This Week in the CHA: Oct. 10, 2002

Stumbling out of the Gate

College Hockey America members Air Force and Niagara traveled to Dayton, Ohio, for the Lefty McFadden Invitational. Both teams are nicknamed for birds of prey, but they were the hunted rather than the hunters last weekend. The two Ohio teams in the tournament, Miami and Bowling Green, showed that the home turf would be well-defended.

Niagara opened up that first game with a tough 4-1 defeat. With so much turnover in the offseason, one would probably presume that the last thing to gel for such a young team would be the special teams.

The Purple Eagles’ power play went 0-for-4 against the Falcons, who netted goals on two of four chances with the man advantage. Hannu Karru scored the lone Niagara goal, and in Bernie Sigrist and Joe Tallari, he might have consistent linemates on the Purple Eagles’ second line.

Regarding Air Force’s game against the RedHawks, my mother always told me: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s always a bad sign when you relieve the starting goalie after the first two periods; it’s an even worse sign when you replace the backup with the starter after just seven minutes in the third.

As was the case with the Falcons last year, they’re playing a lot of young talent. The tournament saw three sophomores and a freshman take the ice on the Falcons’ blue line; only one of the sophomores [Steve Mead] saw action in more than two-thirds of Air Force’s games last season, and junior Buck Kozlowski only played in 14 games last year. With 19 goals allowed, it’ll certainly be a long year for senior defenseman Brian Reaney and goalies Mike Polidor, Tyler John and David Goodley.

Niagara defeated Air Force in the consolation game at the E.J. Nutter Center, 7-3. Joe Tallari nabbed a hat trick for Niagara, and his line scored four goals overall.

Sigrist-Karru-Tallari should be a solid line, and Chris Sebastian, Barret Ehgoetz, and Nick Kormanyos are also certain to garner respect around the CHA. The third and fourth lines are young, however, and likely to see a jumble until Dave Burkholder can find groupings that click.

In what may be a harbinger of things to come, freshman goalie Jeff VanNynatten started for Niagara, stopping 24-of-27 shots on the night. Youth was served on defense, as freshmen Brian Hartman, Andrew Lackner and Brian Mills all got starts to go with sophomore Casey Handrahan and juniors Dave Hominuk and Andrew Nahriniak.

If this trend continues for the Eagles, look for them to struggle in their tough nonconference schedule until the young guys get used to Division I play, and expect the load on Rob Bonk to be eased.

Bemidji Defense Shines Without Simmons

When the news came out that Clay Simmons was leaving the Bemidji State program for personal reasons, there was reason for concern on the Beavers’ blue line. This summer saw the Beavers losing their appeal on the NCAA’s eligibility ruling for Jamie Mattie, and with Mark Phenow lost to graduation, the Beavers looked a bit thin.

Of course, that’s before Anders Olsson equaled his goal output from last season with two goals in an exhibition win over Manitoba. Olsson and fellow Swede Peter Jonsson each scored two points in the 4-2 victory. The pair of European defensemen should be strong in filling the Beavers’ blueline needs this season. What many thought might be a weakness could become a strength as the season progresses.

Home Sweet Home

CHA schools seem to have a problem when they open the season on the road. Including the twin losses in the McFadden, CHA teams are 7-12-1 when they start their season on the road, but are 11-6-1 when they begin the year on home ice.

That doesn’t bode well for Alabama-Huntsville, which starts the season next weekend at Wisconsin, but with Wilfrid Laurier coming to Findlay and then Wayne State this weekend, perhaps the CHA can recover from a rocky start.

Wayne State Gets Respect

In each of the last two Division I men’s polls, Wayne State has been the sole CHA member gathering votes. The CHA was not well-represented last season, but this is a trend that could change.

The Warriors have gained a lot of respect in college hockey in the last two years, and Alabama-Huntsville also has an opportunity to make noise with opening series against Wisconsin, Denver and Minnesota. By the end of the season, perhaps the CHA will be able to drop Rodney Dangerfield from retainer.

Weekend Slate

This weekend, three CHA schools play exhibitions. As previously noted, Wilfrid Laurier will visit Findlay and Wayne State in consecutive tilts on Friday and Saturday nights, providing CHA fans along I-75 an opportunity to get their fill of hockey this weekend. Air Force opens their home slate with a Sunday afternoon visit from Windsor.

The big games for the CHA this weekend really involve Niagara. Canisius and Niagara are hosting the Xerox College Hockey Showcase in Buffalo, N.Y., and No. 3 Michigan and No. 13 North Dakota are coming to town.

With two games under their belt, Niagara’s young players have started to get a feel for how they play as a team. Are the Purple Eagles up to the challenge? Wins would be an upset, but as Wayne State showed the CHA last year, testing your mettle in a tough nonconference fire can harden your team for a title run.