The CHA is well-represented among the NCAA scoring leaders in the early stages of the season, with Jared Ross once again pacing the nation at 2.13 points per game and Barret Ehgoetz and Bruce Mulherin both finding spots among the top 20 point-getters.
But the real stars from last week’s play didn’t score a single point between them.
It was a trio of rookie netminders that stole the show around the conference, as Christian Boucher (Robert Morris), Scott Mollison (Niagara) and Matt Climie (Bemidji State) turned in impressive performances, allowing just six goals in five games combined.
Undoubtedly, Boucher has had the toughest job of the three thus far. He has appeared in eight of the first-year Colonials’ nine games this season and leads all CHA netminders in minutes played (441) headed into this weekend’s action. Despite a largely inexperienced squad in front of him, the two-time CJHL All-Star has shown he is more than capable of keeping his team in games, nearly on his own.
Case in point, this past weekend’s home series against Wayne State. Despite being outgunned in the opener by a 39-28 margin, the Colonials fell to the Warriors by just a 3-2 score.
Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson was rightfully impressed with the freshman’s performance in what turned out to be the veteran coach’s 400th career win.
“We had some good chances, especially late in the second period,” said Wilkinson. “Mark Cannon had a good shot in the slot, but he made a nice toe save. It was a well played game on both parts, and the goaltenders were very strong.”
But Boucher was just getting warmed up. The following night Robert Morris was outshot 41-21, but Boucher turned aside a league-high 40 pucks to lead the home squad to a 1-1 draw at the Island Sports Center.
The lone blemish Saturday night was a power-play tally to Tylor Michel. In fact, nearly half of the goals Boucher has allowed this season (10 of 21) have come with the opposition playing a man up.
“Christian’s an excellent goalie, and you’re going to see that night in and night out from him,” said Schooley. “He stands tall in the net and he’s legit.”
Boucher has been tested plenty during the first two months of the season. The same couldn’t be said for Mollison as he prepared to make his first collegiate start last Friday. The 18-year old entered the series against Quinnipiac with just 21 minutes of playing time under his belt, that coming the previous Saturday when he spelled Allen Barton in a loss at Western Michigan. But Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder had already seen enough of the youngster to know he was ready for the challenge.
“He’s one of those guys that doesn’t show any emotion. I watched him in practice for over a month, and then to see him in a game, nothing phases him,” said Burkholder. “It’s almost like his heart rate doesn’t get up. There could be a goal mouth scramble for 10, 12 seconds, and he’s just standing there doing his job. It’s amazing the poise that he’s shown.”
That poise was on display as last weekend, as he turned aside 21 and 29 shots and led the Purple Eagles to a home sweep of the Bobcats by scores of 3-1 and 4-1. Those solid outings made another start this Friday against CHA rival Bemidji State all but a foregone conclusion.
“On both nights Scott Mollison made some key saves that settled us down and let us play with the lead,” Burkholder said. “We scored an early goal [Saturday], which really got us going. But we took a couple of penalties in the first period where he kept us in the lead. After seeing him play for two games, he definitely deserves another look, another start.”
But just who will be getting the start in the opposing net this Friday?
Layne Sedevie has been solid if unspectacular during the early going for the Beavers, making 99 saves on 115 shots while seeing the bulk of the goaltending duties. He stopped eight of nine shots during a 9-2 blowout against Bentley last Friday before being lifted to give Orlando Alamano his first taste of the NCAA.
The following night it was Climie’s turn, as the freshman made his first collegiate start for Bemidji. All he did was stop all 17 shots he faced to post a 5-0 shutout, becoming the first BSU freshman to win his initial start since Neil Cooper in 1996, and the first to throw a shutout in the same game since Jim Scanlon in 1979.
“Matt played very well. He saw the puck well, he tracked it well and made really some great saves in the first period and the third period,” head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s a good confidence booster for him.”
Climie was peppered during the opening frame, facing 10 shots with nearly half of those coming during a five-on-three advantage for the Falcons.
“It’s always good to see what you have in game situations,” Serratore said. “He stood tall. We’re excited, we’re happy for him and we feel we’ve got a good goaltending corps.”
Van Nynatten Back In Net?
