This Week in the CHA: Nov. 4, 2004

Ross On The Rise

There was consternation among Charger Nation last year when Co-CHA Player of the Year Jared Ross was left off the list of Hobey Baker Award nominees. The snub followed on the heels of a 50-point season (19-31) that saw the Alabama-Huntsville forward lead all NCAA scorers with a 1.61 points per game average.

How fitting then that Ross capped one of the best offensive weekends of the young season while playing in the building also featuring the trophy’s namesake.

The UAH senior picked up two points (1-1), including an assist on Bruce Mulherin’s game-tying goal, in a 5-5 deadlock with the Princeton Tigers last Saturday, the game taking place at the Hobey Baker Rink on the Princeton campus. That performance came one day after Ross recorded four points (1-3) in a 5-2 win against the Yale Bulldogs.

The six-point weekend earned Ross the CHA Offensive Player of the Week award for the first time this season, and vaulted him past Niagara’s Joe Tallari and Air Force’s Scott Zwiers into third place among all-time CHA scorers with 127 career points. His assist against Princeton tied him with Zwiers for second place with 74 helpers, just four shy of the league record held by Air Force’s Andy Berg.

“That’s not something I’ve really thought about,” Ross said when informed of his place among the league’s elite. “The CHA record, I’ve thought about that season-by-season. But overall I never thought about that too much.”

He also didn’t dwell on the lack of consideration he got from Hobey Baker voters last year, despite finishing in the top 10 among all Division I players in points and assists.

“I wasn’t too upset about what happened last season,” he said. “I just though that I had a good year. I also felt that I could have done a little bit better. I started off kind of slow.”

Not so this season. Ross has eight points (2-6) through four games to lead the Chargers in scoring and assists, that despite being held scoreless in Alabama-Huntsville’s 4-2 win against Holy Cross on Oct. 23. That game was the first UAH victory in which Ross failed to score since a 4-0 win against Wayne State on Feb. 15, 2003.

Don’t expect too many victories to pass without Ross picking up a point, though. The Chargers’ fortunes will likely ride on his shoulders once again this season.

“Everybody on the team looks to him for leadership,” said Doug Ross, who serves the dual roles of coach and father to his star player. “When Jared gets the puck and starts moving down the ice, everybody now anticipates something good can happen. Before it was something might happen. But now when he takes the puck and he starts moving out of the end on the power play, something’s going to happen. He can make no play into a great play.

“I haven’t seen too many players that are going to play much better than him this year.”

CHA Play Underway

Robert Morris will be the first CHA school that gets to see Ross firsthand, as the Colonials travel to Huntsville for the first league games of the season.

“Jared Ross is a legitimate top-line player at any school in the nation,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “He’s a very dynamic player. He’s speedy, he’s skilled, he’s feisty. He does everything well. He’s going to be the first real bona fide superstar that our players have taken on. We’re going to have to know when he’s on the ice and pay attention to him, because he’s a dangerous hockey player.”

The Colonials mark another first for the program this Friday when they take part in their first-ever CHA contest. But Schooley isn’t emphasizing the inaugural league contest over any other this season

“We just need to continue to get better every game, that’s going to be our theme for the year,” he said. “I don’t think with a young team you can make any one game bigger than the other, because every game’s big for you. College hockey’s a marathon, not a spring, so you have to prepare for every game the same way.”

Lessons On Adversity For Schooley

While getting a new program up and going might seem like plenty to keep a rookie head coach busy, Schooley hasn’t shied away from taking on a little extra work on the side. He recently participated in two coaching seminars sponsored by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, sharing his experiences with local youth instructors.

Schooley sees his freelancing as having multiple advantages. One, he’s helping to grow the amateur game at a grassroots level in western Pennsylvania. And two, he’s strengthening valuable links between Robert Morris, the local professional squad and its fan base

“Any time we can associate ourselves with the Pittsburgh Penguins, we have to jump on that. The Penguins have a rich tradition of hockey here in Pittsburgh. We have a tradition of about one week,” Schooley quipped.

