This Week in the CHA: Dec. 12, 2002

Thoughts pecked at a keyboard while being thankful for binocular vision …

Alabama-Huntsville at Sacred Heart last Saturday night was easily the craziest college hockey game that this columnist has ever seen. The Chargers were on the power play for the final 11:47 of the game, and overall had 14 power-play opportunities. The only time the Chargers scored on the power play in the third, though, was when the homestanding Pioneers had just three skaters out on the penalty kill.

What happened to the power play?

“At the end,” said Huntsville assistant Lance West, “we were just shooting from the perimeter. We didn’t want to send anyone down low, because they could easily have gotten hurt.”

Captain Mike Funk echoed those sentiments, saying, “We were really just throwing the puck in from the outside. We had the lead, and we didn’t care about getting the seventh, eighth, or ninth goal. There’s no reason to run up the score.”

It was close to a record for the Chargers, but not quite; the school record for combined penalty minutes comes from a brawl with Bemidji State (185 PIM — I was at that game, and remember it … fondly?), but the UAH-SHU matchup only saw 169 PIM.

Only 169 PIM. Only a team like the Chargers could say, “Only 169 PIM.” After all, UAH set a school record last year regarding penalties: its 17.89 PIM/G were an all-time low, despite being 11th in the country.

Where did this one get out of hand? The CHA Beat asked Charger defenseman Ian Fletcher, who glibly responded, “Oh, about the time they dropped the puck at 7:00.”

Fletcher might be right, but it wasn’t until 5:35 of the first that referee Robert Melanson raised his arm for the first call of the night. The madness truly started at 14:25 of the first, when Alabama-Huntsville defenseman Jeremy Schreiber held the face mask of Sacred Heart’s leading scorer, Martin Paquet. Paquet responded by throwing a couple of punches, becoming the first gentleman of the night to be escorted from the ice for an early shower.

All in all, four players were excused from the festivities. Two, Paquet and the Chargers’ Doug Watkins, received disqualifications for fighting. Two, the Pioneers’ Marc-Andre Fournier and Konn Hawkes, were given game misconducts for checking from behind. All in all, seven majors were handed out.

“It would have never been like this in juniors,” said West, “but college hockey just isn’t about fighting. The referee did as good of a job as he possibly could in keeping it under control. I have a lot of respect for [Sacred Heart coach] Shaun Hannah, too. It could have been worse.”

What was amazing was that the Chargers kept their cool, picking up only 58 of the 169 PIM handed out. “You’ve got to hand it to our guys,” said West. “They kept their anger in check and didn’t let it get out of hand.”

Youth is Served

This is a short column this week, mainly owing to the fact that the end of the year becomes a living nightmare for me. However, it’s not too bad — only three teams are in action this weekend, and everyone else is taking off for their Christmas vacations early. Coaches are making their rounds for recruiting, and they’re using the CHA’s automatic bid as an enticement to bring in young kids to the league.

But before it’s all said and done this weekend, two teams with a bunch of freshmen already enticed to come to the CHA will square off in Niagara for control of the standings going into the break. Bemidji State has never won at the Dwyer Arena, including its loss in the CHA tournament last year. However, Grady Hunt has never been this hot, either. Even after last weekend’s blowout at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth, Hunt’s GAA is still a solid 1.67. (Consider that Hunt had five goals hung on him in 30:22 of game action; overall, the junior has allowed just 13 pucks past him all season.)

Newcomers are key to both teams. Myles Kuharski is second in Bemidji’s scoring pantheon, and Ryan Huddy isn’t too far behind. The play of Peter Jonsson on defense has been a solid help to a blueline corps that lost Jamie Mattie and Clay Simmons in the offseason, and Kelly Shields has been a solid netminder when Hunt has missed time and Dannie Morgan has struggled.

Over at Niagara, Jeff VanNynatten is making a run to replace Rob Bonk in net, and Andrew Lackner, Brian Hartman, and Brian Mills are already solid contributors on the Purple Eagles’ blue line. Jason Williamson may not be scoring much, but his physical presence allows Joe Tallari and Barret Ehgoetz to create space and score.

Youth is being served at both schools, and this series, like all CHA tilts, is important to both teams. A win or two ties for the Beavers puts them even with Alabama-Huntsville atop the standings going into the break; a win plus a tie or a sweep puts them in the top spot. If history repeats itself, however, the Purple Eagles will leapfrog into a tie for second with Bemidji.

It’s early, to be certain, but this weekend’s series will be a nailbiter for both squads. I see it going for a split, personally; Hunt has played solidly, but no Beaver has scored ten points this season. While the Niagara offense isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, Tallari and Ehgoetz will get their points. The key should be the netminding for Niagara; whoever Dave Burkholder sends out there needs to play well for the Purple Eagles to stay in it.

This week’s CHA Beat Jinx stuckee, E. Gray, sees it going like so:

“I have to tell you, I *love* the Bemidji Beavers. No other players hath such great courage than to measure up to the teasing these valiant young men probably get. I mean … every time I write “Beavers split,” I figure [ GM] Jayson Moy is going to send me the flame to end all posting. Plus, I like the livery & mascot. As for Niagara, while BSU is pretty secure at the top of the CHA, the Purple Eagles have fallen into mediocrity. I had high hopes … especially with a goalie from Fenton; but the signs are not good.

“It’s a conference matchup this week, and I don’t see the Beavers suffering from a home-ice advantage. I’ll take the Beavers to sweep and be on top of the CHA by Monday. You can call this a ‘heart-pick,’ because … like I said. You gotta respect men who are willing to be called Beavers.”

Into the Joe

The other matchup is one that could be fun for both teams involved, as Notre Dame travels to Detroit to play Wayne State in Joe Louis Arena. Unfortunately for both teams, little marketing has been done by local groups, and if 1,000 fannies are in seats, it’ll be a miracle. This is a shame; college hockey should be well-showcased on the stage where the defending Stanley Cup champions play. Alas.

This is a single-game matchup, and given the struggles of the Warriors’ David Guerrera of late, I’m going to go with Notre Dame. Rob Globke is scoring nearly a goal a game, and Morgan Cey is solid in the Irish nets. Sources report that Guerrera feels fine but is mentally struggling a bit. Here’s hoping that he snaps out of it, but if the Alabama-Huntsville offense could hang nine goals on the reigning conference Player of the Year, what will the Fighting Irish do?

E. Gray sees it going like this: “As for Notre Dame at Wayne State at the Joe: look out! This is probably the toughest game to pick. Both can be relied on to be thoroughly inconsistent. The CCHA tends to take it to CHA opponents, on the whole — Alaska-Fairbanks gored Wayne State last weekend. Meanwhile, Notre Dame, who I watched in person at Yost a few weeks ago, can have awful luck and sloppy execution that betrays its talent (Rob Globke, to drop names).

“WHICH Notre Dame team and WHICH home Wayne State team will show? The trend suggests that the CHA team will lose to any given CCHA opponent; and ND is coming off a sweep of ‘mighty’ Bowling Green, after being itself swept by Fairbanks. If it weren’t for Wayne’s own problems, I’d say that the Irish are ready for a let-down game, but Morgan Cey can be da brix in goal and I KNOW the rest of the Iron Brigade are ready to debut at the Joe. Notre Dame takes it. (Although I will cheer for the Tartars!)”

The next time you’ll drum with the CHA Beat, it’ll be after Christmas. Here’s hoping that you get all that your heart desires. From my family to yours, Season’s Greetings. Hug your family; you never know when you might see them again.