Leave it to Air Force to upset the CHA Beat’s prediction of a No. 2 seed for Alabama-Huntsville. Leave it to Air Force to finally live up to all the touting that we’ve given it over the year, even when its on-ice play in conference hasn’t merited it.
Leave it to the CHA to be its usual wacky self.
The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers flew out to Colorado Springs to face the Falcons at the Cadet Ice Arena. After sophomore netminder Mike Polidor (9-12-1, 3.67, .879%) pulled his groin during warmups for Friday night’s game, freshman Zachary Sikich (3-3-0, 3.84, .884%), a favorite of the CHA Beat, took the ice for the Falcons. Sikich looked strong in net in relief of Polidor back when the Falcs played in Alabama in the fall, and he looked solid this past weekend.
Alabama-Huntsville’s goalie situation had been good: junior Mark Byrne (9-9-0, 3.56, .895%) hadn’t give up more than four goals in a conference game since December against Niagara, an 8-1 defeat. Byrne, who broke both wrists this offseason, started slowly but has come on to play well in the last few weeks, and had extended the UAH career shutout record to eight in January against MSU-Mankato. But Byrne and sophomore Adam MacLean (4-7-1, 4.35, .864%) each gave up six goals in games against the Falcons.
The sweep gave Air Force new life for its run at the fifth seed in the upcoming CHA Tournament. AFA will need some help, but as it’s just two points behind current No. 5 Findlay, it could happen. Not bad for a team that lost its first seven conference matchups this year, eh?
The losses crippled UAH’s chances at the No. 2 spot. With six points to make up on Bemidji State and Niagara positioned between the Chargers and their hope for a first-round bye, it seems likely that the Chargers will be playing on Thursday night.
Purps Step Up
Into the breach left by the southernmost team in the CHA stepped the Purple Eagles of Niagara. They are just three points behind Bemidji for the No. 2 spot, but can they hold up? This season, as Rob Bonk has gone (16-10-0, 3.00, .884%), so have the Purps. Dave Burkholder’s boys have been mercurial all season, which might fit the hotheadedness of their coach. They broke a four-game conference losing streak last weekend with a sweep of the Beavers, leapfrogging into the No. 3 spot.
This weekend, they’ll face the upset-minded Falcons, whom they shut out 4-0 in Colorado back in January. Which Rob Bonk will show up for the game? Fans of the Purps can only hope it’s the injury-free, focused Bonker that CHA fans have come to love (or hate, depending on one’s affiliations). When he’s good, he’s very good; but when he’s bad, freshmen Mike Pataran (0-1-0, 2.99, .884%) and Ryan McNeil (1-2-0, 4.88, .805%) get looks.
Wayne State is clearly the class of the CHA this season, living up to the billing given the Warriors by the CHA coaches in the preseason. At 12-2-2, they’ve played the most consistent hockey of any CHA team this season. They hold their fate in their hands: they end the season with series against the current No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. While it’s possible that Bill Wilkinson’s team could slide down to second, we don’t consider it very likely. After all, this is a team on a six-game winning streak.
Findlay has its last shot to upset the CHA apple cart this weekend as host to Alabama-Huntsville. The young Oilers were swept in Alabama by the Chargers, and it’s very possible that it could happen again. The key for the Oilers will be the play in net: Jamie VandeSpyker (7-11-1, 4.05, .889%) has had a tough run of late, and Kevin Fines (3-7-1, 3.57, .903%) hasn’t seen as much ice time as we would think. The CHA Beat thinks Fines the better goalie, but Craig Barnett is going with the man he thinks can best do the job. Who are we to disagree?
With just four games left for each team, the heat is on. The tournament bracket will be a cinch to predict after this weekend’s games, but we have to get through them first, eh?
Air Force at Niagara
Common sense says that the Purps will sweep the Falcons at home. Common sense hasn’t been a very good guide this season, however. We asked Dave Toller at the Air Force Sports Information Department about Polidor’s injury status. The answers: Mike Polidor is questionable for the weekend, and it’s pretty likely that Zach Sikich will play at least one game, if not both, depending on how Polidor feels.
We’d like to take this opportunity to wish Polidor good health, but in the meantime, we think this gives Niagara an advantage. The Purps have the No. 8 offense in Division I, and while Sikich is a good goaltender, he’s but a freshman. Given the instability of the goalie situation and the fact that Niagara is the home team, we give NU the edge and figure that they sweep at home.
Alabama-Huntsville at Findlay
Which Chargers team shows up: the one that played the Oilers two weeks ago or the one that played the Falcons last week? Barnett hopes for the latter. This is, however, a battle between the two worst defensive teams in the CHA, and that probably won’t change this weekend. Expect two high-scoring affairs, and Findlay should pull at least a split at home due to the Chargers’ injury situation and general streakiness.
Wayne State at Bemidji
Bemidji went into Detroit back in the early winter and stole three points from the Warriors. Wayne State will likely be looking to do the same in Bemidji. The story here is Bemidji Offense v. David Guerrera. Guerrera got his first career shutout last weekend against Findlay (we can’t believe it took him this long!), and he’s improved steadily as the season has progressed. Bemidji is good enough to come away with a point, maybe two, but that’s it. We’re going to pick a tie on Friday night, knowing Bemidji’s propensity to fall back on Saturday night. It’s hard to pick against a team that’s gone 10-1-1 in their last 12 conference tilts, as the Warriors have.
To all fans headed to the CHA Tournament: the CHA Beat will be there! If you want to catch up with the Beat, shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set something up. Nothing like March in Niagara.
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.