With the NHL work stoppage entering its third month, Schooley is hoping his squad can fill the void for Pittsburgh hockey fans who miss seeing Mario Lemieux and company on a weekly basis.

“It’s a matter of getting our name and face out there,” he said. “Right now we are the only hockey team in town, and hopefully we can get some of the Penguins’ season ticket holders to come out and watch Division I college hockey.”

Schooley already has one fan in Penguins’ head coach Eddie Olczyk. The former 300-goal scorer asked Schooley to help out with his local hockey camps this past summer and, after experiencing the frustrations of being a first-year coach himself, figures to be a key confidant for Schooley.

“They were a rebuilding team last year and we’re a building team this year. There’s a lot of similarities between us and last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins,” Schooley stated. “I’m planning on using a lot of my resources in coaching, and I’m sure that talking to him about how to deal with the ability for a team to go out and play very well one night and the next night, being a young team, being overwhelmed, will help me and help our development as a team. He’s been through it and he lived it.”

He certainly has. Olczyk took over the Penguins prior to the 2003-04 season with no previous professional head coaching experience. On top of that, the team’s roster was among the least experienced in the league, with five players making their NHL debuts on opening night and nine rookies suiting up throughout the season.

Olczyk and the Penguins struggled to a 23-47-8-4 record — the worst in the league — which included a stretch of more than a month during which the team didn’t win a game. He knows the challenges that lie ahead for Schooley and Robert Morris.

“A lot of times it’s that young person’s energy and emotion that will carry you, the adrenaline,” said Olczyk, noting the Colonials’ better than expected 2-3-0 start. “Then when you get in the meat of the season and you play against veteran teams and older teams, more experienced teams, you’re going to have tough times. And you have to be prepared for that. But it’s how you deal with it, it’s how you carry yourself.

“I told [Schooley] the true colors of someone or some team is not when things are going great, it’s when things are tough. You lose 18 games in a row in the National Hockey League, it doesn’t get any tougher than that. That’s where you’ve really got to show what you’re made of.

“You know you’re going to have some tough times, but you have to believe in what you’re doing. The consistency aspect of it, that’s what players want. They want that consistency in everything that you do, from rules to structure to discipline. You stay the course. As a coach you change certain things in games and in practices. But the big picture is to stay consistent. I think when you have a young program or a young team, you have to believe and you have to show them that you believe in it.”

Foster-ing Good Play

Niagara’s Jeff Van Nynatten dazzled during the 2004 CHA tournament, and was a heavy favorite during preseason All-CHA team voting. This season is still young, but the Purple Eagles starter is off to a slow start, allowing 21 goals in his first seven games.

Will Hooper took the lame-duck Findlay Oilers on his shoulders last year, finishing third among CHA netminders with a 2.40 goals against average in league play and a 2.64 GAA overall. He’s now donning a Wayne State sweater, and a considerably higher 3.34 GAA

Layne Sedevie was impressive in limited action for Bemidji State last year, posting six wins in 13 games. He’s only played one and a half contests thus far in 2004, but his GAA sits at 4.39 — a full point and a half higher than his last season total — headed into this weekend’s series with Minnesota State,

The goaltending tandem of Scott Munroe and Marc Narduzzi has been solid for Alabama-Huntsville, while Christian Boucher has performed above all expectations for Robert Morris, with all three picking up weekly CHA honors for their play. And while Wayne State’s Matt Kelly has impressed with two wins and a 2.35 GAA in three contests, the best early season goaltending performance has come out of Colorado.

Peter Foster started last season as senior Mike Polidor’s understudy, but nearly outdid his counterpart by winning six of 13 decisions and bettering the veteran’s GAA by one-third of a goal. Now a sophomore, Foster has started all six of Air Force’s games this year, recording a 2-2-2 record, a 2.14 goals against average and two shutouts.

“Peter’s playing very, very well,” Falcons’ head coach Frank Serratore said. “Kind of a telling tale with Peter, he’s got shutouts in two games that we definitely should have won. He wasn’t the difference in those, but they were tough games to get shutouts in because the opponents had good opportunities, and those are games you typically see one leak in somehow. He didn’t let that happen.”

