This Week in the CHA: Oct. 31, 2002

Chargers Stumble Out of Gate

What’s up with Alabama-Huntsville? Sure, the Chargers have played tough teams, but did anyone expect this?

“Winning these games wasn’t our highest goal,” Charger coach Doug Ross said last weekend. “Getting out and playing well and staying with these teams was. We wanted to come out, play hard, represent ourselves and our conference well. If we win, great.”

The Chargers did play well against Wisconsin, but last weekend’s series against Denver was tougher on the team. Maybe it was the altitude?

“I know when we played here last time, I was sucking wind by the third period both nights,” Charger defenseman Ian Fletcher said. “It’s certainly an advantage for them, because they’re used to it.”

“Our big guns just aren’t firing now,” Charger assistant Lance West said. “When they get going, we’ll be fine.”

West is right: the Chargers just have six goals on the season, and three of those belong to Karlis Zirnis. Tyler Butler, who led the conference in scoring last season, has a single assist to show through four games.

But weren’t things supposed to be better? “I figured that we’d go 2-4,” West said. “I hoped that we’d split with Wisconsin and then have one of the goalies steal one of the other four games.” That clearly hasn’t happened, although the Chargers could have taken either game against Wisconsin.

Something to remember, though, is that Wayne State struggled out of the gate last year, going 1-6-1 in its first eight nonconference games. Look where the Warriors ended up.

Heading Into … Overtime

What is it with Bemidji State and overtime? Four games into the season, and the Beavers have yet to finish a game in regulation.

“It was a great series, you know?” Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. “I thought they were two good games. We put a lot of shots on net.”

Is it frustrating not to get a decision? “There’s not much you can do. We’re playing good hockey right now, and we’ll see what happens later. Our defense is good, our power play got five goals last weekend. We just keep on playing and see what happens.”

Of course, one has to wonder what this does to a team’s psyche. Serratore didn’t seem worried. “Everyone goes through good times and bad times. It’s a six-month season. We’ll just try to get healed up and get things going.”

Speaking of healing, it seems that Travis Barnes won’t have as much healing to do as first though. “There wasn’t a tear like we thought there was,” Serratore said. “He could be back for us by the time we go down to Huntsville in January.”

Barnes isn’t the only injured Beaver, as Grady Hunt missed last weekend with a groin injury. “We might could have played Grady this weekend, but we decided to hold him off until conference play starts,” Serratore said. “We want to err on the side of caution. Last year [with only an at-large bid at stake], maybe we play Grady against a WCHA team. This year, conference play is just much too important.”

The Beavers do play in the WCHA this weekend, as they travel to Minnesota State. “It’s tough to play these WCHA teams, because you’re almost always on the road. It challenges you, though, and it shows you where your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s different on the Olympic ice, going from the small ice to the big ice.”

It’s clear, though, from talking to the coaches this season that conference play is paramount. Denver coach George Gwozdecky noted that last weekend: “Our focus right now is on Wisconsin. Just like UAH, we used this weekend to get ourselves ready for conference play.”

So Close … Yet So Far Away

Niagara went to North Dakota last weekend and nearly stole itself a game, coming up short by just two goals in each contest. Was that frustrating for the Purple Eagles? “We were in both games in the third period,” said coach Dave Burkholder. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a W either time.”

The Eagles were really close on Friday night, taking a 2-0 lead before giving up two shorthanded goals in 14 seconds. “If you take away their two shorthanded goals right there back to back, we might win that game,” Burkholder said. “I almost called a timeout, but I didn’t, and we scored, which we really needed.”

Burkholder’s team will host Air Force this weekend in the conference’s first action of the season. “It’s a great weekend if we come out and win two games. We haven’t won the last five times they’ve come here. We just have to come out with spirit and defend home ice.”

Andy Berg is a force to be reckoned with, says Burkholder. “The last five games that he’s played against us, he’s killed us. He’s established himself as one of the best power play guys in the country. Stopping him is going to be tough.”

Niagara has its own offensive juggernaut, however, in Joe Tallari, who’s tied for sixth in Division I in scoring. “The coaches at NoDak were really praising him. If you get him down low with just a little space, he’s going to score some goals. We lost him his freshman year to an injury, but he’s back now, and we’re really starting to see the real Joe.”

How does Burkholder plan to try to win this weekend? “We have to establish tempo. We’ll really have to do that with the forecheck. If we can do that, we can.”