Despite the strong outing by Mollison, Burkholder said not to be surprised if Jeff Van Nynatten gets his first start in more than two weeks this weekend. The preseason All-CHA pick hasn’t seen action since a 4-3 loss to Clarkson on Oct. 30, sitting out the past four Purple Eagles contests.
But, with Niagara and Bemidji playing two games in less than 24 hours, Burkholder believes it might be get Van Nynatten back in the lineup — maybe.
“He’s going to dress both games this weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a start,” the coach said. “We have a Friday night game and then an afternoon game. I don’t know of too many goalies in the country who can go at 7:00 at night and then come back at 3:00. But we’ll see.”
Not only does the Bemidji-Niagara series give both squads their first taste of CHA play for the season, it’s also a rematch of the conference championship game from last season. Joe Tallari tallied at 13:27 of overtime to give the Purple Eagles a 4-3 victory in that game and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t want to say it’s just another game,” Serratore said, noting a little extra impetus about facing the CHA rivals, “but our league is a good league — it’s very tight, there’s a lot of parity. You’ve just got to be ready to play, whether it’s Niagara or Wayne State or Air Force.”
Burkholder expects the weekend matchup to be one of the most exciting and hard-fought of the season.
“I think it’s two evenly-matched teams, and it’s going to be a tremendous series,” he said. “I think we’re up one game and up one goal over the last two years. The season and playoff series had been dead even until our overtime win last year. It’s about as even as possible.”
Rising To The Top
Move over, Andy Berg. Your reign as king of the CHA scorers is about to come to an end.
The question now is, who will pass Berg first?
Heading into last weekend’s action, Niagara’s Barret Ehgoetz was just 10 points behind the former Air Force forward in the league’s all-time point standings (142 to 132) and only five goals away from tying Berg for the top spot in league history (64 to 59). He inched ever closer with a two-point effort on the weekend (1-1), giving the preseason all-conference selection 134 points (74-60) for his career.
But even while Ehgoetz was moving up the lists, he was being challenged — and even passed — by the most prolific scorer in the nation.
Jared Ross began the weekend in third place among all-time point getters with 128, fourth in goals at 56 and tied for second with 74 helpers. But a six-point weekend (3-3) vaulted the Alabama-Huntsville forward into second place in points (136) and assists (77). His next helper will earn him a share of the CHA career mark.
Additionally, his 59 career goals are five off the league record, and just one behind Ehgoetz and former Niagara forward Joe Tallari.
The scoring subplots could make for interesting viewing during the first week of December, as the Purple Eagles and Chargers will face off for the first time this season in Niagara.
It’s no surprise the Ross is near the top of the NCAA standings in points this season, or that his current points per game average is more than a half point better than his 2003-04 mark of 1.61. But he’s hardly the only scoring threat on the Alabama-Huntsville roster these days.
Bruce Mulherin has been a significant contributor this season, recording 13 points (7-6) through eight games. He has picked up a point in seven contests, and has five multiple point games so far. His seven goals already are just one fewer than he netted while appearing in 22 games last season.
The third member of the line is no slouch either. Like Mulherin, Craig Bushey has 13 points (5-8) and five multipoint outings. He carries a six-game scoring streak (4-7) heading into this weekend’s road trip to Minnesota State.
The trio has once again proven to be one of the most dangerous in the nation, accounting for 54% of the Alabama-Huntsville goal production (20 of 37) on the most prolific offense in Division I. The Chargers lead the nation with a 4.62 goals per game average.
As a new entry into the college ranks, there’s bound to be a new first for the Robert Morris Colonials nearly every weekend. Last week’s series against Wayne State was no different.
Freshman forward Chris Kaufman netted his first NCAA goal at 14:28 of the first period to give RMU a 1-0 lead. He assisted on Kurt Wright’s extra attacker goal with five seconds remaining to give him his first assist and first multipoint game as well.
“That’s the Chris Kaufman we recruited,” Schooley said. “He had some injury problems at the beginning of the year. I think he’s finally coming around. I’ve never seen a guy as excited as he was when he scored that first goal.”
Sean Berkstresser joined the Colonials for the weekend series after being cleared academically, making his collegiate debut in Friday night’s 3-2 loss.
And Saturday’s 1-1 tie gave the team its first ever overtime contest, as well as its first point in CHA competition. That came after suffering three straight defeats to Alabama-Huntsville (twice) and Wayne State.