KEARNEY, Neb. — An overtime goal off the stick of Myles Kuharski prevented the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers from facing the Wayne State Warriors for the third year a row in the finals of the College Hockey America tournament, as Bemidji State defeated the Chargers 2-1 in overtime at the Tri-City Arena.
The Beavers came in with ample experience in overtime play, setting an NCAA record with 14 overtime games in the regular season. Tom Serratore looked a bit drained afterward.
“This is our 15th overtime of the year,” said Serratore, “and you’re never comfortable going into it. You never know how it’ll come out. I don’t know if it gives us an advantage.”
Kuharski put in the game winner after 12:30 of overtime in transition.
“It started off with a shot down in our end,” he said. “We came up 3-on-2. I tried to pass it over to Travis Barnes but it came back to me and I just shuffled it in there. It was kind of a garbage goal, but that’s how it tends to go in overtime.”
Grady Hunt made all the big saves the Beavers needed, but passed the credit to his teammates. “I think it’s the guys, they’ve been helping me stay focused. They keep me pumped up in practice and in games.”
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Serratore of his team’s ability to recover for Sunday’s title game. “We played 71 minutes tonight. We played the late game and have a longer recovery. Tomorrow’s going to be such an emotional game. I think it’s neat that both teams had to win three games to get into the finals. We’re both in the same situation, but we’ll have a little less time to rest.”
The Beavers scored in the first period when they won a draw back to John Haider, who fired the puck through a screen and past Charger goaltender Scott Munroe at 12:27 of the first. Jared Ross tied it at :19 of the third following a Jean-Guy Gervais major penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct gave the Chargers a five-minute power play that carried into the third.
Ross said, “I just went to the net and Schreiber got the puck through. I just got my stick on it. We were just trying to get bodies in front and hope that he can’t see it.” Hunt said that he “didn’t see the puck until it was too late.”
Charger head coach Doug Ross was clearly upset postgame. His team had reached the finals of the CHA tournament for each of the first three seasons of league play, and missing their fourth and an opportunity to avenge last year’s overtime loss to Wayne State left him looking drained.
“We brought a lot of emotion, spirit, and intensity into the game. You’re going to be disappointed to lose in overtime. I thought we had a lot of chances to win it. It was a game that I felt could have gone either way. You’re disappointed, but you have to give Bemidji a lot of credit. We played four out of five games into overtimes with them this year. We were pretty close with them this year.”
Doug Ross also addressed the frustration of coming up fruitless yet again in the tournament. “It’s always been tough to get to the final with the teams we’re playing against. I was hoping to get there another time. Everyone’s gotten so much better over the last couple games. I figured we’d have a lot of one-goal games in the tournament. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Kuharski noted that the Beavers had come together in the second half of the season. “We were pushing for second place in the league. We knew after losing at home against Alabama the first night that we’d have to tighten up. We’ve been just staying in our systems and letting them work for us.”
Said Jared Ross of the loss, “You just want to get revenge, and it’s all you can think about. You see that last puck go into the net in overtime and it just kills you. You want to come back and do better next year.” It was only the second loss for UAH when holding a team to two goals or less.
Doug Ross praised Grady Hunt’s play in net. “He’s been playing well for them lately. We had confidence that we could beat him, but he made some good saves and we couldn’t finish. Karlis Zirnis had an open net and shot wide. They capitalized on an odd-man rush late in the game.”
Serratore said that his team would have another challenge with Wayne State in Sunday’s final. “Wayne State is so good defensively, and they’re big and strong. We’ve got to drive the net better and generate some scoring chances. I thought we were a little more perimeter tonight. They’ve got some experience with all those seniors, and they’ve been here before. We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”
The Beavers lost a player for the rest of the game for the second straight season. Bill Methven was disqualified Friday and missed Saturday’s game. Said Serratore, “It’s tough because it throws your chemistry off. You have to do a lot of line-matching. It was tough to roll four lines tonight with only the three centers. Myles ended up the odd-man out for us and was the biggest guy on the ice for us last night.”
“We have a wonderful tradition of hockey and have the winningest program in college hockey,” said Serratore. “I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. We might not be the dominant team that we were in the small-college world, but darn it, we’re going to be as good as we can be.”
The Beavers face the Warriors in the finals of the 2003 College Hockey America tournament at 5 p.m. at the Tri-City Arena in Kearney, Neb. The game will be broadcast live on the Internet at www.kkbj.com.