How important are these games to Niagara?

“If you’re going to establish yourself as a contender, you’ve got to win your home games, and that’s what we’re going to try to do this weekend,” said the coach.

A key to winning is going to be play in net, where junior Rob Bonk and freshman Jeff VanNyatten have split duties. “I haven’t really had someone step up and establish himself as a No. 1,” said Burkholder. “Both of them are playing adequately. I’ve been pleased, though. I’d rather have someone claim the net and then spell him with the backup based on the schedule. So far, though, we have two guys battling.”

Warriors Win and Lose

Wayne State lofted its second straight CHA banner to the rafters at home, and then went out and swept St. Lawrence. But it wasn’t all roses for the Warriors.

“It was a weekend of the good and the bad,” said coach Bill Wilkinson. “We played well against St. Lawrence, but losing Jason [Durbin] was hard.” Durbin came out for his first shift on Saturday night and left soon thereafter after having his kneecap pop out of place. “He’ll be out two to three weeks.”

How does a team replace its captain? “It hurts to lose any good player. Of course, last weekend we didn’t have Chris Vail or Nick Shrader last weekend, and they’re both back. We’ll probably move Dusty Kingston over to play in Durbin’s spot. That’s why you have more than just the 12 forwards.”

Wilkinson, a St. Lawrence alum, seemed happy to play his alma mater. “It was good to get back to two-and-two,” he laughed, referring to his all-time record against SLU. “I was just pleased that we did well enough to get two wins. I’m really happy with how we’re playing right now, even though it’s early in the season.”

Wilkinson takes his team out east this weekend. “Vermont’s always a difficult place to play. They’ve got a great crowd and a fun college atmosphere. Our kids are going to enjoy playing in that environment, since we don’t have that at home. At home, we have a lot of empty chair backs, and they don’t yell very loud.”

Sunday, the Warriors travel to face the Big Green. “I’m looking forward to being down at Dartmouth, too, and it’s probably the most beautiful campus in the country.”

“Anytime you play a good nonconference schedule, it makes your team play harder, and it’s a good atmosphere.”

Findlay Comes Up Just Short

Findlay looked like it would beat nearby Bowling Green State last weekend, but after leading 3-1 with just 11 minutes remaining, the Oilers gave up three goals to lose to the Falcons, 4-3.

“We played real well, and we’re happy with our guys,” said coach Craig Barnett. “We had a really strong second period. IF we could have a fourth goal to go up 4-1, we could have won the game. We had some opportunities, but we couldn’t get it going.”

A new face for the Oilers is Sean Kotary, who started off at BGSU before going to juniors for a year and then transferring to Findlay. “Sean was obviously looking forward to playing Bowling Green, and he was able to get on board with a goal. Our power play right now has been effective for us, and he’s part of that.”

Kotary isn’t the only pleasant surprise, according to Barnett. “Kris Wiebe is a surprise for us. He’s been scoring a couple goals every game. Other than him, the offense is really spread around.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Rigel Shaw isn’t leading the Oilers in scoring. “Rigel’s been struggling, sure, but I think that’s just part of a larger problem with our team. He’s been showing signs of getting going.”

Barnett said that the Oilers have been inconsistent so far. “We’ve been a Jekyll and Hyde team. When we’re focused and working hard, we’re a great team, but when we lose focus, we’re a really poor team. We hope that we’ll come out and play hard for sixty minutes and put ourselves in a good position to beat Colgate.”

That inconsistency carried over into Findlay’s exhibition on Tuesday against the U.S. under-18 team. “Those guys did to us what I thought we did to Bowling Green on Friday,” Barnett said. “I thought we stunk for the first 40 minutes. We played with a lack of emotion, and they took it to us. Down 4-1 going into the third, and the guys just seemed to react to what we said during intermission.”

The Oilers’ third period scoring was capped off by Steve Traver, who scored shorthanded. “By that time, we had the momentum, and they were starting to panic. We had the puck pinned deep in their zone. Traves came out in the slot and put in a good hard slapper.”

Barnett has continued to make use of both Jamie VandeSpyker and Kevin Fines in net. “They’re both playing extremely well. They’ve kept us in it. As long as are goalies are doing that, we’ll win some games.”

Barnett looks for redemption and consistency this weekend against Colgate. “Tomorrow night’s a new game. Colgate’s one of the stronger ECAC teams. They’ve got some skilled players. We just want to come out and play well like we know we can.”