As trick-or-treats go, this was about as big of a trick as they come.
On Halloween, the University of Alabama-Huntsville announced the indefinite suspension of three of its hockey players, junior winger Keith Rowe, sophomore center Bruce Mulherin and freshman winger Chris Martin. The three players had been arrested and charged with third degree robbery, the details of which have not been made public.
The decision came down from the university’s athletic department and coach Doug Ross scrambled to replace the players, all of whom were expected to make important contributions to the staff. Not exactly the way to open a conference schedule.
But when it was all over, Air Force’s bag of Halloween treats — a depleted Charger lineup — proved stuffed with rocks. The Chargers swept the weekend, 5-1, 6-4.
“I challenged everyone to come together as a team and try and pull through this,” Ross said. “Players that did not get a chance to play before joined the lineup and came through.”
In order to compensate for the loss of the suspended players, Ross moved freshman Grant Selinger up to the top line with star Jared Ross and Craig Bushey. Handed the bulk of the ice time, the trio combined for five goals and nine assists.
The Chargers lit up the scoreboard for 11 goals total on the weekend, and a raucous Von Braun Center, spurred the home team to a pair of victories in adverse circumstances.
“Bushey, Selinger and Jared really stepped it up for us,” Ross said. “We were facing a little adversity and they performed.”
Even more encouraging for the Chargers was the play of its backup goaltender, senior Adam MacLean. MacLean was sharp between the pipes on Friday, turning aside 25 of 26 Falcon shots.
Still, not all was rosy for UAH. Two nights of playing with a shortened bench caught up to the team on Saturday. Air Force scored three shorthanded goals in a wild contest in which the Falcons jumped out to a 3-1 lead on the strength of two goals scored while killing a penalty. A final shorthanded tally midway through the third period made the game’s final minutes interesting.
Despite Ross’ protestations of team depth, the Chargers essentially rotated three lines, and that factored into Air Force’s ability to make Saturday’s contest much more compelling than it might have otherwise been.
“The weekend caught up to us a little bit on Saturday,” Ross said. “We had a little bit of a letdown while on the power play and they were aggressive and took advantage of the chances. We probably were tiring a little bit.”
This weekend will present a bigger challenge to Ross’ crew. Alabama-Huntsville heads for the road to face struggling Miami. If the team tires in its weekend set, the result against the RedHawks will be different.
The Ross-Selinger-Bushey line will need to be in top form once again.
“This is a tough trip for us,” coach Ross said. “First, we have to take a seven-to-eight hour bus ride to get there and face a good team. However, last year we went to Ferris State and knocked them off when they were one of the best teams in the country. You can’t take anyone lightly.”
The Chargers get some good news in the debut of freshman center David Nimmo. He was finally cleared to play and the top recruit looks to make a good debut.
Still, the best thing that could happen for UAH is the legal process to take care of itself and its players get exonerated. Until then, it will have to come up with a few more tricks.
Where’s the Power in Bemidji?
The preseason favorite to win the CHA has run into an unexpected problem: offense. Through four games, Bemidji has scored just six goals. The Beavers have been a pillar of consistency, scoring three goals in a loss and a tie in its weekend sets against Clarkson and Minnesota State.
“We have to start putting some pucks in the net,” said Bemidji coach Tom Serratore. “We don’t put pressure on any one particular guy, everyone on the team has their role. However, everyone is expected to contribute.”
Most distressing has been the Beavers’ utter failure on the power play. Bemidji is 0-for-22 this season with the man advantage and Serratore does not have an easy answer.
“We are getting enough shots on the power play,” Serratore said. “However, we have to get more people in front of the net to create some traffic. We also need to get a little more puck-lucky.”
“So much of power play offense is setting everything up and the puck just finding its way through,” he added. “We’ll get back to basics this weekend and see what happens.”
The games get a little easier for Bemidji as it travels down to Findlay to face the Oilers. Bemidji played significantly better on Saturday against MSU in order to earn a 2-2 tie. However, it will need more offense to play a Findlay squad which has had a surprisingly good showing in early play.
“This weekend is a good test for our level of preparation,” Serratore said. “We will learn how our team responds to conference play and how our team responds to being on the road. The games are different under both circumstances.”
While the games may be different, if the Beavers don’t score any more goals, the final result will be the same.
Wayne State is getting a league monopoly on early season rivalries. Already the Warriors have played a brutal home-in-home with Findlay spread over two weeks. This Saturday, WSU finishes a pair with Niagara.
