This Week in the CHA: Nov. 24, 2005

Being that it’s Thanksgiving and all, the six teams that comprise the CHA all have much to be thankful for. First off, they have a league and that in itself has been a topic of choice the past several weeks.

Will the CHA exist next year? How can it operate with five teams? What school will step up and be the sixth team?

For now, the CHA has six solid teams and will send one representative to the NCAA tournament next March. That much is certain.

But beyond the league’s issues, all six institutions should take a deep breath and realize what they can give thanks for during this special time of reflection.

Air Force — As this is written, the Falcons are over in Germany playing exhibition games against German professional teams. Traveling overseas is one thing that the majority of common folk never get a chance to experience, but to be a member of a U.S. service academy during these troubling times must make the players feel proud and those around them as well.

Alabama-Huntsville — The Chargers should be thankful for their loyal coach of 20-plus years in Doug Ross. Job security has never been a question for Ross and UAH and to have some consistency behind the bench is a hot commodity in college hockey these days.

Bemidji State — You could say luck would play a role in their early-season success, but what the Beavers can be most thankful for is their on-ice talent, locker room leadership and the fact the school is getting early commitments from above-average players from quality leagues like the USHL and players from their home state of Minnesota.

Niagara — Like Bemidji State, the Purple Eagles seem to be attracting quite a few players from New York State and for their recruiting efforts, they should give thanks. The Purple Eagles can also take solace in knowing that without Trevor Mallon, Brian Hartman, Shayne Baylis, Ryan Carrigan or Travis Anderson on defense this season, the talent back there is so deep that no one has missed a step and Niagara has been in every game and of their four losses, three of them were by two goals or fewer.

Robert Morris — So far, the Colonials have their power play to be thankful for. Operating at a 31.6 percent efficiency rate prior to last weekend’s 0-for-8 showing against Huntsville, RMU did beat UAH on Friday night, 1-0, and lost late in the third period Saturday night, 6-5. Based on that showing against one of the league’s perennial contenders, Robert Morris has a bright future to think about today.

Wayne State — If it wasn’t for bad luck, there would be no luck for the winless Warriors. But head coach Bill Wilkinson and his players aren’t hanging their heads and perhaps having last weekend off will do wonders as WSU heads to Union this weekend. Wayne State can hang their hats on the fact they lost in overtime to Niagara and also tied NU and also played Bemidji tight Nov. 11-12. Plus, WSU is hosting the CHA tournament in March, so maybe the Warriors can be thankful for home-ice advantage?

Recruits Starting To Trickle In

Though only Wayne State and Robert Morris made signings official during the early signing period, other players have reportedly joined CHA schools for 2006.

RMU signed forward Kyle Frieday and WSU announced it has secured defenseman Ryan Bernardi. Frieday’s signing was announced two weeks ago while Bernardi, just 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, should help replace outgoing seniors Greg Poupard and Steve Kovalchik next fall. In 18 games this year, Bernardi has two goals and seven assists for nine points with a +11 rating with the Milton IceHawks (16-2-1-1) of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League.

“Ryan brings great intensity and enthusiasm for the game,” said Wilkinson. “He is a good-skating defenseman with great vision on the ice. Ryan will add speed and puck skills to our defensive corps.”

Alabama-Huntsville also obtained the services of 19-year-old winger Cale Tanaka from the Aurora Tigers of the OPJHL. Tanaka’s kid brother, Cory, is a forward with the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls after getting dealt from the Plymouth Whalers Wednesday.

“It’s great to see such committed and focused young men be rewarded for their efforts,” said the Tigers’ education consultant Lee Burton, who was instrumental in finalizing the transaction for Tanaka as well as Jeremie Dupont and Jeric Agosta to Nebraska-Omaha.

Bemidji State will have Des Moines Buccaneers’ blueliner John Vadnais next year as the Stillwater, Minn., native signed his letter of intent last week. The leading scorer among defensemen on Des Moines, Vadnais previously played for Waterloo and Lincoln before coming to Des Moines via a trade last December. 

“I chose Bemidji because I felt it was a great fit for me,” said Vadnais. “The combination of the school, the environment and the coaching staff all made it feel like it was a place where I could be successful. ”

“John is a junior hockey success story,” said Des Moines head coach and general manager Regg Simon.  “He’s persevered through some tough times and has never given in. In his time with the Bucs, he’s grown and matured as a player and as a young man and we wish him nothing but the best in Bemidji.”

