This Week in the CHA: Oct. 20, 2005

While certain College Hockey America teams are making a big splash on the ice during this young season, it’s what’s happening off the ice that has many raising an eyebrow or two.

With Air Force jetting (pun intended) for Atlantic Hockey next season, the CHA is in need of a replacement school to keep the league at six teams and thus fulfilling the requirement for an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament via the conference postseason.

Kennesaw State appeared to be the front-runner to fill the Air Force void. But earlier this week, the Atlanta-area school backed out, citing financial issues. The Owls currently have a club hockey program, and it looks like a Division I team won’t be realistic by this time next year, even though the school’s athletics department made the jump to Division I this fall.

“We were looking forward to bringing hockey to Kennesaw State and the Atlanta area, where hockey is good, with the Thrashers, and it is also expanding down south,” CHA commissioner Bob Peters said. “Of the 280 men’s club teams in the nation, 47 are down there along the coast heading north. States like Florida, Texas and even Tennessee have several club teams, so finding hockey isn’t a problem. But as far as Kennesaw State, they issued the statement; we have issued nothing to this point.”

Penn State is another option, and the Nittany Lions already know a bit about the CHA after beating Robert Morris two weeks ago. A perennial national contender and seven-time national champions at the club level, the Nittany Lions could also forge a rivalry with Robert Morris due to proximity.

“We will be holding a conference call with the other commissioners the first week of November to discuss our strategies,” Peters added.

The CHA, in just its seventh year of existence, has seemed like a carousel at times. The league began with Army as a member, but the Black Knights jumped to Atlantic Hockey a year later. Wayne State joined the fray in 2000 and went on to win three straight league titles. Robert Morris came into the league last year and now, another new team awaits invitation for 2006-07.

Got any ideas?

Bemidji State On A Roll

Why, who is that ranked No. 14 in the most recent poll? Could it be Bemidji State, a team supposedly rebuilding this year? Is that the same Beavers team that has won four straight nonconference games against, gulp, WCHA opponents? Is this the same team that worried about the losses of Andrew Murray and Brendan Cook?

The answer to all the above is a resounding “yes.” Bemidji State is off to a 4-0-0 start for the first time since the 1997-98 season, its first such record in its Division I era. With a home sweep of Minnesota State last weekend, it marked the first time BSU had swept the Mavericks on home ice in 11 years.

“This validates that we have had a very good program for the last couple of years,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s a long year and there are always going to be some ups and downs. We have good chemistry. We’re preparing for (WCHA opponents) like we would prepare for anybody. It’s a slap in our face to question our play against the WCHA; it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We respond and compete the same way.”

The Beavers are idle this weekend before heading to Air Force Oct. 28 to open CHA play.

RMU Not Playing Like Second-Year Team

A second-year program is supposed to be still working out the bugs and kinks, right? Looks like Robert Morris didn’t get that memo.

Maybe losing to Penn State was looked upon as a bit of an embarrassment, but you’d never give it a second thought after the Colonials beat Western Michigan, head coach Derek Schooley’s alma mater, last Saturday in Kalamazoo, Mich., and then topped the college-bound U.S. Under-18 Team Sunday in Ann Arbor.

“It’s probably the biggest win for our program,” said Schooley to USCHO after the WMU game, “to come in and beat a school with history and tradition. This team (Western Michigan) has been to three NCAA tournaments, it’s been around forever. Great hockey players have come through here, but just to be able to compete with and beat this program is probably our biggest win as a program.”

With the wins, RMU gained a supporter or two in the media as they garnered two points in the current poll. The last time Robert Morris appeared in the poll followed a win in the team’s first-ever game at Canisius, Oct. 22, 2004. The Colonials earned one vote in the poll the following week.

Air Force Now A Trivia Answer

It’s not the type of trivia question any team wants to be the answer to, but Air Force has the dubious distinction of being the victim of RIT’s first Division I victory. Last Saturday at the Quinnipiac Cup, the Air Force power play sputtered and RIT didn’t as the Tigers took a 5-2 win.

“Our power play is really hurting us,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “The effort is certainly there, but we have to find a way to score goals. We outshot a team for the second straight night. We only scored three goals in two games and that’s not going to get it done. The guys work so hard, but it is demoralizing not to have any success. Our power play needs to convert. It’s that simple. The question entering the season was ‘Who’s going to score for us?’ and that is still the question.”

On a more positive note, Serratore signed a new five-year contract this week that will carry through the 2009-2010 season.

Train Coming To Huntsville In ’06

Though it can’t be made official until next month, Alabama-Huntsville will have forward Tom Train on the roster next fall. The 20-year-old from the two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado had planned on joining the Chargers this year, but a paperwork snafu now has Train back in Texas.

“It just got extended until next year,” Train said of his scholarship. “I’m looking forward to heading down there. Every year they seem to improve and last year they almost made it to the NCAA tournament. It’ll also be nice to have family and some of my high school buddies in the building when we play at Wayne State. I have a lot of relatives and it’ll also be nice to have my grandpa there, too.”

Train, from Troy, Mich., is in his second year as the Tornados’ captain.

“(Former Texas teammate and sophomore UAH forward) Denny Reagan mentioned me to Coach (Doug) Ross last year,” Train added. “The coaches came to see me play a few times and made me an offer.”

Though known for his toughness, Train was tied for second in the NAHL with 33 goals and third on Texas with 69 points a year ago. He has three goals among nine points through nine games this season.

Niagara Captain A Natural

Jason Williamson dons the ‘C’ this year for the Purple Eagles, but for the senior from British Columbia, it’s old hat.

Williamson was an assistant captain last season and captained the Vernon Vipers back home his last two years of juniors.

“It’s definitely a great honor to be the captain of this team,” Williamson said. “It comes with pressure, but it’s good pressure to have. I’m ready to go.”

Past NU captains have gone on to the pro game. Barret Ehgoetz (a 2005 grad) signed with the ECHL’s Toledo Storm and was dealt to the Utah Grizzlies Wednesday, Joe Tallari (2004) is in the New York Islanders’ organization and Nick Kormanyos (2003) is toiling in the Southern Pro League with the Fayetteville FireAntz, and Scott Crawford (2002) played last season in Germany for the Leipzig Ice Lions.

On a different note, this weekend’s home game against Western Michigan is another in what has become somewhat of a feud over the years for Niagara.

“Niagara has become a good nonconference rivalry for us, due to the number of times we have played them,” Western Michigan head coach Jim Culhane said. “There is a lot of respect between the programs and we run into them quite a bit on the recruiting trail. We look at this game as a big challenge coming off the loss last Saturday. We’re also looking to improve upon our road record.”

Warriors’ Top Scorer Out?

What seemed like an innocent hit may have shelved Wayne State’s top scorer of a year ago.

Stavros Paskaris, the CHA’s rookie of the year last season, left last Thursday’s exhibition game against Guelph in the first period holding his left shoulder after a hit along the boards in the Warriors’ zone. During the second period, he emerged from the WSU locker room out of his equipment and with his arm under his T-shirt in a sling.

“I just went to brace myself for a hit and I don’t know what happened,” said Paskaris. “Hopefully it’s nothing major.”

The school has Paskaris listed as day-to-day with an unspecified shoulder injury and it’s not known if he’ll be ready for the two-game set at Clarkson next weekend. He didn’t play in Wednesday night’s exhibition against the Oakland University club team.