This Week in the CHA: Oct. 16, 2003

The only thing in October that could be truly shocking is the Cubs winning the World Series.

Nothing in college hockey fully qualifies. Players must adjust to new systems, new players, new coaches. Freshmen are rarely more than high school players with college sweaters on their backs. The increased propensity for mistakes translates into an increased opportunity for an upset.

That still doesn’t explain Findlay’s performance at the Ice Breaker last Friday. New coach Pat Ford promised that his team would deliver a few surprises this season, but a 4-3 upset of then-No. 11 Michigan State was not assumed to be among his schemes.

Give extra credit to sophomore goaltender Jon Horrell. While the Oilers were pouring on a three-goal third period, he held the line between the pipes, earning him the Defensive Player of the Week award. Not bad for someone with less than 60 minutes of previous NCAA experience.

Bemidji Starts It Up

Last week, the CHA traveled to the North Country. Wayne State completely knotted up St. Lawrence, 1-1 and 4-4, tarnishing the Saints’ home-opening weekend.

This week, the North heads West as SLU’s travel partner, Clarkson, treks to Bemidji for a pair of games. The Golden Knights are returning the favor the Beavers paid them a year ago.

Bemidji begins its season of great expectations in about as good a shape as it could hope. Practices have gone well and everyone is in top form for the games against Clarkson.

“We want to see how far we’ve progressed over the years,” said Bemidji coach Tom Serratore. “Will we come out and play like the mature, veteran team that we are? Will we avoid the mistake that you don’t expect veterans to make? That’s what we will be looking for this weekend.”

For added inspiration, the Beavers will honor their 1983-84 team before the game on Friday. That squad had the greatest season, record-wise, of any team at any level of college hockey, going 31-0-0 on its way to the Division II Championship. Bemidji tore through the D-II ranks, outscoring its opposition, 210-71. It allowed one goal or fewer 11 times that season.

While Bemidji cannot hope to approximate such dominance at the Division I level (that honor belongs to the 1970 Cornell team), it still is the favorite to win the CHA, with three players named to the preseason All-CHA team.

“This team is a byproduct of what came before them,” Serratore said. “We stress every day in practice what happened at the Division II and Division III levels and we never want our players to forget the great alumni base we have. I’m one of them. We are a product of hockey at the small college level.”

The Beavers will try to ruin the debut of Clarkson coach George Roll. Roll, last seen piloting Oswego State to the D-III NCAA finals, has the unenviable task of stabilizing a program wrought with turmoil last season over a well-publicized scandal with its former coach, Mark Morris.

“[Clarkson] will come out with a lot of emotion, it’s going to be intense, there’s no doubt about that,” Serratore said. “They’ve got a great tradition and we respect that. But by the same token, so do we.”

For the first time in Bemidji’s history, that tradition is expected to include a D-I conference championship. There will be a different atmosphere at the John S. Glas Fieldhouse this weekend as the squad eagerly anticipates the dropping of the puck.

“The building will be electric the first game,” Serratore said. “We have a laser light show, we’ll have great attendance. It’s gonna be crazy.”

“This is the first time that we’ve had a veteran team,” he added. “We’ve had a good couple weeks of practice, but not until game time will we know what we’ve got.”

Niagara Needs to Rev it Up

Bemidji hopes for better results against an ECAC foe with a new head coach than Niagara, its chief competitor for the CHA crown.

Union, under new skipper Nate Leaman, trekked up I-87 and knocked off the Purple Eagles, 4-2.

“We played a good game against Union, but it wasn’t good enough,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “There was sloppy play on both ends indicative of being an early October game.”

The Skating Dutchmen’s sojourn left Burkholder with a to-fix list of two things: transition and power play. Niagara’s high-powered offense fell flat against Union’s penalty kill, going 0-for-7, and suffered because it couldn’t move from defense to offense smoothly enough.

“We’ve had three great, high-spirited practices this week,” Burkholder said. “We were working on multi-component drills to shore up our transitional play.”

Part of Niagara’s offensive difficulties against Union could be attributed to an injury to star forward Joe Tallari. Tallari strained his abdominal muscle the previous week in practice and played through the pain. He managed an assist and had several scoring chances, but the injuries have not fully healed.

“Tallari will tell you that he was a little tentative,” Burkholder said. “He is not a hundred percent, but we expect him to be fine real soon.”

Despite the lingering discomfort, Tallari will dress for this weekend’s exhibition against Brock. Burkholder will use the game for conditioning before next weekend’s College Hockey Showcase in neighboring Buffalo, N.Y.

Just Wondering

Is the Air Force schedule part of cadet training? Last weekend, Air Force was in Connecticut for the Q-Cup. This weekend it is in Alaska for the Nye Frontier Classic. That is as grueling a travel itinerary as exists in the country, but then again, the Falcons have an all-Division I schedule for the first time, so it is probably worth it.

The distance did not prevent Air Force from rolling up Bentley in the first game of the Q-Cup last week, and expect coach Frank Serratore to have his boys ready to play this time.

And Lastly

Nobody will ever confuse my prognosticating ability with Punxsutawney Phil, or even an Ask Zoltar machine. Surely many of you in Internet-land think you can consistently do better (I saw the Week One message board standings).

Therefore, you are hereby invited to submit your predictions to [email protected] Make your calls and give a one-sentence justification for the outcome. Be sure to include your name and hometown, so we all know just who you are.

I’ll select one response each week to include at the end of the column. Who knows, maybe you can beat the Magic 8-Ball.