DETROIT — So much for home-ice advantage.
As the host school of this year’s CHA Tournament, Wayne State figured to have some sort of an advantage, if nothing else, heading into their quarterfinal game against Alabama-Huntsville Friday night at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
But it was the Chargers, the “home” team for the game, that came away with a 3-1 victory in front of 1109 spectators.
Scott Munroe made 45 saves for UAH and Brett McConnachie scored a pair as Alabama-Huntsville advanced to face defending champion Bemidji State Saturday night.
The last time these two teams met in the tournament, WSU was a sixth seed and beat No. 3 UAH, 6-3, back in 2004. This time, the seedings were the same, but yielded a different result.
“Scott’s got to play like that to give us a chance to win,” UAH head coach Doug Ross said. “The way he played tonight is the way he is always capable of playing. We also got the 5-on-5 goals we needed, too.”
A scoreless first period saw each team have chances, but Munroe and WSU keeper Will Hooper stood their ground. Munroe was particularly sharp in making a big save on Jason Bloomingburg midway through the period on a power play and then late on Derek Bachynski at the side of the net.
“I think the first period was a turning point for us,” said McConnachie. “We got into some penalty trouble, but we responded well. We got our legs going, too.”
The Warriors had a 16-6 shot advantage through 20 minutes as well.
Tylor Michel started the second period for the Warriors with a big hit against the penalty box on Jeff Winchester in the opening seconds. Hooper made a timely poke check on Bruce Mulherin four minutes in and Munroe answered with three key stops on Adam Krug, Jon Grabarek and Nate Higgins on a Wayne State power play.
Mulherin staked UAH to a 1-0 lead on a Chargers’ bounce at 6:22. McConnachie’s shot missed the net and caromed off the end boards to Mulherin, who banged in the puck past Hooper.
The Warriors’ Michel tied the game at 11:37 when his quick snap shot beat Munroe short side. Derek Punches found his teammate breaking to the net on the left wing side and fed Michel for just his first goal of the season. A broken fibula kept Michel on the sidelines much of the second half.
McConnachie restored the UAH lead 39 seconds later. Mulherin took the first shot that clanged off the post, but McConnachie was on the doorstep to bat the puck out of mid air past Hooper, who lost sight of the puck.
Hooper kept it 2-1 with another pad save on a Mulherin shot in close with just over four minutes left in the second.
Through 40 minutes, Munroe made 34 stops.
“On this team, I see 30-plus shots a night, so I’m used to it I guess,” said Munroe. “I was just seeing the puck well tonight and the shots I didn’t see hit me. The guys did a great job clearing guys out from in front of me.”
At 2:50 of the third period, McConnachie notched his second of the game off a rebound. Winchester took the shot from the left point, Hooper made the stick save, but the puck pinballed to McConnachie, who went high stick side on Hooper.
“That’s probably the easiest goal I’ve ever scored,” laughed McConnachie. “But in the tournament it doesn’t matter how you get it done, just the fact you do get it done.”
“Brett’s not very good defensively and I’ll tell him that,” added Ross. “But he’s a skilled guy up front and earns his opportunities. He’s worked three years to get to the level he’s at right now.”
Krug appeared to give WSU life with 5:43 to go, but his shot hit the right post and came back out. Wayne State didn’t argue the call and play resumed.
WSU pulled Hooper with 2:29 to go and Munroe stopped Higgins on a shot from the slot moments later.
Hooper stopped 24 in defeat.
“Tonight, they were Johnny on the Spot and put it in,” WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson said. “We were Johnny on the Spot and couldn’t put it in. But I thought we played extremely well and maybe deserved to win. We won some games this year we maybe shouldn’t have, but this game was the opposite side of the coin.”
Wayne State finishes with an overall 6-23-6 record while UAH is now 19-12-2.
“Tomorrow with Bemidji, it’s going to be the same old story,” noted McConnachie. “They’re our archrival and we really want to beat those guys. I think we’ve cleared the cobwebs from last weekend and now that this quarterfinal is over, we can relax a bit and get ready for tomorrow night.”
Game time tomorrow is 7:35 p.m.
“To be the champion, you have to beat the past champion,” Munroe said. “But if we get outworked, it’ll be tough.”