This Week in the CHA: Oct. 13, 2005

College Hockey America is funny like that.

Then again, college hockey in general is funny like that.

It’s the old adage that a team’s preseason outlook always includes a postseason title and chance at NCAA glory. If that’s now at the top of teams’ preseason “to do” lists, they shouldn’t bother showing up.

Last weekend in the CHA, five of the six teams played nonconference opponents and fared well. Bemidji State swept Minnesota-Duluth in what some construed as an upset, Niagara split with Clarkson, Air Force nearly downed Maine — though Robert Morris and Wayne State had forgettable weekends.

But don’t fret.

Lest we forget, two years ago when Findlay went into Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing and shocked Michigan State, 4-3 and that Wayne State likewise beat MSU later that season. Or even last spring, when Bemidji State wouldn’t go down until overtime against eventual national champion Denver. Niagara also holds a win over New Hampshire two seasons ago.

Anything is possible.

Wayne State’s next two games are exhibitions and Niagara’s game this weekend has the potential to require extra security as they battle crosstown rival Canisius on the road. Robert Morris lost to the Penn State club team last weekend and sees the opposite end of the spectrum this weekend against the always-talented U.S. Under-18 National Team in Ann Arbor. It doesn’t get any easier.

But college hockey is funny like that. Count the number of times you’ve seen or heard a college coach say something along the lines of, “Any team can beat any one on any given night” or the infamous, “If we play 60 minutes, we can beat anyone” — or the proverbial bringing of the ‘A’ game that tags a win along with it.

The CHA is a Division I college hockey conference. It’s not “the WCHA, CCHA, ECAC and Hockey East and then the other two,” as one CHA coach said recently, and who can argue?

Any team from any conference that nearly unseats the national champions in the first round has obvious talent, skill and luck. A championship-caliber team has oodles of all three items and in the CHA, all half-dozen teams rely on that trifecta of talent, skill and luck to go out game after game and get on the level of the more-established programs.

Upsets happen in sports, but in the CHA they’re becoming commonplace. Do you hear that, Minnesota-Duluth? Michigan State? You weren’t laughing back on March 26, were you, Denver?

And the season is just starting.

Warriors Forging Rivalry With State Club Team?

Wayne State opened its exhibition season last week against the Oakland University club team with an 8-0 win. It was a game WSU obviously expected to win, but for those involved, the game between the two Michigan schools may have added significance.

Located about 45 minutes from Detroit in Rochester, OU is a perennial ACHA powerhouse, as evidenced by its national championship two years ago and a runner-up finish this past spring.

But don’t expect the Golden Grizzlies to make a bid for the CHA or even Division I status. All they want right now is to get some games in against D-I teams, and Wayne State was happy to open that door.

“I’d love it if we could play them every year,” first-year OU coach Sean Hogan said. “But it’s up to [WSU coach Bill Wilkinson] if he wants to. We’re just fortunate he gave me a call and offered us this opportunity. Yeah, we lost, but there’s a reason his guys are on scholarships and my guys pay to play.”

Wilkinson added that putting a game or two against Oakland each year wouldn’t be a bad thing. He said that a tune-up game against a lower-level team can do good for a team entering a new season.

“We wanted to work on some of our new systems and get the boys into game scenarios,” said Wilkinson, now in his seventh year with the Warriors. “Was it a game we should have won 8-0? Yes. But did Oakland battle and take it to us? Yes. It’d be nice to get a sort of rivalry going and to maybe play them more down the road. We’ll see.

The Warriors and Grizzlies meet again Oct. 19 in Detroit at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

Falcons break the ice, barely fall to Maine

Air Force held a 1-0 lead over then-11th-ranked Maine with six minutes left in the third period last Friday at the IceBreaker Invitational, but Maine rallied for three power-play goals to steal a 3-1 win. Eric Ehn gave the Falcons the lead early in the third period after the first two stanzas went scoreless.

Though it was notch in the loss column, Air Force coach Frank Serratore wasn’t sour at all.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Serratore said. “But my heart bleeds for them. They played so hard and we were in control of the game until it was taken away from us. If those penalties were five-minute majors, then our game is in trouble. They were maybe a two-minute minor. Maybe.”

