This Week in the CHA: Feb. 13, 2002

Ties That Bind

Valentine’s Day is a day of love … and crass commercialism. Blessedly, the other 364 days can be days of love in and of themselves, so I guess we can give today over to the forces of crass commercialism. (Oh, you mean we do that around Christmas, too? Nuts.)

But rather than a story of crass commercialism, how about a story of love and teammates? Sure, all hockey players love the game — would you go diving into the corner for a puck if you didn’t love it? Few I know would.

The love between parents and their children is a strong bond. The love between teammates — often expressed through hi-jinks, hot foots, and other pranks — can be as strong. Two Bemidji State hockey players are bound through such bonds. Freshmen Ryan Huddy, a forward for the men’s team, and Carly Napier, a forward for the women’s team, share a love of the great game of hockey with their fathers.

“Watching my dad play as a kid was great,” Huddy said. “I thought I’d give it a shot.”

“He went right into the NHL at 18 and won the Cup when he was young,” Napier said, “so he thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I didn’t get to see him playing growing up, but I know he had fun.”

Charlie Huddy played 18 NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, and St. Louis Blues, racking up 99 goals, 354 assists, and 785 penalty minutes as a defenseman.

Mark Napier played 14 NHL seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota North Starts, Edmonton Oilers, and Buffalo Sabres, picking up 235 goals, 306 assists, and 157 penalty minutes as a right wing.

The connection? Both men won the Stanley Cup as Oilers. The elder Napier even played on a line with some guy named Gretzky.

“It was fun for him to be playing with Gretzky,” Carly said of her dad. “He enjoyed it when he’d be getting points when Gretzky’d just find him open.”

That the offspring of two teammates would find themselves on the same hockey-mad campus might seem, at first, to be Fate — or at least meticulously planned by two dads who were teammates for parts of three seasons. That presumption’s wrong.

“When I got here, I went to dinner with Tom (Serratore) and my dad,” Ryan said of the meting. “Tom mentioned that Carly’s dad was down here. That’s how we figured it out. We just missed them, but we ended up meeting later on.”

That connection of teammates, of Beaver hockey players, has grown strong. Ryan says, “We go and hang out. She’s got photos of her dad in dorm room, and it’s great to see that. We have a connection that most people don’t get to have.”

Carly agrees. “Ryan and I have gotten to be friends. We hang out with the guys on Saturday night. It’s tough given our schedules, but any time we’re both home, it’s good to get together and kick back.”

The pedigree of the two is obvious. Any time I’ve talked with Tom Serratore this season, he’s raved about this Huddy kid — how special he is, how he works hard. When Bemidji played UAH, I saw that first hand. It’s a series that the younger Huddy will remember. “It was a great series, and I enjoyed the atmosphere down there,” Ryan said. “I just wish that we’d gotten the win.”

Both have gotten more playing time than they expected. “I’ve gotten so much more than I expected,” Carly said. “That was something that my dad said to me, ‘Don’t expect to get a lot of playing time, you’re a freshman.’ I’m playing on the second line and playing on the penalty kill. I’m not complaining about the ice time.”

Ryan feels similarly. “I’ve gotten more time than I expected.”

Both have high goals for the rest of the season. Ryan said, “I just want to keep playing well and work on my defense so I’m out there at key times of the game.” Carly said, “I want to keep improving as much as I can the rest of the season.”

Work … improvement. That’s a love story all right … love of the game, passed down from fathers to sons and daughters.

Weekend Matchups

Wayne State at Alabama-Huntsville

The big CHA matchup this week happens in Huntsville, Alabama, as Wayne State, unbeaten in six straight and coming off a sweep of Bemidji State last weekend, travels south to take on the Chargers. It’s No. 1 v. No. 2, a matchup seen in each of the last two CHA tournament finals.

Several Chargers have remarked to me over the years that “we’re tired of seeing these guys,” and I can understand what they mean. Of late, the Warriors have had the Chargers’ number, going unbeaten in all five matchups last season and the first of this season. After the Chargers’ win in Detroit earlier this season, center Jason Hawes said, “It’s like a huge weight is off our shoulders now.”

Some were concerned in CHA circles when the Warriors got off to a slow start. I liken the Warriors to a locomotive, though: maybe a little sluggish to start, but once they have a head of steam behind them, they’re riding the rails and ready to take down anyone in their path. Little wonder, then, that the Green and Gold Express rolls into Huntsville primed to push for a road sweep and a share of the CHA lead.

Standing in their way are the Von Braun Bullies, a tough group of horses ready to run on their own. In each of the CHA’s three seasons, the first team to 20 conference points went on to win the CHA regular-season crown, and the Chargers aim on making that four-of-four.

The weekend matchup should be a solid one. Both are senior-laden teams with solid goaltending, good team speed, and the ability to score goals. Comparing the teams via KRACH says that UAH (68.40) should defeat WSU (60.92) 53% of the time. The two split in Detroit, and while the Warriors are hot, they are on the road. This will be a fun series … and a split.

Niagara at Findlay

The other conference matchup pits the two teams that I never can seem to peg: the Purple Eagles of Niagara and the Oilers of Findlay. The Oilers went into Bemidji and played two solid games last weekend, but they were unable to come away with a win in either game, pushing their winless streak to 11 games. Home games against Niagara could be just what the doctor ordered.

It’s tempting to take the Purple Eagles for a road sweep, as they can score in bunches and are facing the worst defense in the conference. The kids from New York are probably also tired of everyone — including me — doubting them this season, and putting a good weekend together down in Ohio could launch them for a stretch run at a first-round bye in the tournament.

KRACH predicts that Niagara (29.09) will defeat Findlay (12.93) around 69% of the time. The Oilers struggled on the road against the Purple Eagles a few weeks ago, and at some point, the bounces have to go the way of the gritty Oilers. This one will be a split.

Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha

Bemidji takes on its final non-conference foe before hosting two straight CHA series. It’ll be a tough row to hoe for the Beavers, though, as they face a solid band of Mavericks down in Nebraska. It’s just a month until the Beavers return to Nebraska for the CHA tournament, but I figure the Beavers will do better in their second return. KRACH has UNO (138.6) beating BSU (37.66) 79% of the time.

If I know Tom Serratore, he’ll have his charges ready to play, but if anyone’s banged up, he’ll be saving them for next weekend against UAH. Look for the Beavers to come home with another couple of close losses.

Quinnipiac at Air Force

It’s MAAC-CHA one more time this season. Air Force has struggled against the MAAC this season, being shut out by Fairfield, a program so sickly that the school is now shutting it down. But this is a tough set of young men in Colorado Springs, and they’ve started to play the kind of late-season hockey that they seem to play each and every season.

Yes, Quinnipiac is 17-7-1 on the season … but that’s mostly against MAAC competition. Yes, Air Force has struggled, but that was earlier in the season. The Falcons proved that they can take it to tough teams when Alabama-Huntsville was in town two weeks ago. That, plus the home-ice and -altitude advantage, combined with just a bit of a hunch, leaves me predicting an Air Force sweep.

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