Foster saw just 15 shots from American International in the team’s second game of the season, then turned aside 14 in against Quinnipiac on Oct. 24. Both games finished with 4-0 scores in Air Force’s favor.

“It’s hard to stay focused in a game when you’re not seeing a lot of shots with any frequency. That was the case against AIC and Quinnipiac. We carried the play in those games, but he stayed focused and was rewarded with a shutout. He had to play well to get the shutout, not the win.”

Foster’s best game might have come in his first loss of the season, a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Colorado College on Oct. 22. The opposition scored four times in nine power plays to pull out the win for the then 11th-ranked Tigers.

“CC’s got some pretty good shooters, and he kept us in that game,” Serratore said. “There was really only one of the four goals that he probably could have stopped. They were all power plays, but one was five-on-three and I think one was four-on-three. He’s been very good.”

The CHA’s Defensive Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 18, Foster came within 1:24 of posting his second consecutive shutout on Oct. 29. Six days after blanking Quinnipiac, Foster held Holy Cross scoreless for 58:36, finally allowing a goal when the home team pulled netminder Tony Quesada, giving the Crusaders a two-man advantage and their first successful power play in 13 tries on the night. Holy Cross kept its goalie on the bench and evened the score, 2-2, with a second extra-attacker goal with 21 seconds left in regulation.

Falcon Firsts

Three Air Force freshmen made their marks during last weekend’s trip to Massachusetts. Defenseman Matt Charbonneau picked up his first collegiate point with an assist on Matt Bader’s third-period tally in a 2-2 tie with Holy Cross on Friday. The following night, fellow rookie blueliner Peter Shenk found the back of the net with 37 seconds left in regulation for his first NCAA goal. Netminder Ian Harper relieved Foster in the second period, and allowed one goal on 13 shots in his college debut.

Short Shifts

Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson named Damon Whitten to his staff on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Whitten played four seasons at Michigan State (1997-2001), where the left wing recorded 75 points (35-40) in 166 games and was a member of three CCHA regular-season championship teams, three CCHA playoff championship squads and two Frozen Four participants. He had been working as a volunteer assistant with his alma mater after spending two seasons with Greenville and Arkansas of the ECHL.

The Warriors took two from Canisius last week, giving Wayne State its first home sweep since Feb. 28-March 1, 2003, when it defeated Air Force 3-2 and 4-3. With the losses Canisius saw its record against the CHA this season fall to 1-3-0 (0-2-0 vs. Wayne State, 1-1-0 vs. Robert Morris).

Wayne State has four wins in six games this season. It took the Warriors 14 games to pick up their fourth victory last year, which came against American International, 3-2, on Dec. 13.

The Wayne State shorthanded onslaught continues. After netting just two goals while down a man all of last year, the Warriors now have shorties in four consecutive games. Derek Bachynski became the most recent Stater to net a goal while on the penalty kill. All four of Wayne State’s shorthanded tallies have come from freshmen this season (Tylor Michel two, Stavros Paskaris one, Bachynski one), with Michel and Bachynski each scoring his first collegiate goal while playing a man down.

Speaking of streaks, Niagara senior Ryan Gale carries a four-game point streak into Western Michigan this weekend, with five goals and seven points in that time. Niagara netminder Van Nynatten has his own consecutive string on the line, as he’s made 23 consecutive starts for the Purple Eagles dating back to Jan. 17.

Something’s got to give for Bemidji State. Last season, the Beavers were a perfect 6-0-0 when playing after an off week. But after resting up last weekend, BSU will take on Minnesota State Friday and Saturday, a team it hasn’t defeated in the past five tries.

Bemidji State has just three victories against WCHA opponents since making the jump to the Division I ranks in 1999, but one of those came against Minnesota State, 7-6, on Oct. 12, 2001. Overall the Beavers are 3-37-2 against the WCHA during the past five seasons, and 1-7-2 against the Mavericks.

The annual meeting between the Beavers and Mavericks also gives Bemidji head coach Tom Serratore a chance to renew acquaintances with his former college roommate, MSU bench boss Troy Jutting. The two played together in Mankato from 1984-86.