Last weekend’s bus trip from Huntsville, Ala., to Mankato, Minn., wasn’t the worst or the longest excursion the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers ever had to make for a game.
“In the four years I’ve been here we’ve done some pretty crazy trips,” senior forward Alex Allan said. “Twenty-four hours on a bus to upper New York. Planes to Alaska where we had to connect three times. In my four years, we’ve done it all.”
That 24-hour trip to play St. Lawrence in Canton, N.Y., last season had an unfortunate twist.
“The bus driver took a wrong turn that cost us an extra four hours,” Allan said.
Last week, the Chargers were scheduled to fly to Minnesota to play the Mavericks. However, the massive winter storm that crippled the South canceled their flights and forced them to find an alternative means of travel.
“We get a couple inches of snow in Huntsville, and everybody freaks out,” junior forward Craig Pierce said.
Check out the travel digs to Mankato. Safe to say it all worked out. pic.twitter.com/m1QbVAdUym
— UAH Hockey (@uahhockey) February 14, 2014
Trying to avoid postponing the series for even a day, Huntsville finally lined up a pair of tour buses reportedly used by the band Maroon 5, country star Carrie Underwood and others. At least it was the lap of luxury for the 21-hour trip.
“They were the nicest beds we ever had on a sleeper bus,” Pierce said. “We had DirecTV and watched the Olympic games.”
Classes at UAH were canceled due to the weather, but the Chargers practiced Thursday and departed about 8:30 p.m. They arrived in Mankato around 5:15 p.m. Friday, with just about 2½ hours to spare before the opening faceoff.
No excuses seemed to be the theme of the night, however, and coach Mike Corbett, Pierce and Allan all stayed on message throughout the weekend.
“We’re Division I hockey players,” Allan said. “We needed to be able to adjust and be ready.”
Said Corbett: “It’s like junior hockey all over again. We’re used to traveling by bus. We’re not going to make any excuses.”
The Chargers dropped both games to the Mavericks, falling 4-0 each night, results that might have been the case anyway considering the teams’ place in the standings. Minnesota State is in the hunt for the MacNaughton Cup, while Huntsville is locked into last place.
“The only time I ever felt bad out there was when I’d get stuck out there on a long shift,” Pierce said before Saturday’s game.
If anything, the Chargers looked more travel weary on Saturday, when Minnesota State outshot them 65-10 and out-attempted them 131-25. Alabama-Huntsville freshman goalie Carmine Guerriero set a school record with 61 saves.
Despite dropping to 1-30-1, players talked about hope for the future of the team. Corbett is the third coach in as many years but appears committed to building the program, and there’s stability with a spot in a conference for the first time in four years — even if it does mean some long travel from time to time.
“I tell everyone I’m looking forward to what the program is going to be in a few years,” Pierce said. “I won’t necessarily be here, but I’m excited for the guys.”
Freibergs, Latvia nearly upset Canada in quarterfinals
In its first trip to the Olympic quarterfinals, Latvia and Bowling Green sophomore defenseman Ralfs Freibergs nearly upset the defending gold medalists from Canada in a 2-1 loss on Wednesday.
The Canadians needed a power-play goal from Shea Weber at 13:06 of the third period to finally break a 1-1 tie with Latvia.
Freibergs, who has two goals and 18 assists this season for the Falcons, saw the ice only three times against Canada for a total of 2 minutes, 55 seconds. He finished with 9:19 for the tournament, suiting up for all five games, including the qualification-round win over Switzerland. He recorded an assist against Sweden.
The 22-year-old Falcons skater had played for Latvia before, but the Sochi games were his first Olympics.
What a great experience for me. I am so proud of my country and we proved that Latvia can!
— Ralfs Freibergs (@Ralfs_29) February 19, 2014
Around the WCHA
• Ferris State and Minnesota State each clinched home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The conference’s top four teams will host first-round series against the fifth- through eighth-place finishers, with the ninth- and 10th-place teams eliminated from postseason contention.
• The Bulldogs took over sole possession of first place in the WCHA on Nov. 9 by completing a two-game sweep of Bemidji State in Big Rapids, Mich., and remained alone in first until losing to the Beavers on Saturday in Bemidji, Minn. Ferris State is still in first place, but tied with Minnesota State for the time being. Ferris can reclaim the lead league all to itself this weekend when it hosts Alaska-Anchorage with the Mavs on a bye. The Bulldogs need a maximum of nine out of 12 points in their final six games to clinch the MacNaughton Cup.
• Minnesota State’s 65 shots on goal against Alabama-Huntsville on Saturday were a record for the program’s Division I era. The previous high was 60 against American International on Dec. 28, 2002. The Mavericks’ all-time shot record is 84 set in their Division II/III era against St. Scholastica in 1991.
• Alaska-Anchorage wrapped up its home schedule with an 11-3-2 record. The Seawolves hope to return to Sullivan Arena for the league playoffs. They are in third place with games remaining at Ferris State and at rival Alaska. They are 4-8-2 away from Anchorage and hold a two-point lead over three teams — Alaska, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech.
• The 14 goals scored by Alaska in two games at Michigan Tech last weekend was the Nanooks’ largest weekend total in 11 years. They last put up that same number in a home series against Wayne State. Alaska finished its road schedule with a 7-7-2 mark.
• In the race to avoid elimination from the postseason, Bemidji State stayed two points out of ninth place with its upset win over Ferris State last Saturday night. “No question it was a must-win game,” coach Tom Serratore told the Bemidji Pioneer. “The guys knew that. There was a lot on the line right there. We needed a way to make the WCHA more interesting, and I think the WCHA is a lot more interesting right now than it was two hours ago.”
• Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan are playing four times in the regular season for the first time since 2004-05. This weekend’s series is also the latest these two teams have meet in a season since the Wildcats’ last season before moving to the CCHA — 1996-97 — when the two U.P. schools played Feb. 21-22 on the third-to-last week of the regular season. Since Mel Pearson took over the Huskies program as coach in 2011-12, Tech is 2-1 against Northern in Houghton, having won the last two meetings at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena by a combined score of 12-3. The Wildcats have owned Pearson’s teams in Marquette, however, with NMU going 3-0 with a much smaller margin of victory, 8-2. The Huskies’ last win at the Berry Events Center came Oct. 8, 2010.
• The WCHA and NCAA Division I’s three teams from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — Tech, Northern and Lake Superior State — are all .500 against each other going into the final series this weekend between the Wildcats and Huskies. The Lakers finished 3-3 after splitting with Northern Michigan last week in Marquette. The Lakers were unable to retain the Father Cappo Cup, however, getting outscored 8-6. NMU is 2-2 going into the weekend, having split with Lake Superior State and Tech so far this season. The Huskies, who are the only U.P. school to play both of their regional rivals four times this season, are 3-3. Breaking it down by goal differential, Northern Michigan is plus-1, Michigan Tech is even and Lake Superior State is minus-1.
• This week’s WCHA players of the week: Alaska forward Nolan Huysmans (offensive), Alaska goaltender Sean Cahill (defensive) and Lake Superior State forward Gus Correale (rookie).
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.