The CHA Beat
2002 holds promise for College Hockey America fans. In its first two years of existence, the CHA regular-season champion has had in excess of 30 of a possible 40 conference points; this season, it’s highly doubtful that we’ll see that.
New Year, New Leader
Last week, Wayne State traveled south and took it to the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, sweeping UAH 4-1 and 6-4. The Warriors were following up on a win and a tie in Michigan, and all in all they took seven of eight possible points from last year’s regular-season champion.
Wayne State leads the CHA with 12 conference points, with UAH second with 11 and Niagara third with 10. Fourth-place Bemidji State has 7, and Findlay (4) and Air Force (0) round out the standings. Of course, the variable number of games played is a barrier to gauging the strength of the teams.
Let’s rearrange the standings based on conference points per game (CPPG):
Wayne State 1.50
Bemidji State 1.17
Air Force 0.00
This drops the second-place Chargers to fourth, which is probably apt. Last year’s conference champs are a bit disappointing to the CHA Beat’s eyes, especially given their lackluster performance against the Warriors last weekend. We figured them for a split, but UAH never seemed into either game. Wayne State and Niagara are clearly the class of the CHA, and Bemidji State seems right behind the top pair.
How will the season go from here? For one, last-place Air Force could play a big role. They’re not out of this by any stretch, especially with four-point home games against Bemidji and Niagara after this weekend’s conference tilt at Findlay. After all, the most points Wayne State can finish with is 36, and given the parity in the CHA this season, that’s unlikely.
Findlay is an enigma as well. Findlay’s conference points come from a splits with Niagara and Bemidji, and the Oilers have already completed their season series with Niagara, going 1-3. A strong showing against Air Force, UAH, and Wayne State could push them higher in the conference standings.
UAH’s season isn’t over, even if it feels that way for UAH fans. UAH hasn’t played Findlay at all, and also have conference tilts at Air Force and home against Bemidji. Winning all eight games would give UAH 27 points, which might be enough to win the CHA this season. A rough nonconference stretch awaits to start 2002, with a home date with MSU-Mankato followed by road trips to No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha and No. 1 St. Cloud State.
Bemidji State is an unknown at this point, having split with UAH and Findlay, as well as going into Wayne State for three points. Bemidji is probably in the best position to put together a run and knock the Warriors from the top of the standings. The big hurdles will be Niagara and the four-point game against Air Force.
Niagara is in a good place right now. Second place may be the first loser, but the Purple Eagles have already finished with UAH and Findlay. They have yet to play Wayne State, Air Force, or Bemidji. All games should be excellent ones for fans of the CHA and college hockey in general, although injuries have befallen the Purple Eagles lately. A groin injury has taken starting goalie Rob Bonk out of the lineup for the past few games, and freshman Ryan McNeil hasn’t looked that solid in net.
Wayne State averages a three-point weekend everywhere it goes. Can the Warriors keep it up? One wonders how they do it — after the first line of LW Dusty Kingston (9G, 8A), C Jason Durbin (8G, 11A), and RW Jack Redwood (4G, 1A), the Warriors seem to rely on D Tyler Kindle (6G, 7A), C Billy Collins (4G, 6A), and stellar play from G David Guerrera (2.70 GAA, .917 SV% in CHA play). With Guerrera the only goalie to have significant time for the Warriors, one wonders if he’ll handle the long haul of the season, with upcoming games against Air Force, Findlay, Niagara, and Bemidji. However, if he stays on the pace he was in Huntsville last weekend, CHA Beat figures he’s up to the task.
Who’s the CHA Beat pick for the eventual winner of the R.H. “Bob” Peters Cup? It’s hard to answer at this juncture, but we’ll go with … Wayne State, but just barely over Bemidji.
Let’s look at common opponents: Niagara split with UAH this year, but UAH is obviously not as strong as in past years. Bemidji also split with UAH, but they took three of four points at Wayne State earlier. Wayne soundly defeated UAH, which neither of the other two contenders have.
The only concern for Wayne State is depth. Their starting six are stronger than anyone else’s unit, but past that, there is a noticeable drop to the eyes of the CHA Beat. From the stats, Bemidji State seems to have better depth across the board. What separates the two seems to be goalie play. Grady Hunt and Dannie Morgan are both good for BSU, but Guerrera is simply outstanding.
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, good goalie play beats good offense, and vice versa.
The lone conference tilt is Air Force going to Ohio to play Findlay. We figure the Falcons can swoop down and take four points from the Oilers, after being battle-tested for the past six weeks outside the conference.
The nonconference games see Lake Superior State coming downstate to play at Wayne State and MSU-Mankato to come to the snowy South to play UAH. As Wayne State is fresh off of an exhilarating road sweep against UAH, we figure they have enough momentum to rock the Lakers all the way back to Sault Ste. Marie.
MSU-Mankato will probably appreciate the Southern hospitality as these old D-II rivals hook up again in Division I play. There may be snow on the ground in Alabama — as a local said, it looked like “grits in a fan” on Wednesday — but Mankato will still warm up to the ice at the Von Braun Center and come away with a four-point weekend.
Bemidji State will play an exhibition against the USA Under-18 National team. We at CHA Beat hope the Beavers can remind these whippersnappers that they’re not in college just yet.
Good luck and good health to each CHA team this weekend.
USCHO covers Men's D-I all week long on the Men's D-I Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.