Okay, figure this: the CHA should be close this year, and Bemidji State has taken a point in every conference game it’s played. Four games, seven points. If it keeps that pace up, so much for my prediction of the regular-season champion having just 30 points this season.
Bemidji is riding the hot play of its defense, which is anchored by goaltender Grady Hunt. All three of the Beavers’ wins have come in conference play, and if you’ll remember, coach Tom Serratore held Hunt out of games against Minnesota State because every conference game is important.
Of last weekend’s sweep, Serratore said, “The whole weekend, it was playoff hockey.”
He Wuz ROBBED!
Speaking of Grady Hunt, let me say that I’m disappointed that he didn’t win the USCHO.com Division I Defensive Player of the Week. Sure, Mike Mantua of Western Michigan scoring a goal was absolutely cool, but Hunt saved 63 of 64 shots last weekend in helping the Beavers win both games against Wayne State. Mantua scored a goal, but he didn’t even start both games last weekend.
Tom Serratore didn’t lobby me to vote for Hunt, but he did have this to say:
“Grady was on his A-game, and we’re just playing well defensively as a team. We’re not giving a lot of rebounds and keeping opponents on the perimeter. We need it right now as we haven’t found our offense. Our offense will find itself, but at a time like this, the defense is playing as well as its ever been.”
If Hunt had won, it would have marked the first time that a non-Big Four player won the POTW. And heck, Hunt wasn’t the only good candidate — Joel Bresciani of Alabama-Huntsville put in a hat trick on Friday night and netted another for a four-goal weekend in anchoring the Charger offense in their sweep of Air Force. Both were the runners-up, which makes me wonder what CHA players are going to have to do to gain national notoriety.
The home sweep by the Beavers was undoubtedly impressive. It would take an overtime game — imagine that! — but Bemidji did reinforce its early-season dominance of the conference with the wins.
Tom Serratore had nothing but praise for the Warriors.
“Guerrera was awesome,” he said. “Those were two brick walls out there. If you wanted to watch great goaltending and a ton of skill, Bemidji was the place to be this past weekend. Wayne State gave us two tough games, and we were lucky to win.”
Hunt certainly stood tall, but freshman Ryan Huddy also made his presence known, scoring the game-winner in overtime on Saturday night with just a minute left in the game.
“The thing with Huds is that he’s a freshman, but he’s playing like a veteran,” Serratore said. “He’s getting more playing time and being rewarded for his great play early.”
Huddy is one of three Bemidji freshmen to win the conference’s Rookie of the Week designation so far this season, joining Kelly Shields and Peter Jonsson.
“Those are guys that we didn’t know if they’d really pick it up or not,” Serratore said “It’s a good freshman class right now, there’s no question. Jonsson’s one of our steadiest defenseman. Kuharski has a lot of skill.”
This class makes it two in a row for Serratore as the sophomores are strong too, highlighted by Andrew Murray and Riley Riddell.
“It’s a good class, but it just follows up a really great class year,” Serratore said. “Our league is credible right now with kids when we’re recruiting, and they want to come play in the CHA. It makes for a better league.”
Air Force came in and played well at times, but home ice really spurred the Chargers as they swept at home.
“This is our ice, and we have a duty to win here,” said captain Mike Funk.
The wins continued the Falcons’ tough string into Huntsville; the lone Academy win came in a 1989 trip to Alabama.
“It was a good weekend, but we’re still not doing the little things right all the time,” said Alabama-Huntsville assistant coach Lance West. “When we made mistakes, Air Force capitalized on them.”
Home ice does help the Chargers, as they play on the slowest ice in the conference by a long shot. If those two games were played at the Cadet Ice Arena, it’s likely that the result would have been different.
Hand it to the Oilers and to Jamie VandeSpyker — after the first four RedHawk shots went in past the senior goaltender, who was pulled after six minutes for freshman Jon Horrell, the Oilers took a 9-4 loss that could have demoralized the team.
The next night, the Oilers traveled down to Oxford for the other end of the home-and-home weekend and played Miami to overtime in their own barn, losing 4-3 when Greg Hogeboom scored with just forty-nine seconds left in sudden death. Give the Oilers credit for coming back with two goals in the third to tie the game, and give VandeSpyker a lot of credit for shaking off a bad night and saving 37-of-41 shots.
This weekend, Air Force will host Findlay. This will be a battle of two young teams who have had solid starts to the season. Findlay’s chemistry is vastly improved, and it’s clear that the team is playing with heart, but frankly, so is Air Force.
The Falcons kept playing hard in Huntsville last weekend, and they undoubtedly will want to defend the home nest. This should be a fun series to watch, and I’m going to call a split.
Wayne State will host Alabama-Huntsville this weekend. Sure, anyone can look at the CHA standings and be somewhat surprised that the Warriors are on the bottom, but it’s early and the Warriors were on the road. The Chargers have yet to win on the road this season, and the Warriors have been perfect on home ice.
That would be a formula for a Warriors sweep but for the fact that that the Detroit boys have played four straight weekends, the last three on the road. The Chargers have kept their confidence through their tough opening stretch, and their legs should be a little fresher. The X-factor will be Jason Durbin, who played last weekend against Bemidji.
“He looked solid out there,” Serratore said. “That line always gets their opportunities. They’ll get going.”
Look for a split.
Bemidji will take their four-game unbeaten streak out East to Clarkson, who recently fired coach Mark Morris. That the Golden Knights came out and played well against Harvard and Brown speaks well for them, and though the team has rallied around interim coach Fred Parker, the Beavers do have the top goaltender in Division I right now.
“We’re going to go out there and represent the league as best we can,” Serratore said.
You can expect that the Beavers will give a good effort. Another split.
Lastly, Niagara travels to Western Michigan for a single game against the Broncos. Dave Burkholder’s team has to like the thought of returning to the Wolverine State after a split at Michigan State two weekends ago. Here’s hoping that the Purple Eagles can defend CHA pride and keep Mike Mantua from repeating as Player of the Week. We’re going with a Niagara win.