The Season So Far
Some say that College Hockey America doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. CHA fans usually note with glee that their conference has an outstanding record against the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, against which the CHA is 42-17-4 overall. With the advance of Niagara to the 2000 NCAA tournament and the sporadic rankings of CHA teams in the various national polls, it’s evident that the CHA is starting to slowly garner the respect of the country.
Of course, the CHA’s impending automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament — provided that the CHA maintains its six-team membership — has done much to increase that respect. Hopefully in writing regularly about the CHA, USCHO.com and I can do our part to bring CHA further to the forefront of NCAA Division I hockey.
The story of the early season promises to be the usual tumble: a season-long struggle between Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville. The Purple Eagles and Chargers sit tied atop the CHA standings with six points apiece after last weekend’s tilt in Huntsville.
Niagara would seem to be the team to beat, as the Purple Eagles have played solidly all season and have a +12 scoring differential under first-year coach Dave Burkholder. Niagara has three 10-point scorers so far, with forwards John Heffernan and Nick Kormanyos joined by defenseman Chris Sebastian.
With only three seniors, the young Eagles promise to soar now and in the future; Kormanyos leads a pack of sophomores that includes outstanding netminder Rob Bonk, who looks to shake off a five-goal game this week against Merrimack.
Alabama-Huntsville’s record may be a bit deceiving, as its -4 scoring differential is masked by a 6-4 record. This has to cause some concern for UAH head man Doug Ross, who has watched his team go only 3-3 in conference play. Offense has come from all parts of the team, but the star so far is young Jared Ross, son of the head coach and already a two-time CHA Rookie of the Week.
Injuries have ravaged the Chargers, with wingers Mike Funk and Gerald Overton out for the next few weeks. Injured ‘keeper Mark Byrne has come back solidly [3.00 GAA, .917 SV%] to help out sophomore netminder Adam MacLean [3.87, .873] as the season has progressed.
Wayne State, Bemidji State, and Findlay form the second tier of CHA early on this season. Wayne State’s four points came against a very young Air Force team, and their -17 goal differential does not bode well for the Warriors, who won the 2001 CHA Frozen Five. Junior goalie David Guerrera has had a tough start [4.47 GAA, .874 SV%], but his offense is showing some promise on the other end. Junior left winger Dusty Kingston has seven goals so far, second only to Niagara’s Kormanyos.
Bemidji is perhaps the best story in this season, having already won as many games this season as all of last season: four. While the Beavers are just 4-5-1 on the year, they split with MSU-Mankato and took two tough losses against mighty Minnesota. Bemidji split last weekend’s series with Findlay, and hosts Alabama-Huntsville this weekend; it remains to be seen how much the Beavers have learned from their early-season games against top opponents.
The Beavers are young, with only two seniors, but they are talented. Sophomore Dannie Morgan is the story in the net, holding his opponents to just 2.52 goals per game with a .901 save percentage. The offense is on fire, with Marty Goulet leading the CHA with 17 points, backed up by 13-point scorers Andrew Murray and Jeff McGill.
Findlay had an auspicious start to its season, ripping off two wins against current MAAC co-leader Mercyhurst. The Oilers then hit a rough five-game skid, dropping two apiece to Niagara and MSU-Mankato before their rumble with Bemidji in Ohio. Findlay only played 27 games in 2000-01 after the MAAC schools dropped the Oilers in a controversial move last season, and a full schedule should help the Oilers keep up their momentum this season.
Findlay’s given up 16 more goals than its has scored so far, although throwing out the MSU-Mankato series puts the Oilers down by only four. The goalie situation is really up in the air now, as sophomore Kevin Fines [4.03 GAA, .893 SV%] and junior Jamie VandeSpyker [4.67, .881] haven’t sorted out the No. 1 job between them. The Findlay offense is balanced but not yet as productive as coach Craig Barnett would like, with senior defenseman Brant Somerville leading a pack of five Oilers with five points apiece.
The bottom of the CHA is manned by the Air Force Academy. The young Falcons have missed 2000-01 CHA Player of the Year Marc Kielkucki between the pipes, as sophomore Mike Polidor has had a rough go of things so far [4.87 GAA, .839 SV%]. Freshman Zachary Sikich [2.50 GAA, .922 SV%] has shown some promise, but the Falcons need consistent play in net to return to form.
What hasn’t been missing for the Falcons is the offense. Forwards Spanky Leonard, Andy Berg, and Derek Olson all average over a point a game, and Shane Saum is tied for third in the CHA with six goals. The offense has kept Air Force in most of its games, as the Falcons are only down nine goals so far.
This Weekend’s Slate
The lone conference matchup this weekend is between Bemidji and UAH. UAH hasn’t been good on the road at all this season [1-3-0, -13 goal differential], while the Beavers have been stout at home [3-1-0, +10]. This would seem like a home sweep for the Beavers, and I’ll go ahead and pick the Beavers to win both games, vaulting Bemidji into a three-way tie atop the conference with UAH and NU.
The nonconference games involve Merrimack visiting Niagara and Bowling Green traveling to Wayne State. It’s obvious that Merrimack misses coach Chris Serino, who is currently battling throat cancer. While Niagara joins all of college hockey in wishing Coach Serino all the best, expect the Eagles to dominate at home and even the CHA’s season record against Hockey East at 2-2.
Buddy Powers will bring his Falcons into Detroit, where the Warriors are winless so far this season. However, the CCHA invaders are winless on the road in 2001-02, so something has to give. This one is good for a split, which would garner the CHA its first victory against the CCHA this year.
Good luck to all the CHA teams this weekend.