Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UAH Future Looking Better

It's been a hell of a few months for second-year head coach Chris Luongo and Alabama-Huntsville. Faced with plenty of gloom and doom surrounding his independent program already, the Chargers players found out early in the season that this would be their last season as a varsity program.

Many in the community and among UAH's alumni protested, and Luongo was recently made aware of his team's status going forward.

"The president, Dr. (Robert) Altenkirch, is behind our program 100 percent," Luongo said. "We've been told that we're moving forward for next year, and beyond that, our intention is to get things in order, our house in order."

Among the possibilities for UAH is -- they hope -- admission to the WCHA. The conference upheaval that affected so many Division I programs has not touched UAH, meaning the Chargers are still an independent.

That's no way to sustain a program. Luongo can find some diamonds in the rough, as he has with players like goalie Clarke Saunders. The sophomore had 52 saves in Friday's 2-1 non-conference loss to UMD at Amsoil Arena. Saunders has decided to transfer to North Dakota, and because of the uncertainty surrounding the program's future, he will be eligible to play next season.

(Forward Mac Roy is moving on to Robert Morris next season, and defenseman Nick Gatt is going to transfer to Michigan State.)

But for UAH to have any real chance for success long term, Luongo's program has to find a conference to play in. It's not about developing rivalries or scheduling certainty, though those things are undoubtedly important. Instead, from a recruiting standpoint, what can be almost as important is the carrot of making the NCAA Tournament. No, UAH may never be an elite program in Division I. But admission to a conference provides the prospect of an NCAA spot that is unrealistic as long as the school is independent.

The WCHA wouldn't be as bad a fit as you might imagine, especially if UAH is willing to subsidize travel for teams to play in Huntsville. The biggest problem for UAH to overcome might not be finances, but instead the fact they share the Von Braun Center with a pro team -- the Huntsville Havoc -- that has priority, meaning the Chargers are stuck playing a lot of Saturday afternoon games, something that might be undesirable for the WCHA as a whole.

We'll see what ends up happening, but the news -- at least off the ice -- has been good for Alabama-Huntsville lately. Many around college hockey are pulling for that trend to continue.


Saunders was the story Friday night, even though UMD did what it could to keep that from happening. Friday didn't seem like a case of UMD making a mediocre goalie look like an all-star. Instead, Saunders got sharper every time UMD threw a puck at him. It was a good thing for Saunders, because he looked very shaky on the game's first few shots.

The Bulldogs need to do a better job winning one-on-one battles for position in the middle of the rink. UMD had a lot of play on the perimeter Friday, but struggled to get the puck to the front of the net at times because UAH was pretty strong defending the front of the net.

I expect UMD to start sophomore Aaron Crandall in the series finale Saturday night, though the scare UAH threw into UMD Friday could lead to a change in that plan. Other lineup rotations will continue.


The other action involving WCHA teams all came in league games. Colorado College got a last-minute goal from Tim Hall to beat Minnesota 2-1. That loss dropped Minnesota to 16th in the Pairwise, despite being second in one national poll and tied for first in the WCHA standings. Non-conference losses to Vermont, Northeastern, and Notre Dame are less than helpful.

St. Cloud State topped North Dakota 3-1 despite being decisively outshot. Goalie Ryan Faragher was great for the Huskies, and has continues to hold down the fort in the absence of normal starter Mike Lee. While Lee could be back soon, it seems SCSU has the chance to ease him back into the lineup, because Faragher shouldn't go to the bench quietly.

Also, Wisconsin shut out Alaska-Anchorage 4-0, and Nebraska-Omaha beat Minnesota State 2-1 in overtime in Mankato. The red Mavericks survived a scare, as freshman goalie Ryan Massa was stretchered off the ice with an apparent head injury. Massa is out of the hospital and attended Saturday's morning skate in Mankato, but will not play in the game.

No comments: