As USCHO.com Editor-in-Chief Scott Brown said, “This has to be right up there with [Arizona Cardinals running back] Thomas Jones breaking his hand going for the phone.”
I think something bit me, given the results, but I had this bump on the bridge of my nose on Wednesday … and when I woke up on Thursday, I was Billy Crystal in Monsters, Inc.: My one eye! Yep, an eye swollen shut. (Yes, Mom, I went to the ER.)
So yeah … this column was typed with one eye swollen up behind my face. If there are oddities, I blame them solely on that.
Goalies, Goalies, Goalies
I swear, the only CHA teams with a stable goaltending situation are Air Force and Bemidji State. Those Serratores … but really, everyone else does have questions.
Alabama-Huntsville: Senior Mark Byrne holds the school record for career shutouts with eight, but he hasn’t reached the level of his sophomore season since breaking both wrists last year. At some point, it becomes a point of concern that Byrne may never be his old self.
It’s not all Byrne’s fault, however. He started the bulk of the team’s games during their insane opening stretch, where Denver and Minnesota each hung seven goals on him while his defense pretty much left him flapping in the breeze.
All of this wouldn’t be any kind of concern, though, if not for the stellar play of freshman Scott Munroe. Munroe now holds a school record of his own, having saved 56 of 60 shots in his start against Niagara last weekend. Munroe’s statistics are better than Byrne’s across the board, although there is a difference in the competition level that the two goalies have seen, since Munroe didn’t travel to Denver.
Is there a competition? Sure. Is Munroe likely to pass Byrne? In the words of Chargers assistant Lance West, “That’s an awful lot to ask of a freshman.”
However, Munroe has given the team pretty much everything that they’ve asked for so far, so keep an eye on this as the season progresses.
Findlay: If you’ve read this column for the last year, you know this was coming: free Kevin Fines!
Fines, who won the CHA Rookie of the Year award two years ago but received only 40% of the playing time last year, broke out last weekend when he finally got on the ice. When senior Jamie VandeSpyker had a stranglehold on the job, coach Craig Barnett said, “Kevin’s doing anything he can to get on the ice right now.”
And how. Fines saved 57 of the 60 shots that Holy Cross flung towards his net. The big question has to be, will Fines keep the job? When Barnett addressed the subject earlier this season, he noted that he’d play whoever was at the top of his game. Right now, I’d say that Fines is it for the Oilers.
Niagara: Say it together now: “Whither Rob Bonk?”
Bonk was left home by Niagara coach Dave Burkholder last weekend, and it wasn’t because the big junior was injured. “Bonker came in and asked me if this had anything to do with his last game [against Western Michigan]. I told him, ‘No, it has to do with your whole season.'”
The only constant in the Niagara pipes has been change. After a solid relief stint for the Purple Eagles, sophomore Ryan MacNeil came along with freshman Jeff VanNynatten to Huntsville last weekend. Of MacNeil, Burkholder said, “I couldn’t leave him behind and bring Rob given how Ryan played against Western.” MacNeil didn’t get the start in either game, but relieved VanNynatten after the first period on Sunday.
(Note: Initial reports that MacNeil replaced VanNynatten in overtime on Saturday were entirely false. The freshman was in the entire game, and as I called that game on radio, I have no idea how the box scores were fouled in the first place.)
Wayne State: Maybe it’s the curse of being the preseason CHA Player of the Year. Maybe it’s the pressure of being expected to carry the burden on his shoulders. Or maybe it’s something else — but in any regard, something’s just not right with David Guerrera. I saw him with my own eyes a couple weekends ago, and when the Charger offense — which had been one of the most anemic in the nation early in the season — tacked nine goals on the senior from St. Leonard, Que., I began to wonder if something was wrong.
Freshman Matt Kelly was in net against Michigan Tech for Friday night’s contest, signaling that perhaps a change was in the offing. Guerrera returned to the pipes the next night, but the homestanding Huskies chased him with five goals on just 23 shots in the first two periods. Marc Carlson replaced Guerrera in just his second game since coming back from testicular cancer.
The Warriors are the Road Warriors this week, traveling to Alaska-Fairbanks. Which goalie will Bill Wilkinson use against the Nanooks? We’ll have to wait and see.
Some have asked what was up with Matt Ryan leaving Niagara earlier this season. According to Burkholder, “We had a horrible game our first night against Air Force, so I benched three of our forwards, including Matt, in an effort to send a message to the team. The next week, he came to my office and told me that he was leaving for juniors.”
At the CHA Beat, we say that it’s better to have guys that want to be a part of your program than those who don’t want to be there at all. Good luck, Matt, but don’t come crying to the CHA Beat if it doesn’t work out for you.
Crystal Ball Time
All looks into crystal balls are crapshoots … let’s see how the One-Eyed Bandit does peering in there.
Niagara faces Colgate on Thursday night. The Raiders aren’t setting the ECAC on fire, but with nothing but question marks in the Niagara net, the outlook for the Eagles is pretty cloudy. Too bad — you can be sure that Joe Tallari, Barret Ehgoetz, and Jason Williamson will have one of their typically-outstanding performances. Watching that line work together is a lot of fun.
Air Force hosts its annual tournament, in which the Falcons bring Division III schools to Colorado Springs. Things may be tough after two 7-0 defeats last weekend, but look for the Falcons to fly high with a sweep.
Alabama-Huntsville travels to Sacred Heart this weekend. The question is whether the Chargers will play defense with heart for 60 minutes. Until the Chargers make a stronger commitment to team defense for the entire game, their goalies are going to be peppered with shots. No matter who is in net for Doug Ross, he can’t afford to have him see 60 shots. If the defense shows up, expect a sweep; if not, it could get ugly.
As stated above, Wayne State travels to the 49th state to face Alaska-Fairbanks. With the concern over the goaltending situation and the rough travel — the Warriors left on Wednesday, rather than the traditional Thursday for CHA road trips — look for the best the Warriors can pull out to be a split.
Findlay faces MAAC “foe” Bentley this weekend. Go back a couple of years, and the MAAC dissed the Oilers when the young program was making the switch to D-I, forbidding member schools to play them. Ever since, Barnett’s boys have taken MAAC opponents out behind the woodshed. No matter who is in net for the Oilers, look for the team to come back to Ohio with two wins.
Lastly, Bemidji State faces Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs are woofing pretty big, and with reason: they have defeated Denver and tied Colorado College already this season, and they’re tied for second in the WCHA standings. However, the Beavers do have a white-hot Grady Hunt and an offense that is showing signs of shaking off the effects of a summer’s hibernation. With a home-and-home set scheduled, expect the Beavers to pick off the Bulldogs once on the weekend.