This Week in the CHA: Jan. 31, 2008

Niagara may be peaking at just the right time.

Just a week after sweeping Wayne State, the Purple Eagles roared into Quinnipiac and swept the then-12th-ranked Bobcats out of their own rink. And rather convincingly, too, in busting the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 10 games. QU hadn’t lost since Nov. 30.

NU took a 5-1 win Friday night and then rallied for a 5-3 win Saturday night in its first games this year against a nationally-ranked opponent.

Dan Sullivan, sophomore Ryan Olidis (first NCAA goal), Matt Caruana, Ryan Annesley and David Ross scored Friday night to back Juliano Pagliero’s 30-save outing.

“This game was one of our most thorough efforts in all areas this season,” said NU head coach Dave Burkholder. “We got off to such a great start and took the crowd out of it. We rolled all four lines all night and I couldn’t tell our first line from our fourth line.”

“We swept Quinnipiac at home last year so I think we had some confidence going into the game,” said Pagliero. “We knew it would be difficult to pull off a win in their barn, especially with their national status.”

Trailing 2-1 after the first period Saturday night, Niagara pulled off another upset.

Les Reaney, earning his 99th career point, opened the scoring for the Purple Eagles, putting Niagara on the board just 2:19 into the first period. Tyler Gotto, Caruana, Kyle Rogers and Chris Moran tallied the other NU goals.

Rogers’ goal proved to be the difference-maker.

“Matt won the faceoff and (Vince) Rocco found my stick,” said Rogers. “Honestly, I didn’t even see the puck. All the credit has to go to Caruana and Rocco for making the play.”

Pagliero stopped 32 shots for his 11th win of the year.

“Back-to-back nights, playing as well as we did says a lot about the character in the locker room,” Burkholder said. “We offensively scored some highlight-reel goals and I was very impressed with our transition game.”

Niagara’s win finished a four-game undefeated road trip and marks the first time since the last time it met the then-No. 16 Bobcats at Dwyer Arena on Jan. 19-20, 2007, that the Purple Eagles had swept a nationally-ranked team.

Still, NU only received votes in this week’s Poll and couldn’t crack the top 20.

Maybe next week, eh?

Wayne State Sweeps UAH Back To Huntsville

Wayne State achieved several milestones last weekend in its home sweep of Alabama-Huntsville.

A 2-0 victory on Friday night marked Wayne State’s first shutout since a 4-0 result against UAH on March 5, 2005.

WSU goaltender Brett Bothwell made history as well, not only by earning his first career shutout, but by notching an assist on the Warriors’ second goal of the game. He became just the second netminder in school history to earn a helper; David Guerrera did it twice previously — March 7, 2002 against Niagara and October 26, 2002 versus St. Lawrence.

With under four minutes to go in the middle stanza, Bothwell cleared the puck out to Tylor Michel on the left boards, who then fired a pass around the defensive zone to Jared Katz on the opposite side. Katz skated up and found Michel charging up the middle and he blasted a slapshot into the top corner.

Captain Mike Forgie netted the other goal. Katz assisted on both.

Blake MacNicol stopped 18 shots for the Chargers.

Saturday night, freshman forward Chris Kushneriuk made his first collegiate goal a memorable one in scoring the game-winner with 50 seconds remaining in overtime for a 4-3 win.

Tyler Ruel created a turnover in the UAH zone and after his shot hit the pads of Alabama-Huntsville goalie Cameron Talbot, Kushneriuk collected the rebound for his first career goal.

Wayne State held a 3-0 lead on three power-play goals, but saw it slip away as UAH netted three straight even-strength goals over a 10-minute span in the third period before Kushneriuk’s heroics.

The Warriors are 2-0-2 in overtime games this season and have lost just once in their last 15 games that have gone to OT.

Derek Punches scored twice and Matt Krug added the other. Stavros Paskaris and Derek Bachynski contributed two assists each as the Warriors swept a series against the Chargers for the first time since Feb. 28-29, 2004 in Huntsville.

Josh Murray, Andrew Coburn and Kevin Morrison scored for UAH and Talbot kicked out 22 shots.

Bothwell finished with 26 saves for WSU.

And just think: only four home games left for WSU — Feb. 8-9 against Robert Morris and March 8-9 against Niagara.

BSU Takes Three Points From Colonials

Bemidji State played the rude hosts last weekend in taking three points from visiting Robert Morris.

Matt Pope registered his second two-goal game of the season, but the CHA’s leading scorer, RMU’s Ryan Cruthers, potted a pair of his own in the third period to force a 2-2 stalemate in the opening game Friday night.

The tie stretched BSU’s unbeaten streak in overtime games to 11 games — a mark that reaches back to a March 11, 2006 victory over Alabama-Huntsville. BSU is 3-0-8 during this run.

Matt Climie turned away 28 RMU shots, while Christian Boucher recorded 40 saves at the other end.