Tyler Gotto, a defenseman for the Calgary Canucks, will also suit up for Niagara along with forward and Buffalo native Chris Moran, now with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers.

Air Force reportedly has commitments from three forwards — Jeff Hajner (Melfort, SJHL), Matt Fairchild (Walpole, EJHL) and Matt Becker (Billings, NAHL) — and two defensemen — Brett Nylander (Bozeman, NAHL) and Chris Hepp (Omaha, USHL) — for 2006.

Falcons Venture To Germany For Pair, Win Both

Air Force beat Bad Tolz, 7-2, Tuesday night and then did the same to Rosenheim Wednesday night in the aforementioned exhibition games against the German pro squads.

Against Bad Tolz, Mike Phillipich had a goal and three assists, Ehn a goal and two assists, Josh Schaffer two goals and Mike Knaeble and Jay Medenwaldt a goal and an assist each. Brent Olson tallied a goal as well. Pete Foster started in net and made 13 saves through two periods. Ben Worker played the final 20 minutes and made three saves. Air Force played a penalty-free game while Bad Tolz was whistled for six infractions; Air Force capitalized on two of them.

In Rosenheim, the Falcons took a 4-1 win over the home team. Ehn Knaeble, Matt Charbonneau and Theo Zacour all scored to back goalie Ian Harper’s eight saves. Air Force outshot Rosenheim, 29-9.

“Our defense played great tonight,” Harper said. “They blocked all the shots on the power play and made my job easy. I had to make a couple saves in the second period, but that was about all. The goal in the first period was all my fault. That is one that I have to stop. Our trip out here has been great. It’s my first time to Germany and we’ve gotten to see a lot so far. Austria was really neat to see today. The mountains here are great and the people are so friendly.”

Ehn echoed Harper’s views on being in Europe for the few days.

“It was really interesting to see the different styles of hockey mesh on the ice together,” said sophomore forward Eric Ehn. “The two teams play completely different styles. More importantly, the experience we have had over here has been fantastic. Whether we go overseas during our Air Force career or in the civilian business world, the trip has been invaluable. It is so good to be here. The people we have met and the culture we have experienced has been as good as it gets.”

Niagara Beats Coach’s Alma Mater

Saturday afternoon at Dwyer Arena, Niagara beat RIT, 3-2, and in the process gave head coach Dave Burkholder bragging rights over the school for which he won a national Division II title in 1983 as a goaltender.

The two teams combined to go 0-for-14 with the man-advantage.

“There was some pressure coming in, knowing that you are supposed to win and if you lose it would have been devastating,” said Burkholder. “But (RIT) has been in every game that they have played in. You don’t get to play a lot of games in college so your next one is your biggest. It was just a sloppy game, but it’s a comeback win and we will move on to next week. These are all building blocks hopefully towards a league championship.”

Randy Harris scored with 7:36 left in regulation and Jeff Van Nynatten made 11 saves in the third period to pick up the win. Scott Langdon scored his first collegiate goal midway through the first period and Vince Rocco also scored for the Purps.

Captain Jason Williamson and Matt Caruana each assisted on Harris’ goal to extend their individual point streaks to seven games.

Niagara will embark on one of its toughest weekends of the season when it meets No. 11 Cornell in a two-game series. The two teams do battle on the Big Red’s home ice Friday before wrapping up action Saturday with a showdown at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., in what’s considered a “home” game for Niagara.

“This is going to be a very exciting week,” said Burkholder. “It’s Thanksgiving. It’s a time of reflection. It’s a pretty good life we have here, including the players. To go up against a ranked team like Cornell is going to be an awesome week.”

Last And Certainly Not Least

During this time of thanks, I’d like to send out a few myself. First and foremost, I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Stephanie, and our 12-week-old son, Ethan Matthew. You guys are my life, plain and simple. I couldn’t imagine my life without you both, but I can imagine a lifetime of memories ahead with the two of you. I love you both like you’ll never know!

I’d also like to give thanks for my family and extended family. I have a very small family, but my wife has a family bigger than several third-world countries. Having a solid family life is key at this day in age and to my wonderful parents, Gramps, siblings, silly poocher Eddie at home chasing his tail, aunts and uncles, and Stephanie’s amazing parents and siblings and nieces and nephews, I’m thankful for and love each and every one of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!