This Week in the CHA: March 13, 2002

Tournament Tussles

Well, the tournament is set. The seeds:

No. 1 Wayne State
No. 2 Bemidji State
No. 3 Alabama-Huntsville
No. 4 Niagara
No. 5 Air Force
No. 6 Findlay

Back on Valentine’s Day, I picked it a bit differently:

No. 1 Wayne State
No. 2 Alabama-Huntsville
No. 3 Bemidji State
No. 4 Niagara
No. 5 Findlay
No. 6 Air Force

What changed? While Bemidji State did go on a serious slide to end the year, Alabama-Huntsville got waxed by Air Force a month ago, a result probably only Frank Serratore’s guys could have expected. A win in either game would have given UAH the No. 2 spot and put Air Force within a point of Findlay.

Important to remember in the tournament is our friend, Big Mo. Single-elimination tournaments, as we’ll see all across the country with March Madness, are all about momentum. Upsets indeed could happen in the CHA Tournament. So, let’s check the momentum of each team.

Conference Record in Last Ten Games

Air Force: 5-2-2
Alabama-Huntsville: 5-5-0
Bemidji State: 3-5-2
Findlay: 1-9-0
Niagara: 2-7-1
Wayne State: 9-1-0

Note: Air Force only has nine games listed due to its four-point game with Niagara being its ninth game.

The hottest teams coming in are Air Force and Wayne State — who would have guessed that halfway into the conference race? I might have, although I’m still impressed with the late-season push Air Force has made. Maybe Nietzsche was right about stuff that doesn’t kill you…

Let’s go in detail on each of this weekend’s games and give you more than just a score.

No. 6 Findlay v. No. 3 Alabama-Huntsville: 3:00 p.m. EST

Let’s look at two things: Big Mo, and the season series. UAH is playing .500 hockey of late; Findlay is playing .100 hockey. Of course, that one win is against UAH, but that’s the only one, as UAH won the other three games in the series.

Why UAH could win: The Chargers have the obvious momentum advantage, having a much better L10 record than Findlay and the edge in the season series. The Chargers are also hungry to avoid a losing record for the season, and beating Findlay would put them at 17-17-1. Chargers netminder Mark Byrne looked solid in goal versus Bemidji State on Friday, and he is expected to play most, if not all, of UAH’s tournament games.

Why Findlay could win: Findlay went with Kevin Fines in goal against UAH, and he only gave up six goals on 79 shots. In February, Jamie VandeSpyker gave up eight goals on 90 shots. Assuming Fines is in goal for the Oilers, they have a better chance at winning. They must come out and play a solid first period; they seem to play with a defeated attitude if their opponents take it to them in the first period. Rigel Shaw and Brant Somerville, if they play excellent games, could carry Findlay to victory.

CHA Beat selects: momentum and knowledge. The Chargers have the ability to beat the Oilers, and the certainly have the desire. The Chargers seem to be too deep to lose to Findlay, and playing on neutral ice negates the home-ice advantage the Oilers had in their lone series win. Put me down for a 5-1 UAH victory, as the Chargers always seem to be geared up for their first game in the CHA Tournament.

No. 5 Air Force v. No. 4 Niagara: 7:00 p.m. EST

Wow. You’d think home ice would serve the Purple Eagles well: after all, UAH has reached the finals in the first two years of the CHA Tournament, which were both played in the Von Braun Center. Hosting the tournament at the 4,000-seat Dwyer Arena should give the Purps the upshot, right? I’d feel confident, but for the fact that the Falcons came in and took three points from the homestanding Eagles just three weekends ago.

Why Niagara could win: It’s the host school, and the host school always gets to the championship game. It’s got Rob Bonk, who’s probably second only to Dave Guerrera in the CHA when he’s well and truly on his game. It’s got solid scoring up and down the lineup.

Why Air Force could win: Hot right now, momentum should help the Falcons in the tournament. They know they can win in Niagara, having proved that recently. They probably have an “us against the world” mentality, wanting to prove all the naysayers wrong. Well, I never was one of them; I always thought that they had this in them. Mike Polidor is back from his groin injury, although if he aggravates it, Zach Sikich is a capable player.