Through the clutter of 24 penalties for a total of 83 minutes, Climie’s school-record 12th career shutout propelled Bemidji State to a 4-0 victory over Robert Morris Saturday night. Climie turned away all 19 RMU shots to match Jack Horner’s team record for shutouts in a season with five. Horner set the record during the 1976-77 season.

For BSU, 11 different players had a hand in the scoring. Matt Francis, Graham McManamin, Pope and Travis Winter scored goals for the Beavers.

The game was physical from the opening faceoff, but during the final 20 minutes, the level of physical play was elevated. Sixty-five minutes were served in the box for 11 penalties between the teams. Robert Morris took the brunt of the calls as four players received 10-minute misconduct penalties including a game misconduct to Kyle Frieday for checking from behind.

The blanking of RMU not only extends his own career shutout mark at the school, but Climie also vaults past Grady Hunt and into sole possession of the top spot on BSU’s Division I-era wins list with 41.

Climie also moves to eighth in the nation in save percentage (.930) while his goals-against average dropped to 1.69 to place him third among all D-I goaltenders.

Boucher turned away 37 shots in the loss, allowing all four BSU goals.

“Bemidji State was the better team on the weekend,” Colonials head coach Derek Schooley said. “They played with passion and energy and were good at both ends of the ice.”

The three-point weekend snaps a three-game losing streak to the Colonials and stretches BSU’s lead in the all-time series to 9-5-1. Saturday’s victory also gives the Beavers (21) an extra two points of separation between them and third-place Robert Morris (12) in the season standings which could give BSU a bit a breathing room down the stretch as the Colonials still hold four games in hand.

RMU Can’t Buy A Win

Playing its first home game in 46 days last Tuesday night, Robert Morris dropped a 5-2 decision to Princeton.

Chris Margott and freshman Brandon Gay (first collegiate goal) scored for RMU in the loss. Starting goalie Jim Patterson allowed four goals on 25 shots, while Wes Russell stopped all nine shots that he faced in a relief role.

Purple Eagles Get Two Syracuse Commitments

With backup goalie Scott Mollison graduating this spring, Niagara will be in need of another goaltender and has found one in Syracuse Stars 20-year-old Chris Noonan.

The Purple Eagles also got a commitment from Noonan’s Syracuse teammate, forward Kurt Akers.

Noonan, who is in his second season with the Eastern Junior Hockey League team, was excited to finally make his college decision.

“It has always been my goal to play Division 1 college hockey and I am glad I now have that opportunity,” said Noonan. “As a 20-year-old, it gets intense knowing it’s your last year to secure a college deal, but all the hard work has paid off. Playing in Syracuse has given me every opportunity to do so and I want to thank my coaches and teammates.”

Noonan, from the western Michigan town of Portage, was a Northern Division All-Star this year and currently has a .918 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. His record of 16-6-3 includes three shutouts.

“I’m so proud of Chris,” said Syracuse head coach Chris Firriolo. “He came into camp really focused and his work ethic has been outstanding all year long. It can be scary for a 20-year-old coming back to play his last year of juniors without a college deal, but we told Chris all the hard work is going to pay off. He’s certainly been one of the top goaltenders in this league the last two years and I think Niagara University is a great fit for Chris and a chance for him to earn playing time early on.”

Akers, an 18-year-old from Glenview, Ill, mirrored Noonan’s emotions at making his college choice.

“Playing Division 1 College Hockey has always been what I have wanted to do ever since I can remember,” Akers said. “I feel privileged to have this opportunity to play for Niagara University. It’s a great program with a strong commitment to achieving success and I’m very happy to become a part of it.”

Firriolo noted that although just a rookie, Akers has made an impact with the Stars.

“Kurt has been a tremendous addition to the Syracuse program this year,” said Firriolo. “He’s been a key player in every situation for us all year long. He’s simply a complete hockey player. He’s a workhorse with a lot of speed, real strong puck skills and has great vision on the ice. Kurt’s been one of our top goalscorers this year and has played a huge role on our power play and penalty kill units. He’s a very strong student who wants to study pre-med and I think Niagara will afford him every opportunity to succeed both on and off the ice.”

Akers was a Northern Division All-Star selection this year who presently is tied for sixth in the league in goals scored with 20. He has been honored with both the EJHL Offensive Player of the Week Award and the EJHL Rookie of the Week Award this season.

CHA Rumors Abound

Yet more talk this week on the future of the CHA.

Might the Canadian schools’ invasion help? Probably not. Why? Because the University of British Columbia is not in the CHA’s pseudo-footprint. Or is it?

There is also still talk of a proposition that has Canisius and Mercyhurst “joining” the CHA and dividing Atlantic Hockey into two divisions.

That makes sense to a point, so we’ll see what the college hockey decision-makers make sense of in the coming months.

You know the drill by now — stay tuned.