Denmark this spring. Mitens has shown he can withstand high shot volumes, and plays quite well regardless of the team in front of him. He kept the Lakers in this one last night, and should merit strong consideration for WCHA Rookie and Goaltender of the week.

We think that Mitens and his goalie colleague Nick Kossoff should share WCHA goaltender of the week honors. Combined they stopped all 64 shots faced on the weekend.

Next week, the Lakers look to vault themselves into a playoff spot with a crucial two game set on the road against Alaska Anchorage.

Below are the highlights from last night including the two Lake Superior State goals and the goaltender interference call which nullified Bemidji’s best chance of the evening.