Parity, Sweet Parity
There are many ways that the 2001-2002 College Hockey America season could have gone. I don’t think that anyone would have guessed the current situation: three teams tied atop the conference standings as February dawns.
Yes, a three-way tie currently exists at 14 points between Bemidji State, Niagara and Wayne State. It’s a far cry from the last two seasons, when the CHA regular season titlists have finished above 30 points. Each of the teams has 10 conference games left, and it promises to be a wild ride.
The wildest of the rides begins this weekend in northern [nl]Minnesota, where the Purple Eagles travel to Bemidji to face the Beavers. These two teams will tie up this weekend and again in two weeks when the Purps will host back in New York. With the teams tied but not having played each other, how is the CHA Beat to get an edge on this tilt? We’ve decided to look at common opponents.
There are two common opponents that should give us some insight on the relative strengths of Bemidji and Niagara: Alabama-Huntsville and Findlay. NU has finished their season series with UAH, while BSU will travel to Alabama the last weekend of the regular season. Both teams have played all four games with the Oilers. The combined records? Niagara is 5-3, Bemidji is 3-2-1. It gets tougher and tougher.
The CHA Beat is going to go with the trend: these two teams will split this weekend. If one team can pull the sweep, they’ll maintain their hold on the top — obviously ratcheting things up another notch. This will be a fun series to watch over the weekend.
First And Not Forgotten
We must not focus only on the BSU-NU tilt; another conference scrum lies in the offing. Just when you think it couldn’t get any tighter in the CHA, it just might — if Findlay can sweep Wayne State this weekend. Unlike the rest of the CHA, Findlay and WSU are but an afternoon’s drive apart, so the schools will play a home-and-home set this weekend and again in two weeks.
Do common opponents tell us anything? They don’t tell us much, as the only good data point is CHA cellar-dweller Air Force. UF is 2-0 against USAFA, while the Warriors went 3-1 this season. With common opponents not helpful, we have to go with our fickle friend, Mo Mentum.
Fresh off of a sweep of non-conference foe Canisius, Craig Barnett’s Oilers should have a fair amount of momentum going into this weekend. Bill Wilkinson’s men are on a three-game losing streak, dropping two last weekend against cross-state rival Northern Michigan after losing the series finale against Air Force.
The CHA Beat is going to ride Big Mo this week: Findlay will sweep both games. The best trend of the season has to be going with tying up the standings as much as possible, and a UF sweep would put them just a point behind Wayne State in the standings. Coupled with our predicted split above, this would put five teams within five points at the top of the standings.
Fourth And Not Forgotten
Truly, fans of the UAH Chargers miss their team. Due to a long non-conference stretch, UAH hasn’t played a conference foe since the last weekend of 2001, which was also the last time the Chargers skated out in the Von Braun Center. While fans of the Blue and White await next weekend’s Homecoming tussle with Findlay, the Chargers travel to St. Cloud State to play the Huskies, ranked fifth nationally by USCHO.com’s voters.
How do we see this series going? The Chargers played tough games against Minnesota State-Mankato and Nebraska-Omaha to start 2002, but they’ve been off the last two weeks. While Doug Ross has had his men hard at work on the ice, they’re bound to be a bit rusty.
The biggest story for the CHA Beat is the ice surface. SCSU has an Olympic-sized sheet in their building, and that alone would normally pose problems for a CHA team used to playing on an NHL-sized surface. Factor in the weather in Huntsville of late; it’s been in the 70’s down in Alabama. That hasn’t made for good, fast ice; one wonders how the combination of big, fast, open ice and two weeks off bodes for UAH.
Let’s call up our friend Mo one more time. UAH has won only one of their last six contests, while SCSU has gone 2-3-1 in their last six. While the Huskies already have more losses in 2002 than they did in the fall of 2001, we see the Huskies pulling a home sweep. If the Chargers have a shot, it is on Friday night, when being fresh could provide an advantage. All CHA fans should pull for a Charger win, but we at the CHA Beat just don’t see it happening.