HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Saturday night was supposed to belong to Alabama-Huntsville. The Chargers were supposed to skate away with the CHA Final Five championship trophy. UAH was supposed to be the team celebrating at the Von Braun Center.
Somebody forgot to tell Wayne State, which stunned the Chargers 4-1 to claim the CHA postseason title before an announced crowd of 1,892 fans at the VBC.
After shaking hands with the victors and enduring the postgame awards presentation, the UAH players filed slowly off the ice. In the background, the Warriors were coming together in a collective embrace around sophomore goaltender David Guerrera.
Guerrera, the tournament Most Valuable Player, stopped 35 of 36 shots and survived a hectic final 10 minutes with save after save. The Chargers were relentless throughout the physical and hard-hitting game, but had their offensive chances limited by a sticky Wayne State defense.
“Do you believe in miracles?” was the way Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson summed things up after his team completed an 18-4-3 season.
Sophomore left wing Dustin Kingston scored a pair of goals for the Warriors, including what turned out to be the game-winner off a two-on-one break with 4:16 left in the first period. His final goal was a late empty-netter that crushed any hope for the Chargers.
UAH sophomore wing Jason Hawes had tied the game at 1-all just minutes before Kingston’s conversion.
But following a scoreless second period, Wayne State’s Kalle Rahm tallied a power-play goal early in the third and the Warriors dug in from there.
Sophomore goalie Mark Byrne made 23 saves for UAH, which went 0-of-5 on the power play.
“You have to give Wayne State a lot of credit,” said UAH coach Doug Ross, whose team had beaten the Warriors four straight times during the regular season. “They played a great defensive game and they trapped us all night long. Our guys have nothing to hang their heads about. We had a great year.”
It was an unexpected end for the Chargers, who finished 21-12-1 after claiming the CHA’s regular-season championship. UAH lost 3-2 to Niagara in last year’s conference final.
“It hurts any time you loose a championship game in your home building, especially in front of the fans that had supported you all year,” UAH team captain Dwayne Blais said.
“We feel like we let them down. My emotions really kicked in when I took that jersey off. That was tough knowing that I’ll never put it on again.”