CHA Beat selects: It’s hard to pick against the Purps in their own barn. Something tells me, though, that the Falcons have it in them. Call me crazy, call me a fool, but I think Dave Burkholder’s not going to be happy after this one. Put me down for a 4-3 Falcons victory, and hopefully Burkholder won’t read this column before I talk to him.

Game 1 Winner v. No. 2 Bemidji State: 3:00 p.m. EST

We could look at this game two ways: if UAH wins or if Findlay wins. Why not both?

Findlay v. Bemidji:

Bemidji’s cold, but Findlay’s colder — and no, that’s not a weather report from [nl]Minnesota, where it’s been pretty warm this winter. BSU went 2-1-1 against the Oilers this year, splitting in Ohio and taking three points at home. It’s been since early January that the teams have played, but we figure the teams remember each other.

Why Bemidji could win: You’ve got solid scoring across the board, and Grady Hunt played fairly well against UAH this past weekend, even if the Chargers did pick up five goals both games. The big frustration? Marty Goulet only picked up one point last weekend, and his line will be looking to bust out in the tournament.

Why Findlay could win: Mainly, you’d have the reasons listed above, and also the added benefit of upsetting the Chargers in the first round. The Oilers would truly believe their slide was over and carry that momentum into the second round.

CHA Beat selects: Momentum is one thing. The Green Machine is another. If Findlay plays Cinderella in the first game, Frank Udovich will make sure the Oilers see stars and think it midnight in the second game. If it goes this way, I’ll take the Beavers by a 4-2 score.

UAH v. Bemidji:

This is really how I see the matchup happening, and this is a repeat of the matchup I got to see last weekend in Huntsville. Bemidji looked slow against the Chargers, and when they tried to play a power game, it backfired. The Chargers are bigger than the Beavers, and they should probably try to stick with a speed game in order to beat their old D-II foes. There’s a lot of hatred in this rivalry, and by Friday, the UAH Pep Band will have made the trip to New York to cause the usual trouble. The season series goes to the Chargers, 3-1.

Why Bemidji could win: the Beavers have got to be a bit torqued after losing both games last weekend, and they’ll want to prove themselves. The ice was slow last weekend in Huntsville, given the warm weather early in the weekend and the fact that the ice was just freshly put down, as UAH shares the VBC with the local National Basketball Developmental League team. Goulet and his wrecking crew will want to make up for lost time.

Why UAH could win: The Chargers always get psyched up to play the Beavers, and last weekend, they relished the thought of getting the No. 3 seed, drawing Findlay, and then matching up again with BSU. They should win the first game, and they’ll have the rematch they want. The Chargers also have their own goalie to ride in Byrne, and it always seems like a different Charger line steps up to take the scoring load in each game. Lastly, Jared Ross’s hat trick has to have him fired up.

CHA Beat selects: This is a hard game for me to pick. BSU and UAH are evenly-matched. I’m going to go with momentum and series advantage and pick the Chargers in a 4-3 OT squeaker. That’s going to be a fun match to watch.

Game 2 Winner v. No. 1 Wayne State: 7:00 p.m. EST

As with the Bemidji game, we could look at this both ways. Why, though? Wayne State is clearly the class of the CHA this season, with a 1.8 goals per game advantage on CHA opponents this year. Oh, let’s not ruin the fun now.

Air Force v. Wayne State:

It’s the battle of the hot teams. Wayne State went 3-1 against Air Force this season, and Air Force is just one of two CHA teams to defeat the Warriors all season.

Why Wayne State could win: It all starts with Dave Guerrera. If goaltending is what wins single-elimination tournaments, the Warriors are a cut above everyone else. Of course, Tyler Kindle leads a solid group of blueliners, and Jason Durbin and Dusty Kingston lead the league’s best offense. Most of the Warriors’ top players are upperclassmen, and in my mind, that means they’re less prone to pressure. Lastly, this team is thermonuclear hot. As a note, Guerrera, Kingston, Durbin, Kindle, and Maxim Starchenko were all CHA All-Tournament players last year.

