2004-05 Alabama-Huntsville Season Preview

What more does Jared Ross have to do to get noticed? Last season the Alabama-Huntsville center was one of just seven players in Division I to record at least 50 points, paced the CHA with 35 points (15-20) in 20 conference contests, was named co-CHA player of the year and led the nation with a 1.61 points per game average (50pts/31gms). Still, that wasn’t enough to garner Hobey Baker consideration, as Ross was left off the list of 10 finalists for the award.

To use the words of the recently departed Rodney Dangerfield, Ross got no respect.

“We thought he had a shot at, at least, being a top 10 finalist, just because of the season he had. And he did it against some quality teams, too,” said UAH assistant coach Lance West. “Obviously the competition of our schedule isn’t as strong as some other schools, so we have to give that consideration. But the teams that played him know how dangerous he was, and that includes some of the major programs.”

The Chargers played a total of 10 games against NCAA tournament participants last season, with Ross recording 12 points (2-10) in those games, which included hard-fought efforts against Miami, Holy Cross and Maine outside of the conference.

“He’s just extremely skilled with the puck. His vision on the ice is as good as I’ve seen,” said West, who has been at the school for 13 seasons (four as a player, nine as a coach). “His all around game has matured. He knows when he can take chances and when he can’t. He’s the key to our offense. We have to have other guys step up this year, because realistically, most teams come in and feel if they can shut him down, they’ll have a shot against us.”

Fact is, Alabama-Huntsville is more than just a one man show. Joining Ross on the offensive end are fellow senior Craig Bushey and junior Bruce Mulherin. Those players formed one of the most potent trios in the CHA last season, scoring a combined 106 points (43-63) in 84 games between them.

“Our first line played with anybody we faced last year,” said West. “We just didn’t have the depth to give us that second and third line at that level last year. Craig and Jared have played together, pretty well, for all four years, I think. They have that chemistry.

“Bruce last year really just seemed to fit in that line. He was out the first four games of the season [with an injury], then he had a few other injuries and missed a couple of other games. He only played 22 games, but when they were together, they were pretty dangerous.”

As West noted, that threesome will need some help if it is to improve upon its 2003-04 overall record of 11-16-4. The Chargers used five freshmen and up front last season, and that full year of experience will undoubtedly aid players such as Brett McConnachie (7-9-16), Steve Canter (6-5-11) and Grant Selinger (4-6-10).

On defense, the team is already a bit more prepared. Jeremy Schreiber was named to the CHA first-team last year after finishing first among blueliners with 18 points (8-10) in conference play, and will captain UAH this season. He was trailed by teammate Ryan Brown, who notched 14 points (2-12) in 19 CHA games. Those are the two main cogs in a well-oiled defensive machine.

“Since he got here, Jeremy’s just been great,” said West. “He’s been one of the best defensemen in my 13 years down here. He’s just smart, and I think we’re real fortunate to have him.

“Obviously Ryan Brown had a good year as a junior playing with Jeremy, he was pretty productive. But we return all eight defensemen. Jeff Winchester is 6-3, a big kid who we expect to have a breakout year as a junior. Shaun Arvai was a freshman, he’s probably going to be our future power play guy with the puck. Then we have Mike Salekin, who played in British Columbia, was an all-star in major junior, then sat out last year. He’ll push some guys for playing time.”

Gone from the goal is Adam MacLean, who finished second in the CHA with a 2.63 goals against average. Scott Munroe, who played about half the team’s games in 2003-04, will be called upon to up his 5-9-1 record and 3.16 GAA.

“Coming into last year, we expected big things from Scott, and I think he put a little too much pressure on himself,” said West, noting Munroe was 11-6-1 and a second-team all-CHA member as a freshman. “He was an outstanding freshman. He won his first 10 games in conference, then he lost his last one in the tournament. Adam stepped up as a senior and filled that role when Scott struggled, but we really think he’s a guy that can carry a team. He’s shown it at times, against Maine and Miami last year. We just hope to have some consistency from him this year, and I think he’s really one of the strengths of our team.”

Twenty-two Chargers return from last year’s team. And in most years, that kind of experience and depth would make a team a favorite to win its conference. But two strong squads in Niagara and Bemidji will give Alabama-Huntsville all it can handle this season. But West thinks UAH could throw a wrinkle into the experts preseason predictions.

“It’s kind of a cycle, the way I look at it,” he said. “Wayne State was real strong a couple years ago, knocking off teams. Now it’s Bemidji and Niagara, and hopefully we can come around this year and join those two schools in making some noise on the national scene.”