This Week in the CHA: Feb. 12, 2004

On Journalism and East Coast Bias

As has been well-documented on this website and elsewhere, one of the coolest aspects of watching “Miracle” is the integration of the college game in the players’ natural hockey environment. Nowhere is this more focused than the initial rivalry between “Boston” and “[nl]Minnesota.”

That conflict requires Herb Brooks’ psychological chicanery to abate, metamorphosing their rancor towards each other into abhorrence for him, thereby creating one team.

Brooks’ exposure of the problem leads one to reflect on how much of that regional divide still exists in the college game. The point is particularly salient for the CHA because, as also has been documented on this website, it encompasses all of the cardinal directions of U.S. sectionalism.

That phenomenon forced Minnesota coach Don Lucia to give the following quote after Bemidji State nearly pulled off an upset of the two-time defending national champions on Friday night.

“It was exactly the kind of game I expected it to be,” said Lucia. “They’re a good hockey team.”

Minnesotans have recognized the Beavers for their consistency on the ice this year, and Bemidji coach Tom Serratore roundly rejected the notion of a “moral victory” against the Golden Gophers as a “slap in the face” after the game.

He used the same words when questioned in that fashion this week by this reporter — perhaps assuming a little too much that fan recognition required the national success that has been had by No. 4 Minnesota, or by this week’s opponent, No. 9 St. Cloud State

“I feel that we’ve always gotten support and have been recognized by the community,” Serratore said. “I’m tired of answering questions about calling it a victory to even belong on the same ice as them. I think that perception only exists in the media.”

Serratore makes a compelling case when one considers how successfully he has cultivated a Minnesota following, establishing traditions with Minnesota-Duluth and playing all around the state, including in his hometown of Coleraine, Minn.

It should have been expected all along that his Beavers would skate stride-for-stride with the Golden Gophers as well as almost any team in the nation. Friday, and also Saturday — though the Beavers did not play as well — dovetailed neatly with the NHL All-Star festivities in St. Paul.

“It was electric,” Serratore said. “Even though we were in kind of isolation throughout the weekend, hockey was on center stage in St. Paul and you could feel it.”

A closer look at Bemidji — and the entire conference — this season reveals that dire predictions for the Beavers were inherently fallacious. Bemidji has taken games from Merrimack, Connecticut, and No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth. It has ties with Minnesota State and Clarkson.

For their success, the Beavers have demanded that USCHO’s pollsters offer at least some recognition. If we extended the poll into the teams receiving votes, BSU would be ranked 19th — and will climb higher with success this week against the Huskies.

How soon before the cream of the CHA is praised for its success by the college hockey world? It is only a matter of time before one of the conference’s teams receives another NCAA at-large bid, in addition to the autobid. Already Niagara, Bemidji, and I believe you can make the case for Alabama-Huntsville, are stronger than Holy Cross — the first-place team in Atlantic Hockey.

If the ECAC continues on its tumultuous course, the CHA may, in the near future, eclipse that league, even with all its storied programs.

“Our success is very good for hockey,” said Alabama-Huntsville coach Doug Ross.

And I certainly won’t pose the same insouciant question to Serratore again.

Back to the Ice

Though by the end of the week, Bemidji State will have had a two-weekend layoff on conference play, its probability of staying atop the standings increased dramatically with the return of junior Andrew Murray against the Gophers.

Murray played alongside the torrid Brendan Cook and Luke Erickson and paid immediate dividends after being injured on Dec. 5 in a contest against Wayne State. Murray had a hand in both Beaver tallies this weekend with a goal and an assist

Moreover, his addition solidifies the top two scoring lines for the team. He had 27 points last year, giving his team a needed weapon.

“Murray obviously helps us,” Serratore said. “He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s physical and he plays very well with his linemates.”

In addition to getting some extra firepower, Serratore believes that his team’s games against Minnesota and then St. Cloud will help down the stretch.

“I hope for this weekend that playing on an Olympic sheet two weeks in a row will improve our results against St. Cloud,” he said. “Overall this stretch came at a good time for us. We’ve had to play real hard and smart and that will only help.”

Battle for Second Place

The real spotlight for the weekend ought to be in Alabama-Huntsville, where the Chargers will have completed one game against Niagara and have another slotted for Friday.

While the focus for the conference has been between Niagara and Bemidji for the crown, the Purple Eagles are as many points out of first place as they are ahead of third. And both teams have two games in hand with the Beavers.

A sweep by UAH will put the Chargers in a tie for second and mete out a measure of revenge for getting swept, 2-1 and 3-1, earlier in the season.

Head coach Doug Ross is eager to prove that this is a different Charger team.

“We were missing a couple of players due to an incident in the first series at Niagara,” We have those guys back and hopefully we can have a better result. We need them if we want to compete for second place.”

One player the Chargers will not have is second-line forward Grant Sellinger, who broke his collarbone last week at No. 3 Maine and is out for the season. Perhaps of graver concern, for this week at least, has been Alabama-Huntsville’s schedule. The team made the long trip back from Maine on Sunday and with Monday a day of light practice, had only two good days to prepare for the Purple Eagles.

“After the travel, it seems that we turn around and are playing right away again,” Ross said. “This is what it the game is all about. Our players knew this would be our schedule.”

More importantly, the Chargers are riding off two impressive performances against the Black Bears. On Friday, goaltender Scott Munroe shined in net, making 35 saves in a 1-0 loss. Both teams increased their shot totals on Saturday, a 2-2 tie in which goaltender Adam MacLean was the star with 44 saves.

“Our goaltenders, each of them, had their best games of the season this past week,” Ross said. “We missed two breakaways and hit two goalposts on Saturday or we might have come out with the win.”

Niagara, however, is coming off a dominant performance over Wayne State and should be ready. It’s offense easily cut through the Warrior defense, posting 68 shots on net on the weekend in a 3-0, 4-1 sweep.

Just like Bemidji, Ross is hoping that back-to-back nonconference weekends, against Northern Michigan and Maine, will have prepared his team for the CHA prize he covets.

“You have to learn that top-ten programs read and react so much faster,” Ross said. “The experience will help us.”

And Lastly …

With the Presidents’ Day holiday approaching, take a minute to learn something about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their historical reputations are absolutely deserved. Then, educate yourself on the two men vying for control of our polity today, and hope they can at least aspire to the ideals of those earlier leaders, even if they will indubitably disappoint.