Alabama-Huntsville gave up two shorthanded goals to a solid Findlay penalty kill but overcame the Oilers with strong goaltending from senior Mark Byrne and two goals by senior left wing Steve Charlebois to capture its second UConn Classic title in two chances with a 4-2 victory.
Findlay got the scoring going when Oiler captain and Nick Udovicic intercepted a slow-moving pass from freshman defenseman Jeremy Schreiber and skated in on Byrne for a 1-0 lead with just 2:06 gone in the game.
Momentum seemed to be going Findlay’s way until Charlebois’ linemates, Joel Bresciani and Jason Hawes, broke out through neutral ice and skated into the zone. Bresciani dropped the puck for a trailing Hawes, who fired the puck towards goaltender Kevin Fines. The puck popped off Fines’ leg pad and onto the stickblade of Charlebois, who flung a wrist shot under the glove of Fines to knot the game at one.
Findlay scored early in the second when the Chargers were slow to change defensemen on the power play, allowing Oiler defensemen Jeff Radzak and Nate Markus to find a streaking David Vogt in neutral ice. Vogt carried his speed into the offensive zone, deked stickside on Byrne, and then went backhand past his outstretched glove for the prettiest goal of the tournament. The goal came at 2:05 of the second period.
The two shorthanded goals were a concern to Charger assistant coach Lance West, who said that the Oilers surprised his team with their style of kill.
“I just think that on the power play we relaxed and thought it was too easy. We thought from film that they’d be passive, and we didn’t make the in-game adjustment that we needed to make when they came out to play more aggressively.”
Schreiber made up for his earlier mistake by scoring on that same power play, firing home a hard slapshot through a screen set by Craig Bushey and Mike Funk and past Fines. The goal, at 2:47 of the second, knotted the game at two goals each.
Funk scored the game-winning goal just 36 second later, putting a backhanded shot through Fines’s legs after linemates Keith Rowe and Gerald Overton worked the puck through the offensive zone.
The play was even throughout the rest of the game, and the final goal came only after Findlay pulled Fines for an extra attacker. Charlebois scored the empty-net goal, flinging a puck off the glass and getting a lucky bounce as the puck rolled all the way into the net.
“It was a good win,” said West. “The guys made the plays that they needed to make. I was worried, as was everyone, that they’d come out flat after the big win [over Ferris State] last night, and those guys that needed to step up and make plays made them. Mark was really big for us in net, making a lot of great saves.”
West noted that the team seems to be over its rough start to the season, which saw them go 0-6-0 against Wisconsin, Denver, and Minnesota.
“We’re back to .500. Really, in our last ten games, we could be 10-0. We were in the lead in the third period in each of those games, which is a good sign,” he said. The Chargers are 7-1-2 in their last ten contests. “Guys are starting to play with more confidence, and we know that if we don’t play our best game we still have an opportunity to win. Earlier in the season, we weren’t there.”
Alabama-Huntsville travels home on New Year’s Eve and faces MAAC opponent Fairfield, which shut out Air Force this past weekend, on Friday and Saturday. The short turnaround isn’t a concern for the Chargers.
“I don’t think so,” said West. “We’ve got New Year’s to relax. We’ll have a light skate one day and go harder the other two. We’ve got depth, and we’re not concerned. We’re not going to take Fairfield lightly, though.”
Findlay plays nonconference games against Western Michigan on Saturday and Ohio State on January 7 before hosting the Chargers on the 10th and the 11th.