This Week in the CHA: Dec. 27, 2001

CHA Beat

It’s a light week for College Hockey America teams. Only one conference matchup looms for the weekend, but it’s a hot one. Three weeks ago, Alabama-Huntsville traveled to Detroit to face the Wayne State Warriors. The UAH crew must have felt confident going into the weekend: the Chargers sat atop the CHA standings, and last year’s squad took all eight points in regular-season play against WSU.

That confidence was shattered by the outstanding play of a much-improved Warrior squad, as WSU picked up three points with a 4-3 win on Friday and a 3-all tie on Saturday. It didn’t start off auspiciously for the Warriors, as the Chargers came into Detroit and picked off two power-play goals in the first period on Friday. But the Warriors, led by goalie David Guerrera, pulled it together and ripped off four unanswered by Billy Collins, Travis Rycroft, Nathan Rosychuk, and Nick Shrader for the win.

In the second game, Guerrera was solid again between the pipes, but his skills were matched by sophomore Charger netminder Adam MacLean, who has struggled after a solid start to the season. The pair held their opponents to a goal apiece during the first two periods, only to surrender two goals each in the third. An extra attacker provided the final Warrior goal.

What does this bode for the rematch? For one, UAH will be eager to treat its guests as it was treated up in Michigan. UAH has a tenuous hold on the CHA lead, and after this weekend, it will be February before the Chargers play a conference opponent. Doug Ross’s men are going to need more than a simple series split to keep their lead-dog position.

Bill Wilkinson’s crew, on the other hand, has to have bolstered its confidence. In the preseason, the CHA coaches selected Wilkinson’s Warriors to be the best squad, and after a tough non-conference stretch in November, the Warriors have had mixed CHA results. Coming to Alabama and picking up two more points from the Chargers would go a long way towards gaining the top spot when all six CHA teams meet in upstate New York in the spring.

We at CHA Beat are going to take a series split, with UAH pulling out the victory on Friday night and WSU getting their revenge in an overtime game the next night. The home ice promises not to be as kind to UAH as it normally is, as cold air has come down from the north and sent all the native Alabamians scurrying for warm clothing.

Now that CHA teams have, on average, played between a third and a half of their conference schedule, who’s the top team in College Hockey America? In this writer’s eyes, it is Niagara.

Yes, UAH fans, your team leads the CHA. However, the Chargers have already played half of their conference games, and they’re barely averaging a point a game (1.1, to be exact). The Purple Eagles, on the other hand, are a point behind but have played two fewer games.

Wayne State fans, we hear your cries — you’re telling this poor engineer to do the math and divide six into eight, and see that Wayne State has more points per game than anyone else. ‘Tis true, but a sweep of Air Force pads the Warriors’ stats a bit, as it does for the Chargers.

No, Air Force, we aren’t trying to slight you: it’s just that you’ve lost all four conference games so far. True, you’ve played two of the better CHA teams, but with just 20% of your schedule complete, how can we properly evaluate you?

Bemidji State, we hear you, too. Taking three points from the Warriors was a good run. But you’ve split your other two series.

And Findlay, we know you split with Bemidji. But you had issues with the Eagles, losing three of four.

Of course, this is all rather preliminary. Air Force could storm out after toughening up against non-conference competition and really surge in the CHA. Wayne State could knock off UAH this weekend with a road sweep and return home to Michigan with sole possession of the conference lead. Findlay’s goaltending situation could firm up and the Oilers could play spoiler.

But it’s fun to give you all some fodder. And for my words this week — the Eagles are soaring.