Head To Head, And Looking At History
Looking for offense? Then point your eyes south, where two of the most prolific scorers in CHA history could rewrite the record books while facing each other.
Alabama-Huntsville will play host to Niagara in an all-important conference matchup, but the more intriguing story is the race to first place among all-time CHA scorers. The Chargers’ Jared Ross and Niagara’s Barret Ehgoetz stand among the top three in career goals, assists and points, and each could possibly pass former Air Force forward Andy Berg in the league’s scoring annals.
Ross enters the weekend ranked second in career points (138) and tied for second in goals (60), just four marks behind Berg in both categories. His 78 career helpers are tied for first place.
Ehgoetz isn’t far behind, placing third in points (135) and assists (75). He is also involved with the three-way deadlock for second in career goals, standing even with Ross and former Niagara teammate, Joe Tallari.
And while records are nice, Purple Eagles coach Dave Burkholder said wins occupy a more prominent place in Ehgoetz’s mind.
“That’s always been Barret’s M.O., he is the ultimate team guy,” Burkholder said. “I think these are great, but if you ask him, he’s going to want to lead this team back to the NCAA tournament, I’m sure that’s his main focus.
“I’ve never talked to him personally about [records]. Mike Isherwood, our all-time leading scorer here at Niagara, who was a heck of a player and played in the American League and the East Coast League, we kind of chuckle when we get together that Barret’s going to take him down finally. But other than that, I’ve never talked to Barret [about it], and I don’t really hear much around the locker room.”
Ehgoetz leads the team this season with 15 points (5-10) through 13 games, and barring a season-ending injury, should easily eclipse Berg’s marks within the next month — if not sooner. He has 13 goals and 18 points in 12 career games against the Chargers.
Ross’ numbers against the Eagles are only slightly less impressive, as he has compiled 13 points (6-7) in 12 contests versus Niagara. Still, he is among the leading scorers in the nation again this season with 19 points (9-10) in 11 games. Burkholder knows the key to picking up points in the standings is limiting the production of Ross and his linemates.
“We’ll dress six D both nights, and they have to be very cognizant of when Ross, [Craig] Bushey and [Bruce] Mulherin are on the ice,” Burkholder said. “They have like 70% of their offense. It’s a big concern going in. I don’t have last [line] change, but I’d like to see Ehgoetz play against Ross’ line the whole weekend, and see two of the best players in the CHA going today.
“It’s going to be a good test, they’re obviously a very good momentum team at home. But we’ve gone in there in previous years and played pretty well. It’s going to be a good test, and it’s probably time for some of our older guys to pick up the slack here and get it done for us.”
Charging Under The Radar
Ross may get most of the attention when it comes to talking about Alabama-Huntsville, but notice should also be taken of his linemates’ performances.
Mulherin is fourth in the nation with 11 goals, and trails Ross by only one point in the team’s scoring race. The junior forward has already eclipsed his 2003-04 goal mark of eight, and is just six points shy of his total from last year.
Bushey has 15 points (6-9) in 11 games, and is on pace to better his career marks in goals (16), assists (16) and points (32) established in 31 games last season.
“I think Mulherin creates a lot of space. He kind of goes under the radar when you talk about scouting, but he’s a guy that creates the space,” Burkholder stated. “Ross is probably one of the best one-on-one players when he has the puck, and he’s going to embarrass defensemen if you’re not careful. I think the jobs that Bushey and Mulherin do are very impressive, and you’re not going to see a trio like that very often in college hockey.”
The threesome has combined for 26 of the Chargers’ 44 goals headed into the weekend, with an amazing 16 of those coming on the power play. Those marks could have been even better, but head coach Doug Ross chose to rest his son and Bushey for the second game of UAH’s series against Western Michigan last week.
Bad Break For Niagara, Van Nynatten
As if facing the seventh-ranked scoring offense in the nation (3.67 goals per game) wasn’t hard enough, the Purple Eagles will have to do it without the services of netminder Jeff Van Nynatten. The preseason All-CHA selection suffered a broken finger during practice earlier this week, and is expected to be out of action for the next two months.
“It was our first practice back from break and we were doing the goalie warmup. He took a slapshot off the index finger,” Burkholder said. “He had surgery [Tuesday], and we were lucky it didn’t shatter, it was a clean break. A plate was put in, so they’re saying probably eight weeks. The plate will stay in there, it’s just a matter of when he’ll be able to bend it.”
After a shaky start to the season, Van Nynatten seemed to have recaptured his form from last year. The junior netminder returned to action following a four-game rest, and stopped 39 shots in a 2-1 OT loss to Bemidji State on Nov. 20.
“He’s our number-one guy, and was hoping to build off last year’s numbers. He’s very confident, our team is confident when he’s in there. So it’s something we’re going to have to persevere through. We have a sophomore and a freshman that are going to get some valuable experience, and I have confidence in both of them as Division I goalies.”
