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Back To Class: The WCHA did the right thing for Alabama-Huntsville

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night as No. 12 Yale takes on No. 16 Cornell. 

Back in the fall of 2011, the University of Alabama-Huntsville interim president was set to cut the hockey program entirely only to see it saved by alumni and fans of the program alike. Their only problem was they didn’t have a conference to play in. They were the only school to play as an independent the past  few seasons. They wanted into the CCHA after the CHA closed up shop only to see that conference vote to keep them out.

Fast-forward to today and we see the CCHA will no longer exist thanks to the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference as well as the NCHC and those left behind there are joining the new WCHA. Funny thing about the WCHA is they had an odd number of teams and it made too much sense not to approve bringing UAH aboard. That’s precisely what they voted to do last week, saving the program.

It was the right move by the WCHA to extend the invite and while it comes with some big risks, making the effort to save a program in desperate need of partnership was needed. College hockey is as niche as it gets amongst big time NCAA sports. With 58 programs participating, losing teams does the sport no favors and allowing one to wither and die would’ve been egregious.

Yes, the travel will be rough in the new WCHA with not just UAH but also both Alaska schools there. The costs will be high and that’s where the risk comes into play. But they had to try and make it work. The travel costs can and will be covered and college hockey saves a supported program in need. It’s the feel-good story folks in Huntsville have been praying for, now we can just hope it all turns out for the best.

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Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry ends in a thrill: The Golden Gophers and formerly Fighting Sioux duked it out in classic fashion in the Twin Cities as the Gophers came away with a big win Friday and a classic 4-4 draw on Saturday. With each team heading to different conferences next season, they won’t see each other for at least the next three seasons putting a sad end to a classic rivalry. Here’s to hoping they’ll meet in the NCAA tournament the next three seasons instead and save Don Lucia a bit of grief.

River Hawks are flying: Look out for UMass-Lowell in Hockey East. They’re winners of nine in a row including a big win over BU on Saturday night. They were an NCAA tournament team last year losing to Union in the East Region final. Sophomore forward Scott Wilson has been lighting it up and goalies Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr have buckled down. With UNH cooling off and BU riding a roller coaster of sorts, Lowell is poised to shake things up.

Speaking of roller coasters, the ECAC: What a wild weekend in the ECAC. Yale continues to play strong sweeping Harvard and Dartmouth. Cornell dealt Union a harsh blow to their hopes of making a run at first place beating them on Friday, but then stumbled themselves losing 3-2 to RPI on Saturday. RPI’s weekend sweep over Colgate and Cornell got them up to 7th in the standings. Meanwhile, Quinnipiac is in first by eight points with Yale lurking behind them.

Remember how I said this conference would cannibalize itself? It’s dinner time now.

(Photo: Jim Rosvold – USCHO.com)

Flames, Johnson continue hot streak with win over Wild

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Chad Johnson #31 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 30, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames’ recent turnaround continued on Friday night with a 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild.

The win improved the Flames to 7-3-1 in their past 11 games, and featured another strong performance from goaltender Chad Johnson as he continues to make his case to be the team’s No. 1 goaltender.

He stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced through regulation and overtime, and then two of the three shots he faced in the shootout. Johnson has been on a roll for the Flames since the middle of November, starting nine of the team’s 11 games since Nov. 15.

During that stretch he has a .948 save percentage and a 7-2-0 record. His save percentage for the season remains over .930.

The crazy thing about that number is that it isn’t that far off from what his career numbers look like. Granted, most of that has come in a backup role, but in 40 starts with the Buffalo Sabres a year ago he finished the year with a .920 save percentage. He was at .925 a few years ago in Boston. Really, the only time in his career his performance dipped significantly below that was during a 19-game sample size in 2014-15 with the New York Islanders.

The win moved the Flames into a wild card position in the Western Conference for the time being. It is worth pointing out their 27 games played are more than any other team in the league at the moment, and are five more than the Nashville team they temporarily jumped over in the standings on Friday.

