This Week in the CHA: March 13, 2003

Still Just Six

Even if a MAAC team has applied to come over to the CHA, it won’t make it in for next season. Why? According to Findlay coach Craig Barnett, “Everyone’s schedules for next year are pretty much done, so they’d have to wait until the next season to come into the league.”

All that is known is that an application’s been put in. There’s plenty of speculation surrounding a couple of MAAC schools, but no one is going on the record. But with all the turmoil around the MAAC, including both Fairfield and Iona deciding that Division I hockey isn’t worth it, here are some questions yet to be answered:

1. Can any cost-control league make it in Division I?

2. Would anyone want to make it work even if they could?

3. Will the MAAC want to continue to call itself the “MAAC Hockey League” with only one full member — Canisius — participating?

The only Division I conference that seems ready to accept Division I hockey teams with full scholarship complements is College Hockey America. If any MAAC schools seek to make a greater financial commitment to Division I hockey, the CHA may be the only place for them.

While I’m casting aspersions at rumors, let me dispell another one, which is the amusing concept that the CHA would add a couple of member schools and let Niagara, a MAAC member, go over for hockey. That makes no sense when you consider the commitment that Niagara has to hockey. The Purple Eagles very well could make their second NCAA Division I berth after this weekend. I don’t see them taking a step back in terms of scholarships just to be buddy-buddy with their other athletic conference memberships.

All told, though, it does make sense for the CHA to try to expand. I certainly don’t see any of the six member schools giving up on hockey anytime soon, but in these days of overextended state budgets, you never know what some board of trustees might decide behind closed doors. The league would be solidifying itself in the D-I realm by adding members, and that’s good for the future of college hockey.

The Great Faceoff On The Great Plains

Okay, so I’m contractually obligated to call it that. I think it sounds kinda hokey myself, but hey … it’s the CHA Tournament, the run for the Bruce McLeod Cup, and, most importantly, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the winner.

The percentages proved themselves right in last week’s column, and the seeds go like so:

1. Alabama-Huntsville
2. Niagara
3. Wayne State
4. Bemidji State
5. Findlay
6. Air Force

A Rant

Now pardon me, but what’s the point of sending each of the six member schools to Kearney? Yes, I understand that postseason play is a lot of fun, and fans of all six programs have been planning for Kearney since July. But really … should a program that’s lost its last five games and 14 of its last 19 all of a sudden get hot for three games, run through the tournament, and represent the conference in NCAA postseason play?

It seems just a bit goofy.

The CHA used to have a Final Five format, where No. 4 played No. 5 and faced the No. 1 team the next day. I like that, but I think it’s even better to just take the top four teams. It gives you something to play for, and it rewards the teams that have had a good regular season.

Who’s Hot: Niagara (lost just one of last eight), Wayne State (won last four), Bemidji State (won four of last five)

  • Niagara is on fire, having destroyed the Huntsville defense last week. The last teams to score 14 goals or more in a weekend on the Blue and White were Denver and Minnesota. The Purple Eagles may not be in that league, but their scoring prowess is clear.
  • Wayne State finished up with two sweeps against the cellardwellers of the CHA after losing four straight to the top two teams in the conference. The Warriors seem to deserve their middle-of-the-pack status.
  • Bemidji State picked up three of four points at home against Niagara, and most importantly, held the Purple Eagle offense to just three goals in those two games. Grady Hunt and Dannie Morgan ended the season with dueling shutouts.

    Who’s Not: Alabama-Huntsville (lost four of last five), Air Force (lost 14 of 19), Findlay (lost last three)

  • The most surprising slump belongs to the Chargers, who went 2-4 down the stretch and went from one conference loss — all the way back in November at Wayne State — to five. Mind you, four of the five losses were on the road, and two of the five were overtime losses, but still … this doesn’t bode well for the Chargers.
  • Air Force normally finishes strong, but while they had some good games at times, 14-of-19 shouldn’t warm the hearts of Falcons fans.
  • Indeed, Findlay did beat Alabama-Huntsville on the road, and while they’ve played with heart and grit, it hasn’t turned into victories. After going 2-1-3 in February despite scoring just 11 goals, the Oilers are 0-3-0 in March and have lit the lamp just six times.

    Game By Game

    No. 3 Wayne State v. No. 6 Air Force

    Season Series: Wayne State, 3-0-1

    The Falcons come into this one having lost five of their last six contests. They normally finish the season strong, but they hit Findlay at the wrong time and finished against Wayne State and Bemidji State, both of whom were pushing for a first-round bye and thus mentally focused.

    The Warriors did hit a bad skid in the second half, including a sweep on the road against Alabama-Huntsville and another at Niagara. Jason Durbin has missed time due to injuries, and they need their senior captain healthy in order to make a push.