Why Air Force could win: The Falcons will have the momentum from upsetting the home team, and the “us against the world” mindset will still fit. Either goalie is good enough to shut down the opposition on a given day. They’ve got Derek Olson on the power play, and the Warriors average almost 17 PIM a game. They won’t be expected to win, but when have they been this year, except their last series against Findlay?

CHA Beat selects: My heart screams for the upset — not because I want to see Wayne State lose, but because it would be really cool to see Air Force win. My mind remembers just how good Wayne State is. The Warriors have to remember what happened the last time they might have looked past the Falcons — a 5-3 loss. This would be a hard-fought game, and the Warriors won, 4-2.

Niagara v. Wayne State:

It would be a battle of hot and cold, away and home. The Purps would garner some excitement from the student body, and maybe they’d show up in droves on a Friday night, especially since the basketball team lost in the championship game of the MAAC conference tournament and missed the Big Dance. (Man, I was hoping they’d get in — the buzz around the CHA Tournament and a first-round game for Niagara hoops? Too much, man, too much!)

Why Wayne State could win: You’ve got all the reasons above, and then you’ve got the composite 17-7 woodshed job the Warriors put on the Purps all year. Also, Wayne State was 9-0-1 on the road this season, so you have to think the prospect of playing NU at home doesn’t faze them.

Why Niagara could win: Niagara remembers that a team went into last year’s conference tournament having been taken to the woodshed all four times by its opponent. Niagara remembers that that team took its opponent to the woodshed and shocked the audience. Niagara remembers that that team was Wayne State, who lost all four regular-season games to UAH and zapped them in the championship game. Niagara probably also remembers that a hot goalie was the reason why. They’d have to hope that Rob Bonk can do it.

CHA Beat selects: The above reasons are a good storyline, and while it might be nice to write a recap about it and ask Bill Wilkinson if his team knows how the Chargers felt last year, I just don’t see it happening. The Warriors would win this won, probably by a 4-1 score.

Championship Game: 7:00 p.m. EST

I won’t bother to go into all the permutations of this matchup; I’m going to take my likely winners and match them up in the finals.

UAH v. Wayne State:

Why Wayne State could win: I don’t know … it couldn’t be because the Warriors are the best team in the CHA, could it?

Why UAH could win: The Chargers remember last year’s conference tournament story. The roles are reversed this year, even to the seeding for UAH. The differences? UAH tied Wayne State on the road, and the injury bug has the Chargers down.

CHA Beat selects: UAH’s players really want that winning season — winning out the tournament would put them at 19-17-1. Do they have enough? I doubted the Warriors early, and I was wrong. I’m not going to doubt them again, even though I see UAH’s probability of winning as somewhere around 35%. Put me down for a 4-3 Wayne State win, and a really exciting final.

Notes: I leave for upstate New York at 3:30 a.m. Thursday (ouch), and I’ll be at all the games. Keep checking back with all weekend: Miguel Rodriguez and I will be covering all the games, and I’ll be keeping a reporter’s notebook and maybe writing a feature or two as the weekend progresses. If you want to keep track of the tournament action, here’s how to listen in:

Air Force: KUBL AM 1300 in Colorado Springs on the radio, and a FansOnly Internet broadcast as well.

Alabama-Huntsville: Charger Radio broadcasts online. Yours truly is the color man.

Bemidji State: KKBJ FM 103.7 in Bemidji, and they broadcast online.

Findlay: No listed broadcast site.

Niagara: WJJL AM 1440 broadcasts road games, and it appears that they’ll broadcast the whole tournament with a Shoutcast stream.

Wayne State: I can’t find a link to broadcasts, or where they would be.

If any of you CHA fans have updates to the above radio links, send ’em in to me or the great staff of editors here at USCHO, and we’ll try to get them up there. I know that everyone can’t travel to Niagara this weekend, but I do want everyone to be able to keep up with it all.