The Falcons regrouped and dominated Union Saturday night, 9-2, in a game that saw Air Force score nine or more goals for just the fourth time in team history. Junior goalie Ben Worker also saw college ice for the first time and played the final six minutes and change. Fifteen skaters recorded points in the game.

“If we have that kind of effort every night, there will be a lot of happy nights for the Falcons,” said Serratore. “We gave the same effort on Friday, but just had a better outcome (Saturday).”

Beavers Get Into Top 20

Last week was Bemidji State’s time to show they’re not in a rebuilding mode and they exceeded those thoughts with two wins over then-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.

The Beavers, now in the national polls for the first time in their Division I era, were outshot by Duluth, 43-18 on Friday night, yet escaped with a 3-2 win. That auspicious mark set a school record for fewest shots on goal in a victory.

Bemidji State completed the sweep with a 5-1 win Saturday night to help jump them to the No. 20 spot in the weekly poll.

“All around the league, you see teams with depth and quality players,” coach Tom Serratore said. “We play a nonconference schedule for a reason; other teams want to play us.”

Mulherin Back To Lead Huntsville Charge

Having UAH senior Bruce Mulherin on the all-CHA First Team is a no-brainer. He was part of the talented trio last year with Jared Ross and Craig Bushey, but with Ross and Bushey having graduated, Mulherin is the man for the Chargers now.

“If [Mulherin] cuts down his penalty minutes, he can pick up right where Jared left off,” said UAH coach Doug Ross, who then reconsidered.

“Really, he doesn’t need to do that. He needs to pick up where he left off.”

Senior defenseman Jeremy Schreiber was named to the All-USCHO Third Team and was the sole CHA player named to any of the USCHO preseason squads. He’s also the first Charger to be named to such a team by USCHO.

NU Goalie Back In Full Swing

Last year during a team practice, Niagara goaltender Jeff Van Nynatten injured an index finger and sat out nearly half the season before returning down the stretch. The senior is back this season on Monteagle Ridge with aspirations of reclaiming CHA glory.

Van Nynatten led NU to the CHA title in 2004 as a sophomore.

Against Clarkson last Friday, Van Nynatten stopped 49 shots, a career best, in a 6-3 win at Dwyer Arena. He was backed up by freshman Ted Cook, who scored his first two collegiate goals, and classmate Les Reaney, who added three assists.

“I thought our top line of Reaney, Sean Bentivoglio and Justin Cross got us going in the first period,” Purple Eagles’ coach Dave Burkholder said. “Every time they got on the ice something good happened.”

Clarkson caught a couple breaks and scored four third-period goals to win, 5-2, Saturday.

Senior forward Randy Harris made his return to the NU lineup after a three-year absence battling respiratory problems. He scored twice in the first game against Clarkson and assisted on two more in the second game.

Along with Maine senior Derek Damon, Ferris State alternate captain Nick Scheible, Nebraska-Omaha defenseman Jason Krischuk, Robert Morris co-captain Kurt Wright, St. Lawrence senior Simon Watson, Yale defenseman Mike Grobe, Michigan Tech blueliner Pekka Saittakari, Minnesota State defenseman Jon Dubel, St. Cloud State goaltender Jason Montgomery and forward Josh Singer, Harris is one of a handful of 25-year-olds (1980 birthdates) in NCAA Division I hockey this season and is the oldest CHA player.

Colonials Need Wins In Early Going

It never looks good on a schedule to lose to a club team, but that’s what happened last weekend for Robert Morris as it suffered a 3-2 setback to seven-time ACHA national champion Penn State. Had the “seven-time ACHA national champion” bit not been attached to the winning team, it may have been a different story.

Some positives went the Colonials’ way against the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Jace Buzek had a hand in both goals by scoring one and assisting on Sean Berkstresser’s tally 33 seconds into the game. RMU outshot Penn State, 43-24, but PSU goalie Paul Mammola played like a Division I netminder in getting the exhibition win.

The next day, Robert Morris outshot Canisius, 42-19, including 20-1 in the third period.

Coach Derek Schooley still has a positive outlook as in the preseason coaches’ poll, RMU was picked fifth.

“Obviously in our second year as a program, it’s for us to take a step forward as a program,” said Schooley. “The league coaches recognized the surprising record we had in our first-year and with that, recognized that we are going to be a better team in 2005-06.”