This Week in the CHA: Feb. 27, 2003

Oilers Turn It Around

Findlay coach Craig Barnett has to be happy with a three-point weekend against Air Force last weekend. The Oiler program has had problems in the second half, capped by the dismissal of six Findlay players for violations of team rules.

“We’ve been happy with our play of late,” Barnett said, “but it’s definitely good to get a win. I told our guys that we went from a 14-game winless streak to three-game unbeaten streak last weekend, and we’re trying to keep that momentum going right now.”

Barnett’s Oilers travel into Huntsville this weekend to face the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, the current conference leader and a team that has already sewn up a first-round bye in the CHA tournament. Barnett had nothing but praise for his upcoming opponent.

“I’m such a big fan of the Chargers right now and how they’re playing. I think they’re the team to beat. I’m impressed with the team and think it’s a big challenge for our team. It’ll be a good measuring stick for our team going into the tournament.”

Coming into the season, Barnett was still getting over the disappointment of how last year’s team fell apart during the stretch run. Now, though, he says, “Over the last three weeks we’ve come together as a team. We’re not as deep as we’d like to be obviously, but the good news is that we’re playing well as a team. We know we’re going to be tested, and it’s a big weekend for both of our teams.”

Mum’s The Word on New CHA Member

Barnett is the lone coach on the conference’s committee to review applications by potential new members of College Hockey America. When pressed about rampant rumors of a MAAC defector coming over to the CHA, all Barnett would say was, “The people running our conference have been doing an excellent job, and I think we’re well-poised to go into the future.”

Alabama-Huntsville athletic director Jim Harris is the head of the committee, but he was unavailable for comment as of press time.

Game of the Week: Niagara at Bemidji State

There’s nothing like having a first-round bye in the conference tournament on the line to get the blood flowing. That’s the case up at Bemidji State this weekend, where the Beavers face the No. 2 conference team a week after facing the top squad.

The Purple Eagles are soaring right now, as they’ve won three of their last four conference matchups, tied the fourth, and have had just one CHA loss (at Wayne State) since the calendar ticked over to 2003. They come into the weekend five points ahead of Bemidji for the No. 2 spot and the coveted bye, and the New Yorkers have their destiny in their hands: split and it’s all but certain they’ll get the bid; win and tie and or sweep and it’s all theirs.

Bemidji, on the other hand, needs a sweep and then a little help next weekend. The Beavers not only would need to pick up points next weekend, but they’d also need UAH to do well on the road at the Dwyer and for Wayne State to continue their recent trend and hit the skids a bit.

Here’s how the teams come into the weekend:

  • Offense: Niagara No. 24 nationally, with 3.28 goals per game; Bemidji No. 51, 2.48 GF/GM
  • Defense: Niagara No. 40, 3.44 GA/GM; Bemidji No. 26, 3.14 GA/GM
  • Penalties: Niagara No. 35, 14.8 PIM/GM; Bemidji No. 53, 13.3 PIM/GM
  • Power Play: Niagara No. 22, 19.7%; Bemidji No. 48, 15.4%
  • Penalty Kill: Niagara No. 14, 83.2%; Bemidji No. 27, 81.3%

    Players to Watch:

    Niagara —

    F Joe Tallari (25-23 — 48, 16 points in last eight games)
    F Barret Ehgoetz (13-24 — 37, 10 points in last eight)
    F Chris Welch (11-12 — 23, 10 points in last eight)
    F Bernie Sigrist (9-13 — 22, 9 points in last eight)
    G Rob Bonk (7-7-1, 2.78 GAA, 2-2-1 in last five starts)
    G Jeff VanNynatten (6-7-3, 3.60 GAA, 2-0-1 in last three starts)

    Bemidji —

    F Marty Goulet (11-12 — 23, five points in last eight games)
    F Andrew Murray (7-14 — 21, six points in last eight)
    F Jeff McGill (11-8 — 19, six points in last eight)
    F Myles Kuharski (7-10 — 17, four points in last eight)
    G Grady Hunt (9-9-4, 2.72 GAA, 2-4-1 in last seven starts)

    Niagara comes in on a strong run of late, but KRACH has the two teams almost even: Niagara at 39.45, Bemidji at 39.22. Given the fact that the Beavers again played the Chargers tough last weekend — outshooting them in both games, and by a wide margin in a 6-3 loss — and the fact that this series is at home, I’m going to take the Beavers to pick up three points on the weekend.

    Findlay at Alabama-Huntsville

    It should be a fun series for both squads. As Barnett notes, his team is looking for a challenge this weekend. Doug Ross’s Chargers are looking for the sweep, as it would guarantee the top spot. (The first tie-breaker in CHA play is most conference wins, and two wins this weekend gives the Chargers 14, which Niagara can’t equal even if it wins out.)

    The Chargers have a good shot at that sweep, having defeated the Oilers all three times this season. It’s Homecoming for the Chargers, but that’s not a sign of disrespect for the Oilers; rather, it’s simply the only time when the Charger hockey and basketball programs are home at the same time.

    I honestly think the Charger offense and defense is too much for the Oilers. Findlay will play hard and give the Chargers a run for their money, but the Boys in Blue are at the top of their game. KRACH says the Chargers (83.31) would defeat the Oilers (15.08) 85% of the time … and while the Oilers will keep it close in one of those games, I’ll take the Chargers to sweep.

    (As a note: the Chargers have failed to sweep any time I’ve picked them to do so this season. I don’t know if that means that Findlay fans should be cheerful or if the UAH fans will pelt me with tomatoes when I walk in to the Von Braun Center on Friday night.)

    Air Force at Wayne State

    It’s a battle of the two CHA teams struggling to turn hard work into wins right now, as the Falcons hit Detroit Rock City to play the Warriors. The season series is 1-0-1 in favor of Wayne State, who started their CHA run with that three-point weekend in Colorado Springs.

    Jason Durbin was injured last weekend against Niagara and didn’t play the second night. Dusty Kingston may be the better scorer, but as Durbin goes, so go the Warriors. Missing the senior would be a big blow, and even if he is back in the lineup — and knowing Durbin, he’ll play if Bill Wilkinson and the medical staff will let him — he might be a bit banged up and not in top form.

    The Warriors seem destined to play on Friday at the CHA tournament, as they need to sweep Air Force and Findlay and also get a lot of help to finish the season with the No. 2 spot in conference. When the Warriors are desperate, they can play some inspired hockey, but I just don’t see the Falcons laying down in front of the Green and Gold Express, led by Maxim Starchenko, the “Ukranian Freight Train”.

    KRACH says that Wayne State (46.63) will defeat Air Force (9.951) 82% of the time. I’ll take Wayne State for a sweep, but the Falcons will keep it close.