Location: Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Game Time (Central):
Friday, January 1 – 7:37 PM
Saturday, January 2 – 7:07 PM
Broadcast: WCHA.TV (PPV)
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire” seems to be the best way to describe UAH’s New Year’s matchup against North Dakota.
The Chargers have their first game of 2016 after breaking their 11-game winless streak by defeating Colorado College on December 19. UAH broke through with a 2-1 win behind a stellar performance by goaltender Matt Larose, who saved 34 of the 35 shots Colorado College put on him. Due to oddities in the schedule, this is UAH’s only road nonconference series of the season – and their last nonconference series of the season altogether. At 4-12-2 and at the bottom of the WCHA, UAH would never admit to it, but it’s not a series that they realistically expect to win. In a way, it’s a no-lose scenario for the Chargers. Everyone expects them to be blown out in this series so, if they are, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the rest of the season, but, if they perform well, they get some momentum going into next week, and also I’m going to make one more point pretty much for no other reason other than to make this run-on sentence just a little bit longer – since it’s nonconference, it’s a very low-risk, potentially high-reward series.
North Dakota has long been a powerhouse of college hockey, so I was a bit surprised to find out that they have not won an NCAA title since 2000. However, they’ve been to the Frozen Four in each of the last two seasons. Also, the Ralph is about the only place in the country that a Jonathan Toews Blackhawks jersey can be worn by a person who actually heard of him before 2010. The Fighting Si…Hawks are 16-2-2 this season, with their lone losses being to fellow top-five team St. Cloud State and to 4-7-5 Wisconsin. The Hawks have won six straight, but more importantly, they have not allowed a goal in their last 218:38. North Dakota has pitched three straight shutouts this month, while UAH has only one shutout in the last five years.
The only time these two teams met was in 1989 before anyone on either team was born. On October 13 and 14 of that year, the Chargers went to Grand Forks and were manhandled by former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson and the Fighting Sioux 12-6 and 11-5. No one on either team was born yet for that series and PBR photographer Allyson Hall was a baby so has no pictures of those games.
Luckily for UAH, North Dakota will be without the nation’s leading freshman goal scorer (and 2015 Vancouver Canucks first rounder) Brock Boeser and the NCAA’s fifth-best scorer (and 2014 Blackhawks first rounder) sophomore Nick Schmaltz as they are with Team USA in Helsinki for World Juniors. Since they make up two-thirds of one of the best forward lines in NCAA hockey, North Dakota will be playing with a few forwards who don’t usually see much ice time.
Alabama-Huntsville Key Players:
Matt Larose, G, Junior
Before this season, Matt Larose had won exactly one time in his NCAA career. Last week, he got the other bookend on UAH’s 11-game winless stretch by stopping nearly everything Colorado College threw at him and earning his second win of the season. Larose was not anticipated to play much at all this year, but after a strong shutout outing against Lake Superior, he’s seen 5 starts in UAH’s last 12 games. He’s been pretty dependable along the way, with a 2.40 GAA and a .918 save percentage. He’s 2-4 on the season, but two of those losses have been one-goal losses. He just as easily could be 4-2 on the year. With the nonconference matchup this weekend and with Guerriero nursing an injury from the December 18 game, Larose should see the ice at least once this weekend.
Max McHugh, F, Sophomore
I’m running out of things to say about McHugh that haven’t been said before. With 16 points (4 – 12) in 18 games, he’s been UAH’s most consistent player. He’s young, but he’s a leader on the ice. Even when he’s not showing up on the scoresheet, he’s making things happen. Of players who have taken at least 300 faceoffs this season, he’s among the NCAA’s best with a .540 win percentage.
Adam Wilcox, F, Freshman
Freshman Adam Wilcox racked up his first two Von Braun Center goals against Colorado College as he scored on one each night. Wilcox is currently riding a 3-game point streak and seems to have found a bit of a touch at getting points on the board. His takeaway goal in the 5-2 loss to Colorado College was pretty much the lone highlight in a disaster of a game.
North Dakota Key Players:
Drake Caggiula, F, Senior
Caggiula is the lone member of the Fighting Hawks top line who did not head to Helsinki for World Junior with Team USA, largely due to the fact that it’s somewhat hard for a 21-year-old Canadian to be named to the United States Under-20 team. Luckily for North Dakota, he’s the team’s leading scorer – and fourth in the nation – with 27 points (13 – 14) in 19 games. The senior Caggiula comes into the weekend on a 6-game scoring streak in which he has scored 11 points (6 – 5). Perhaps most importantly for North Dakota, the only game he has missed this season was the loss to Wisconsin.
Cam Johnson, G, Sophomore
Sophomore goaltender Cam Johnson went down in the second period of North Dakota’s 4-4 tie against Bemidji on October 16, proceeding to miss the following 10 games. Johnson returned to North Dakota’s lineup on November 27 against Michigan State and has been lights out since. In the six games since he returned as the starter, Johnson has allowed only 3 goals in 6 games while grabbing 3 shutouts. He has saved 175 of 178 shots in that stretch. On the season, Johnson has allowed only 11 goals in 245 attempts for a .955 save percentage which is remarkably second in the the NCAA (Harvard’s Merrick Madsen is tops). His GAA is also a remarkably miniscule 1.20 – and it’s largely inflated from 3 goals he gave up in a 30-minute relief appearance against St. Cloud. Perhaps most remarkable for the goaltender with a 7-0-1 record is that he only played in two games as a freshman, getting yanked in his first start after giving up 3 goals in 12 shots against Lake Superior.