    Using KRACH to pick the game gives the Warriors (50.93) an 86% chance of defeating the Falcons (8.398). The Warriors are a senior-laden team and ought to do well in the tournament, though the Falcons can hope for a reprise of last year’s battle in the semi-finals at Niagara. We’ll take Wayne State to win this one by a 4-1 score.

    No. 4 Bemidji State v. No. 5 Findlay

    Season Series: Bemidji State, 2-0-2

    The Beavers made a run for second place, doing their job in sweeping the Falcons on the road. However, neither Alabama-Huntsville nor Findlay gave the Beavers any help, and the Green and White will come into the weekend seeking to send both packing on consecutive days.

    The Oilers are still playing gritty hockey and still having problems scoring. Of course, those same words have often been said about their opponents. Given that the two teams have already gone to overtime twice this season, this could be the thriller of the tournament, as two defensive-minded, punishing teams face their closest analog in conference.

    The Beavers have only lost three overtime games all season — once to Union, twice to Huntsville — so we’ll give them a nod here. KRACH says that the Beavers (43.14) will take the Oilers (14.77) 74% of the time. It says nothing about overtime, but I will — this goes 65 or more minutes, and the Beavers win, 3-2.

    No. 2 Niagara v. Wayne State or Air Force

    Season Series: Niagara 2-1-1 over Wayne State, 3-1-0 over Air Force

    The Purple Eagles are soaring now, and last weekend’s sweep of No. 1 UAH was a confidence builder and a statement for the program. The Niagara guys also took each season series against their likely semifinal opponents.

    All that said, however, still has me thinking that Wayne State is going to give the Purple Eagles a hard time. Something interesting to note: KRACH rates the Warriors second in the conference, Bemidji third, and Niagara fourth. The Warriors have the formula to slow down the Purple Eagles: good discipline on the defensive end of the ice. If Bill Wilkinson’s taken just a few minutes to watch game tapes of last weekend, he knows that it was Niagara’s speed and aggressiveness that beat the Chargers. He has the personnel and system to counter that.

    As hard as it is to pick against the Purple Eagles in this tournament, I’m going to do so. I think Wayne State’s senior leadership seals the deal for the Green and Gold, and KRACH favors the Warriors over the Purple Eagles (43.08) 54% of the time. A win here marks the Warriors’ third-straight appearance in the finals of the tournament; WSU by a 6-4 score.

    No. 1 Alabama-Huntsville v. Bemidji State or Findlay

    Season Series: Huntsville 3-1-0 over both squads

    The Chargers looked more like the team that laid down and died against Denver at the beginning of the season than the team that took apart Wayne State a month ago last weekend. Maybe it was a desire not to get banged up with the No. 1 spot secured. Maybe it was complacency. I’d like to think it was the absence of freshman defenseman Jeremy Schreiber, who’s clearly been the best blueliner for the Chargers all season. Schreiber will be back for the Saturday game in Kearney and will be evaluated based upon that game if the Chargers win.

    The Chargers will face a team that beat them down the stretch in either the Beavers or Oilers. The Chargers will probably enjoy facing a team that doesn’t come flying down the ice as the Purple Eagles do, but both teams could stifle the Chargers’ offense given the chance.

    KRACH gives the nod to the Chargers (59.94) in either contest, and if they face long-time rival Bemidji, they’re given a 58% chance of winning. If the Beavers have to go a couple overtimes to defeat the Oilers, it may just take too much out of them to keep them from taking it to the Chargers the next night. These two teams went to overtime three times in four games, and I figure it’ll go at least one this time, but the Chargers will win, 4-3.

    Final: Alabama-Huntsville v. Wayne State

    Season Series: UAH 3-1-0

    I can hear the Charger fans shouting, “That goal shouldn’t have counted!” Whether or not you think Jason Durbin and Dusty Kingston were in violation of the crease, interfering with Mark Byrne, or dancing a Texas two-step as the puck crossed the goal line to give the Warriors a win in last year’s tournament, the reality of it all is this:

    CHA Tournament Finals Appearances

    Alabama-Huntsville 3
    Wayne State 2
    Niagara 1

    CHA Tournament Champions

    Wayne State (2001, 2002)
    Niagara (2000)

    The Chargers and Warriors are both senior-laden clubs, even if the Chargers’ best forward (Jared Ross), defenseman (Schreiber), and goaltender (Scott Munroe) are all underclassmen. The Warrior defense is stronger, top to bottom, than the Charger defense is. However, the Charger offense can now score from three lines again, as center Gerald Overton is back from injury. The Warriors offense really needs their top line to be attacking and firing to win it all.

    It’s a lot to ask for a team to win on three straight days. The Warriors have the goaltender to do it in David Guerrera, and they have the roster to support him and give him enough offense to win. It’s possible, but is it likely? I don’t think so.

    KRACH favors the Chargers in this game, and maybe this is the year that they win the tournament and go from bridesmaids to brides. I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m picking the Chargers in this game, but I have strong reservations in doing so. Mark me down as UAH 5-4.

    See you in Kearney.