This Week in the CHA: Nov. 14, 2002

Upset City, Here We Come!

First, one must ask the questions: were last weekend’s defeats of Michigan State by Niagara on Friday night and Ferris State by Wayne State on Saturday night truly upsets? Stalwart fans of the CHA would probably say no, but given the league’s nonconference record this season, one would have to say yes.

After all, the CHA, even after the statement-making wins, is just 4-21-2 against the “Big Four” conferences. And the other two wins came against schools from the ECAC, which has fallen behind its peers of late.

Are those two wins a harbinger of things to come? Fans of the CHA have to hope that it signifies a turnaround, because if not, the league will gain the derision of fans and commentators around the country, and frankly, that’s not good for the growth of college hockey.

How did the upsets happen? Wayne State won because it capitalized on the mistakes Ferris State made defensively on Saturday — as you would expect from a senior-laden team like the Warriors. Niagara won with solid goaltending from Rob Bonk and scoring from Joe Tallari and linemate Barret Ehgoetz.

Now, last week someone said, “It’s tempting to think that Joe Tallari and one of the Eagles’ goaltenders will get hot on the same night, but the Eagles have been routinely outshot by better competition. They will have to play a bit tighter to come away with a win.”

What do you know? Niagara stayed even in shots on goal, Bonk stepped up while playing in his home state, and Tallari had a hand in both goals.

Maybe that crystal ball isn’t broken after all …

Stop The Presses! Extra! Extra!

Bemidji State broke the streak! And no, I’m not referring to the overtime streak — that was broken against Minnesota State earlier. No, the Beavers’ 14-game winless streak is over, ended with a win on Friday and a tie on Saturday night at Findlay.

So yes, the team that’s 1-2-5 leads the conference with three points. What can you say, other than “It’s early”?

That’s about it. Gazing back into that crystal ball: “Look for the Beavers to rally around having [Grady] Hunt back on Friday and break through for a win, and then expect the Oilers to bear down and pull through on Saturday.” Sure enough: Bemidji’s offense produced more opportunities on Friday, but Findlay came back and chucked 41 pucks towards Hunt the next night.

Of course, it had to end in a tie. But what with Bemidji hasn’t this year? One has to wonder if Vegas is laying odds on the over-under for the number of overtime games the Beavers will play this season. Regardless, the Beavers are 1-1 in games that only go the regulation time, and you have to imagine that the team can still feel good about itself.

Sweet Home Alabama

One suspects that the Alabama-Huntsville guys enjoyed the weekend off after three straight rough weekends on the road against WCHA opponents. I’ve been heard to say that the Chargers are the best winless team in the country, but there are only three winless teams left: the Chargers, Princeton, and Iona.

The Chargers host Air Force, a team they haven’t lost to at home in over a decade. Is that streak to continue? I wouldn’t bet on it.

The penalty kill has been a nightmare for the Chargers this season, as they’ve only killed 71% of opponent power play. They host the Falcons, who’ve scored on 25% of power-play opportunities, and Andy Berg, who already has nine points on the power play. This is not a recipe for a good weekend for the homestanding team, but hey, the Falcons should find that kind of nest to their liking.

Looking into the Crystal Ball

Sure, talking about it has probably cracked it now. But why not keep on going back to the well?

First, let’s look to the nonconference tile of the weekend, in which Craig Barnett’s Oilers play a home-and-home with the Miami RedHawks.

The RedHawks are a quality team, 9-3-0 on the season. The two schools have a common opponent in Bowling Green. Unfortunately for Findlay, that doesn’t bode well: the RedHawks took the Falcons 3-2 and 6-1, and the Falcons beat the Oilers 4-3.

Then there’s the fact that Enrico Blasi’s team has a solid senior goaltender in David Burleigh. Jamie VandeSpyker should face his toughest test of the season this weekend. Look for the Oilers to keep it close on home ice and struggle on the road but lose both games.

The premier conference matchup is current leader Bemidji hosting two-time defending champion Wayne State. All overtime jokes aside, these are two evenly-matched teams. They both have solid goaltenders, good defensemen who can play on both ends of the ice, and skilled forwards. The Beavers are 5-2-3 all time against the Warriors, so the overtime trend could continue.

This series could be decided on special teams. The Warriors only kill 71% of their penalties, and the Beavers score on 21% of their power plays. In the other direction, the Beavers kill 82% of the time and the Warriors score 23% of the time. With the teams close, let’s go with a win on Friday and a tie on Saturday for the homestanding team. The Warriors are still without co-captain Jason Durbin, and that will hurt.

To look to the series already discussed in Alabama, the Falcons should have some confidence after going in and taking down a tough Niagara team. Whether the Chargers have any confidence is another matter entirely, although holding Minnesota to a 4-2 score after the 12-1 beating the night before has to help a little.

Look for Air Force to come out and play solidly on Friday night, with superior special teams the difference. The Chargers have generally played better on Saturday nights this season, and home ice and pride should kick in by then. Call it a split, with both teams spending a lot of time in the penalty box. Air Force is fifth in the nation with 21.6 PIM/G, and the Chargers are 15th at 17.3. The two schools usually play rough-and-tumble, so if you like lots of hits, jet on in to Huntsville.