Location: Von Braun Center, Huntsville, Alabama
Game Time (Central):
Friday, January 8 – 7:07 PM
Saturday, January 9 – 7:07 PM
UAH: 4-14-2 (WCHA: 2-10-2 10th)
UAF: 5-11-4 (WCHA: 3-9-4 9th)
– WCHA.TV (PPV)
– American Sports Network (where available)
– MASN – Direct TV 640 or Dish Network 432
Publicly, most hockey players and coaches will deny that a “good loss” exists. However, if such a thing came to be, it happened last week for UAH at North Dakota. While severely outmatched on paper against a team that would leave the weekend as the #1 team in the country, the Chargers managed to hang with North Dakota all weekend. On Friday night, the Chargers were shut out for the very first time this season, dropping a 1-0 nailbiter. On Saturday, the Chargers lost 4-1 to the Fighting Hawks, but those last two North Dakota goals game in the final two minutes of the contest.
On paper, it’s still a loss, but for the Chargers it has to be a bit of a confidence booster to know that they can go toe-to-toe with the best team in the country.
This weekend, it’s the longest road trip in college hockey for the Chargers’ opponents. The matchup is a little less insomnia-inducing as the Chargers welcome the Nanooks from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (just “Alaska” in branding, like the University of Tennessee-Knoxville is simply “Tennessee”) – a team that they have not defeated in 23 years (there was a 22-year gap in the series, but it sounds cooler that way). The two teams sit in the bottom two spots of the WCHA, just a few points behind Lake Superior and Alaska-Anchorage. A sweep this weekend could get UAH back into 9th place, while a sweep by Alaska could move them as far up as 6th.
The Chargers come back to the Von Braun Center having won their last home game and breaking a long winless stretch. The Nanooks have had a similar stretch with just one win since November 13. In Alaska’s favor, however, are four ties over that span.
Allowing 2.95 goals per game, Alaska currently ranks second-to-last in the WCHA ahead of only UAH at 3.00. The Chargers also rank towards the bottom of the pile in scoring, averaging just 2.15 goals per game, slightly ahead of the only team they swept this season: Lake Superior. Alaska doesn’t fair much better, scoring 2.35 goals per game. On the power play, both teams are abysmal with the Chargers last in the WCHA with .125 while the Nanooks are slightly ahead with a .128 – the only difference being that the Chargers have two more unsuccessful attempts than the Nanooks this season. Where UAH shines, however, is on the penalty kill. Alabama-Huntsville’s .866 penalty kill percentage is second-best in the WCHA and twelfth best in the NCAA. Alaska, on the other hand, ranks last in the WCHA and in the bottom ten of the NCAA.
Last season, these teams met four times, with Alaska taking all four wins. In a series that dates back to December 11, 1987, the Chargers have a 6-18-1 record all time against the Nanooks, with a 3-6-1 record at the Von Braun Center. Two of those wins, however, came via forfeit. UAH’s last win over the Nanooks on the ice came 23 years ago this weekend – January 10, 1992. The Chargers were granted a win by forfeit the next night.
Alabama-Huntsville Key Players:
Richard Buri, D, Sophomore
Sophomore defender Richard Buri doesn’t score often, but if you’ve only started watching UAH in the last few weeks, it might seem like it. Buri buried his first goal of the season against Colorado on December 19, and it just happened to be the game-winner. Last weekend against North Dakota, Buri scored the lone goal of the weekend to end Cam Johnson’s shutout streak. Don’t expect Buri to have a hot hand all season, but his ability to get pucks to the net lately could mean a little extra offense for the Chargers. Plus-minus has very little value as a statistic, but it is interesting that in the WCHA’s second-worst scoring team, Buri has a positive integer in the plus-minus category (+2).
Carmine Guerriero, G, Junior
After a rough outing versus Colorado College that saw junior goaltender Carmine Guerriero give up 5 goals in just 45 minutes of play before going down with an injury, it was a little surprising to see him back up and starting both games against North Dakota last weekend. However, Guerriero stood tall and played to his peak ability, stopping 38 of 39 North Dakota shots on Friday and 34 of 37 on Saturday. His save percentage has been slowly rising on the year and sits at a season-high .911. His .214 win percentage when in net, however, is the lowest in the WCHA and fifth-lowest in the NCAA – it’s more a testament to a lack of scoring help than anything.
Josh Kestner, F, Sophomore
Sophomore Josh Kestner has not been involved in too many scoring plays in his career – he only has 3 points halfway through this season and only managed 6 during his freshman campaign. He hasn’t registered a goal since the November 6 loss to Michigan Tech and he hasn’t registered a point since the November 20 loss at Bowling Green. Kestner hasn’t even had a shot on net since December 4 and missed 4 of the Chargers’ last 5 games. However, last season against Alaska at the Von Braun Center, Kestner solved goaltender Sean Cahill, putting two goals past him to give UAH a 2-0 lead in a game they would eventually lose 4-2. Cahill is no longer on the roster for Alaska, so can Kestner still find a way to light up the Nanooks?
Max McHugh, F, Sophomore
Sophomore Max McHugh is in the midst of his longest scoring drought of the season. The Chargers’ leading scorer has gone three entire games without a point. McHugh actually has had a little trouble finding the net lately, as he hasn’t scored a goal since December 4 against Northern Michigan, 7 games ago, and has only scored one goal in the Chargers’ last 16. Luckily, McHugh faces a team this weekend that he scored three goals against last year, including earning his first career two-goal performance on February 28.
Alaska Key Players:
Jesse Jenks, G, Freshman
This season, the WCHA is littered with talented freshman goaltenders. Alaska’s Jesse Jenks is one of these remarkable rookies. Playing in half of the Nanooks’ games, Jenks has certainly been the better half of Alaska’s goalie tandem, as junior Davis Jones has struggled in most of his outings. Last weekend, however, Jones had the better weekend of the two, as Jenks allowed 6 goals in 33 shots against Bemidji, including allowing the game-tying goal with just 12 seconds left. Jones, meanwhile, battled the Beavers to a tie on Sunday. Prior to last weekend, Jenks had been fairly consistent, with GAA of under 2. Even with last weekend’s disaster, Jenks still has a .924 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA. It’s a testament to how strong the WCHA freshmen are when Jenks is fourth among 5 eligible WCHA freshmen in save percentage and last in GAA, while among NCAA freshmen, he’s sixth and seventh in those respective categories among 19 eligible..
Tyler Morley, F, Senior
It would be easy to say, “As goes Tyler Morley, so goes Alaska,” but it’s simply not true. Despite his team’s struggles, the senior has been as solid as always. Through 19 games, Morley has 19 points (10 – 9). Last weekend against Bemidji, Morley scored four points (2 – 2) in Saturday night’s 6-5 OT loss, while tacking on another assist in Sunday’s 1-1 tie. Alaska scored 6 goals last weekend and Morley was a part of 5 of them. Actually, going back to UAF’s last game before Christmas, Morley has a hand in 6 of Alaska’s last 7 goals. He was named to the preseason All-WCHA team by both the media and the coaches, he was the coaches’ vote for preseason player of the year, and earned this writer’s vote in that same category. He’s the WCHA’s leading scorer and he is dangerous. Last season against UAH, he had three multi-point games, racking up 3 points twice and 2 points once. He has 9 career points (3 – 6) in 6 games against the Chargers.