Location: Verizon Wireless Center, Mankato, Minnesota
Game Time (Central):
Friday, December 11 – 7:07 PM
Saturday, December 12 – 7:07 PM
UAH: 3-9-2 (WCHA: 2-8-2 9th)
MSU: 8-6-4 (WCHA: 7-1-4 1st)
Broadcast: WCHA.TV (PPV)
Without a win since Halloween, UAH faces their stiffest competition yet this weekend as the Chargers head into Mankato to take on the WCHA-leading, #20 Minnesota State Mavericks.
After sweeping Lake Superior on Thanksgiving weekend to start the season 3-2-1, the Chargers dropped seven straight, going 0-6-0 in November with sweeps by Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, and Bemidji State. Last weekend, UAH lost the opener against Northern Michigan despite peppering the Wildcats with shots. Finally they earned their first points in over a month by battling to a 1-1 tie on Saturday.
Minnesota State – the defending WCHA Champions – started the season on a rocky note, dropping their first four games and plummeting out of the rankings. The Mavericks rebounded when conference play came around and have only lost two of their last 14. Last weekend, however, the Mavericks were unable to get around Bowling Green, tying a pair of road games.
Surprisingly, considering that they are leading the conference, Minnesota State is actually second to last in the WCHA in scoring with 2.22 goals per game, while giving up 2.39 goals per game. UAH, on the other hand, has the third best scoring offense in the WCHA with 2.57 goals per game, but allow the second most at 3.07 per game. Neither team is especially powerful on the power play, with Minnesota State in eighth in the WCHA with a 14.4% success rate, and UAH just one spot behind them with a 13.3% success rate. Minnesota State’s most dubious claim is that they are the most penalized team in the NCAA, allowing an average of five power play opportunities per game.
In a series that dates back to the Division II days with a 5-2 UAH win on November 11, 1988, the Chargers’ record against the Mavericks is 19-25-5, with a 6-15-4 record in Mankato. The Chargers’ last win in the series was on January 4, 2002, at the Von Braun Center. Their last win at Mankato was on October 16, 1999. Minnesota State has currently won 7 straight against the Chargers and 8 straight at home. UAH is winless against the Mavericks in their last 15 and winless at Mankato in their last 12. Last season, the Mavericks swept the Chargers at Mankato 3-1 an 4-1.
Alabama-Huntsville Key Players:
Chad Brears, F, Senior
On a small point streak, Chad Brears has scored in each of his last four games. One of only four seniors, Brears is on pace to have the best season of his collegiate career, which began in 2012 against these Minnesota State Mavericks. In 12 games this season, Brears has been quietly consistent, racking up 11 points (5 – 6).
Carmine Guerriero, G, Junior
Guerriero had easily his best outing of the season on Saturday night against Northern Michigan. The junior goaltender faced 37 shots and saved 36 of them. The 65 minute performance lowered Guerriero’s GAA to 2.75, which is the lowest it has been all season. In addition, his save percentage passed the moved to .903, passing the .900 mark for the first time since the opening weekend. In his lone appearance against the Mavericks last season, Guerriero was outstanding, facing 56 shots while only allowing two goals in a 3-1 UAH loss. As a freshman, he faced them twice, seeing 46 shots and 65 shots respectively. In his career, Guerriero has faced 167 Minnesota State shots and has stopped all but 11 of them. Given his experience with the opposition, the quality of the opposition, and his performance last week, Guerriero could see both starts for UAH this weekend.
Max McHugh, F, Sophomore
With 14 points in 14 games, UAH’s most consistent player has without a doubt been Max McHugh. Last Friday night, the sophomore had a goal and two assists against Northern Michigan while putting up a career-best 9 shots on goal. McHugh’s first collegiate goal came last October at Mankato.
Minnesota State Key Players:
Teddy Blueger, F, Senior
Blueger, the second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2012 NHL Draft, has been a consistent top scorer throughout his college career. This season, he leads the Mavericks in scoring with 15 points (4 – 11), good enough for third most in the WCHA. In addition, he’s tacked on 7 power play points and three of his four goals have been game-winners. In the Mavericks’ last three games, Blueger has scored an unreasonable 8 points, mostly from a 5-point night against Alaska-Anchorage. With 5 points in his career against UAH, Blueger’s never been an extreme threat to the Chargers, but he’s a very hot player coming into this weekend series.
Bryce Gervais, F, Senior
Bryce Gervais is not necessarily the kind of forward that’s going to put up necessary point totals. His goal-to-assist ratio generally looks like a Cy Young-level pitcher’s record or a fairly decent college basketball team. Last season, Gervais netted 27 goals – second most in the country behind Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey (32) – while adding just 9 assists. For comparison, future Nashville Predator Vesey had 26. Gervais is pulling similar Cy Young numbers this year, with 7 goals and just 3 assists. He’s not only Minnesota State’s best goal-scoring threat, he’s one of the country’s best. He had three goals, including both game-winners against UAH last season, so he’s absolutely going to be dangerous this weekend.
Casey Nelson, D, Junior
Casey Nelson is not just one of the WCHA’s leading scoring threats from the blue line – as he is tied for the WCHA scoring lead among defensemen with 11 points (3 – 8) – but he is also one of the best in the country. Last season, Nelson led WCHA defensemen in scoring and finished sixth among NCAA defensemen with 33 points (7 – 26). Surprisingly, the junior scored no points against UAH last season. Why Nelson is exceptionally important this weekend is that he missed the last game against Bowling Green – the Mavericks hope that he is completely healthy and ready to go this weekend.
Jason Pawloski, G, Freshman
Pawloski took over as Minnesota State’s starting goaltender on November 14 the day after a loss to Minnesota and has never looked back. Since cementing the starting job, Pawloski is 3-0-4 and 5-0-4 on the season. Junior Cole Huggins, who was the Mavericks’ starter to begin the season, is 3-6-0. When each goaltender has played the same number of games and one has 6 losses and one has none…well, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mavericks have been riding Pawloski. A model of consistent goaltending, the freshman has not given up more than 2 goals in any outing this season – although he gave up 2 in 3 shots against Ferris State before being pulled. The downside to Pawloski is that he’s also not facing a lot of shots. Last weekend against Bowling Green he faced a season-high 33, but in a shutout against Alaska-Anchorage, he only faced 12. Pawloski’s .909 save percentage ranks just ahead of Guerriero and Matt Larose in the WCHA.
Nashville Predators prospect Zach Stepan is injured and will not be playing in the series this weekend.