Scott Mollison will return to the net Friday against UAH, the start coming three weeks after the freshman made Niagara history by becoming the first netminder at the school to record a win in his first collegiate start. But sophomore Allen Barton could see action as well.
“He got the two wins against Quinnipiac and then gave us a chance to steal a game against Bemidji when we weren’t playing that well,” Burkholder said of Mollison, who has a 2-1-0 mark and a team-best 1.80 goals against average in four games. “He’s definitely earned the next start, there’s no question about that. But we’ll go day to day and game to game with these two guys.”
Van Nynatten won’t be the only Purple Eagle missing when the team takes to the ice this weekend. Sophomore forward Aaron Clarke was dismissed from the team due to unspecified disciplinary reasons, the school announced.
A 2004 CHA All-Tournament Team member, Clarke had six points (3-3) in nine games this season, and had a five-game point streak from Oct. 15-29. He was not in the Niagara lineup for games against Western Michigan (Nov. 5-6) and Quinnipiac (Nov. 12-13), but returned to action last week against Bemidji State.
Clarke finished tied for ninth in scoring on the team as a freshman, posting 13 points (8-5) in 31 games.
Doing (College Hockey) America Proud
Air Force and Robert Morris put aside family plans for Thanksgiving and traveled to Troy, N.Y., to take part in the 54th Annual RPI Tournament. And the trip seems to have been well worth the sacrifice.
The Colonials, picked to finish sixth in the CHA preseason poll, dropped a hard-fought 2-0 decision to the host Engineers in the opener, with both tallies coming on the power play. Robert Morris followed that up by posting a 4-2 win in the consolation contest against Sacred Heart, a team that was in first place in Atlantic Hockey at the time.
“The only thing we didn’t do against RPI was outscore them. We just went out with the attitude that we were going to outwork the other team, and we did both games. We just kept coming at them and working and working and working,” said Colonials’ head coach Derek Schooley.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge when we scheduled the games. RPI has won a national championship there. They’re in the ECAC. We wanted to go out and make sure we did a good job and play our best. We did everything we wanted to do except outscore them. I’m extremely happy with how we played this weekend from start to finish.”
Ditto for Frank Serratore. The Falcons needed an extended overtime period to finally beat Sacred Heart, 3-2, before shutting out the hosts in the championship game, 1-0. It’s performances like that which are finally earning CHA teams the respect they are due, Serratore said.
“You’ve seen the CHA evolve. All the teams in the CHA are legitimate Division I teams,” he said, noting the Division II beginnings of Niagara and Bemidji, as well as the from-scratch success story of Wayne State. “What we don’t have is a high profile school. I can assure you, the team that wins the CHA is going to be a pretty good team, and will be able to skate with anybody in the country.”
Air Force captured the RPI tournament championship from the blueline and behind, as goaltending and defense played the biggest parts in the wins.
Peter Foster continued his stellar play in goal, turning away 30 shots — including four in 13 minutes of overtime — to help the Falcons to the win against Sacred Heart.
It was nearly all Foster the following night, as he stopped 32 attempts to pick up his NCAA-best fourth shutout of the season.
“We knew Peter was a good goalie when we recruited him. He’s an undersized kid and that’s why a lot of big schools passed on him,” Serratore said, not overly surprised by his success. “We recognized the fact that he had that ability in junior hockey. He played on a bad team in Butte, Montana. His first year they were a bad team, he made them a good team. He took that team single-handedly to the playoffs.
“Then he went to Wichita Falls and did the same thing down there. He has that special something. He has the ability to win games that your team maybe not necessarily deserves to win. And you can’t teach that.”
Foster could turn away every puck he sees, but the team still needs to score in order to win. And every Air Force goal on the weekend came off the stick of a defenseman.
Brooks Turnquist scored twice against Sacred Heart, sandwiching his goals around a Brian Gineo tally. And it was Gineo who netted the only goal in the championship.
In fact, the only non-defender to pick up a goal in the past three Air Force games was Eric Ehn, who fired the opening salvo in a 2-1 OT win against Robert Morris back on Nov. 20. Turnquist scored the winner in the extra frame that night as well.
Bad Breaks, Part Two
The Falcon wins last week were made even more impressive due to the absence of Mike Knaeble, who suffered a fractured fibula two weeks ago against Robert Morris.
“He caught a rut and got hit. It was a fluke deal,” Serratore said of the injury. “He won’t be back until after Christmas. They put a plate in to stabilize the break.”
The junior forward was the highest-scoring returnee from the 2003-04 squad, with 20 points (8-12) in 33 games for Air Force last season. He had three points (1-2) while appearing in eight games before being forced out of action.