Last Friday, the Purple Eagles smothered the Warriors, limiting them to 22 shots on goal. Only freshman Jason Baclig found the back of the net, and even then, the shot had to deflect off a Niagara defender.
“We are finishing a double-header and we have to play much better this week,” coach Bill Wilkinson said. “We didn’t have the same intensity as Niagara did. We have to match their spirit if we hope to have a different result.”
The win was the first for the Purple Eagles over Wayne State in Michigan. WSU gets home ice again this weekend, and it will welcome back sophomore defenseman Steve Kovalchik and junior center Billy Collins.
The other thing that may help out Wayne State is that after defeating the Warriors, Niagara’s bubble got burst a little in the following game at Michigan, losing 6-2. The Purple Eagles had been riding high since defeating then-No. 1 New Hampshire.
Still, Niagara has just as much incentive to want to get back on the winning track. These matches could get heated as the two squads continue to play each other.
Since the CHA has only six teams, most squads get used to frequent engagements with one another. However, the schedule is particularly homogeneous for WSU. After finishing off Niagara this weekend, it gets Findlay again the following week.
With deep apologies to ECAC correspondent Juan Martinez because it’s not my turf, big props to former Harvard captain Dominic Moore for his debut with the New York Rangers this past weekend. Hope that there can be many Moore battles between him and his brother Steve, who was up with the Colorado Avalanche.
Caught Matrix Revolutions on Wednesday night, and the words “confused” and “disappointed” come to mind. Why can’t they ever give a pure machine a pleasant sounding voice? The countdown is officially on now for Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King.
Chris Brown of Alabama-Huntsville has proven an adept prognosticator, nailing all of his predictions except one last week. He has earned a third opportunity at this space. However, before getting to Brown’s predictions, allow me to introduce this week’s participant, John from Minnesota.
The invitation is open for anyone who wants to make predictions in this column space. All you need to do is send an email to [email protected]. You certainly have little to fear about showing me up, I just elevated my season record over .500.
Here’s John’s predictions:
Bemidji State 2 Findlay 1
Both offenses will continue to struggle, but Bemidji gets a boost from Luke Erickson and pulls out the win on the road.
Air Force 6 Bentley 2
Air Force’s talent will prevail in this contest. As a result, all four lines contribute in a high scoring effort.
Bowling Green 4 Niagara 2
The Falcons will use good blueline pressure to get some quality shots on net while limiting Niagara’s chances. The result will be a hard fought Bowling Green win.
Miami (Ohio) 6 UAH 1
The Chargers will find a better RedHawk team waiting for them in Oxford than the one Air Force tipped up in Alaska.
Findlay 4 Bemidji State 1
On Friday night Findlay discovered they are just as good as Bemidji. The confidence translates to some second and third line scoring and an Oiler victory on Saturday.
Air Force 2 Bentley 1
Bentley comes out clutching and grabbing and almost pulls out the win, but USAFA’s Spanky Leonard is a little too strong and scores the game winner.
Niagara 4 Wayne State 2
Niagara’s second line outplays the Warriors’ second liners, and offensively WSU’s Derek MacKay can’t win the game singlehandedly. Niagara pulls out the big sweep of the weeklong series.
Miami (Ohio) 4 UAH 3
The Chargers learn their lessons from Friday night, but don’t quite have the endurance to pull out the road win. A couple missed opportunities and hit pipes leave UAH wondering what might have been.
And for the master himself, Mr. Chris Brown:
Bemidji State 3, Findlay 1
The sole conference matchup on Friday will go the way of the conference favorite, but as usual for BSU it won’t be a blowout.
Niagara 3, Bowling Green 2
Niagara is still enjoying their non-conference success, and they’ll pull out a nail-biter against an average BGSU team.
Alabama-Huntsville 4, Miami 2
It’s hard to decide which night UAH will decide to come out and play each weekend, but they will get a solid win over an up-and-down Miami team.
Air Force 3, Bentley 1
Air Force will continue to dominate Atlantic Hockey foes, even on the road.
Bemidji State 2, Findlay 1
Findlay will play hard, but Bemidji wants those all-important conference points and they will get the sweep on the road.
Niagara 5, Wayne State 4
Niagara dominated the Warriors last week for the first time ever in Michigan. The young Wayne State team will play better this time around, but Niagara will take home the points.
Air Force 3, Bentley 2
A sweep two time zones from home is a tall order, but Air Force will deliver in a hard-fought game.
Miami 4, Alabama-Huntsville 3
With Keith Rowe and Bruce Mulherin suspended the Chargers won’t have the magic for a sweep at a CCHA rink.