Still, considering where the Flames were just a couple of weeks ago when they were 5-10-1 through the first 16 games.

Sean Monahan scored the winning goal in the shootout for the Flames.

One thing that stood out in the shootout from a Minnesota perspective was the fact coach Bruce Boudreau did not use Zach Parise or Mikko Koivu.

Boudreau said after the game that he had intended to use Koivu if the shootout had been extended to a fourth round, and that his decision to use Charlie Coyle ahead of him came down to something he saw in the way Johnson was defending the first two shooters.

When it came to Parise, who only played 24 seconds in the overtime period, Boudreau said he wanted to talk to the team’s trainers to see if he was fully healthy, adding that he thought Parise looked sluggish and methodical for most of the game.

Video: Martin Jones robs Alex Galchenyuk with fancy glove save

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stops a shot by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Alex Galchenyuk has been one of the Montreal Canadiens best players this season and entered play on Friday night with nine goals in his first 23 games.

In the first period against the San Jose Sharks he had himself in a great position to score goal No. 10 when he had a wide open look right in front of the net.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones, however, had other ideas and absolutely robbed the Canadiens’ star forward.

Have a look.

Jones took over as the Sharks’ starting goaltender a year ago after he was acquired in an offseason trade with the Boston Bruins. He was a key piece in their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

He has been on quite a run for the Sharks over the past couple of weeks and entered play on Friday having allowed just six goals in his past five starts.

Senators will be without Bobby Ryan for at least next two games

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 28: Bobby Ryan #9 of the Ottawa Senators in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 28, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators were without forward Bobby Ryan during their 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday due to a hand injury that he aggravated on Tuesday against Buffalo. That injury resulted in him being placed on injured reserve by the team, which means he will miss at least the next two games, and potentially more.

On Friday, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said the team received some positive news regarding Ryan’s injury and that it is possible he could accompany the team on its upcoming four-game road trip that begins on Monday in Pittsburgh. But he will still not be eligible to return until Wednesday when the team visits the San Jose Sharks.

That means he will be sidelined for Saturday’s home game against Florida as well as Monday’s game against the Penguins.

Dorion said on Friday, via NHL.com, that there is a 50-50 chance he accompanies the team on the upcoming road trip that also includes games against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

“I’ve got to give Bobby a lot of credit. People don’t know how many injuries he’s played through here, getting his hand frozen and playing through pain,” Dorion said via NHL.com.

Ryan initially injured his finger back on Nov. 17 against Nashville, forcing him to miss the next two games. After returning to the lineup he eventually had to leave Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.

After scoring 24 goals for the Senators a year ago he has just three goals and five assists in 21 games this season.

The Senators are 14-8-2 and in second place in the Atlantic Division, four points behind the Montreal Canadiens.

With Gorges injured, Sabres call up Brendan Guhle from WHL

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  51st overall pick Brendan Guhle poses for a portrait during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Friday evening that they have called up defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL on an emergency basis.

Guhle, a second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by the Sabres in 2015, had impressed in Sabres training camp the past two years but just missed out on making the roster each time. He missed making the team in 2015 in large part because of a concussion after he was hit by Dion Phaneuf.

He did end up playing six games for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League a year ago, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

Before his call-up on Friday he had spent the first part of the 2016-17 season playing in the WHL for Prince George as well as the Prince Albert Raiders (he was acquired by Prince George on Nov. 19).

In 19 games between the two teams he has five goals and two assists.

The Sabres needed to call up a defenseman because veteran Josh Gorges was injured on Thursday night in the team’s win over the New York Rangers when he was hit in the foot by a shot.

He had x-rays on Friday and the team is expected to offer some sort of an update on his status on Saturday. In 23 games this season for the Sabres, Gorges has no goals and one assist.

What really hurts for Sabres at the moment is they are already playing without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian due to injury.

The Sabres host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.