America was the epitome of the caste system last year. There were
the haves (Niagara, Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville) and the
have-nots (Air Force, Findlay and Wayne State). And, as though the
levels were decided by their birthrights, they ain’t gonna
At least not this year. With the notable exception of welcome newcomer
Robert Morris replacing folded Findlay, the CHA pecking order isn’t
much different than it was six months ago.
State and Niagara will duke it out for the top spot. Almost-there
UAH will be lurking just a half-step off the pace. Lagging behind
those three is the battle between WSU, Air Force and RMU to lose
the fewest games.
it looks on paper. But the beauty of hockey is its unpredictability,
right? Maybe in 370 days or so, we’ll watch a championship
banner being hoisted to the top of the Island Sports Center in Pittsburgh.
Maybe. But don’t bet on it.
on conference schools continuing to eyeball greener pastures, though.
Already, 50 percent of the league has openly expressed interest
in joining other conferences (and you know that if, say, the CCHA
invited Wayne State, the Warriors wouldn’t politely turn it
down), leaving the CHA in a sticky position. It doesn’t take
much pessimism to think that this season could be the CHA’s
not dwell on the negative (although before we move on completely,
note that Bemidji State’s second-leading scorer from last
year, Riley Riddell, is suspended from the team and facing third-degree
criminal sexual conduct charges). The good news is that the CHA
season is nearly upon us...and there’s no threat of a lockout.
For having the
best player in the league (Jared Ross), the best defenseman in the
league (Jeremy Schreiber), an experienced goaltender (Scott Munroe)
and a slew of returning forwards, Alabama-Huntsville
isn’t getting a lot of love from the preseason prognosticators.
Like 82 percent of the Big Ten, such is life when you’re in
a league with the Big Two. But if any team has the credentials to
steal the crown from Niagara and Bemidji State, it’s your
friendly neighbor to the south. Coach Doug Ross (Jared’s father)
shouldn’t lack for scoring this season, as his son paces a
strong front line. The main question mark is Munroe, who won the
No. 1 job as a freshman only to let then-senior Adam MacLean pilfer
half the playing time last season. Now a junior, Munroe must step
up and be stout – particularly during UAH’s meetings
against the Beavers and Purple Eagles.
FOR A FALL
Year One of
Air Force’s two-year rebuilding project went
so well (the 14 wins over Division 1 teams tied a school record),
that expectations for Year Two could be inflated. But the Falcons
still are very young and could struggle to replace senior forwards
Shane Saum and Spanky Leonard and starting goalie Mike Polidor.
Sophomore Peter Foster looks like an able replacement for Polidor
– if he handles the psychological requirements of being the
main guy. But outside of the crease is a different story. Goals
probably will be hard to come by, and the defense is susceptible
to the better rushes in the league. The Falcons were in fourth place
most of last season, but duplicating that feat would be a coup.
Cook and Bemidji State were the top seed in last year's CHA
Tournament, but lost to Niagara in the championship in overtime.
Bemidji State matches up favorably against anybody in the league
(and plenty of teams in the Big Four conferences). But where co-
favorite Niagara might have an advantage is between the pipes with
Jeff Van Nyanatten. That’s why plenty of northern Minnesota
eyes will be fixed on Beavers goalie Layne Sedevie,
who takes over for graduated Grady Hunt, this season. If Sedevie
can maintain the high level of goaltending Bemidji has enjoyed in
recent years, the peppy Beavers forwards can concentrate on what
they do best: making fools of opposing goalies.
ACT TO FOLLOW
Air Force had
a positive 2003-04 season in no small part because of the attitude
that captains Saum and Leonard instilled in the
locker room. With them, Frank Serratore pretty much had two extra
assistant coaches on his staff – and he didn’t even
have to pay them (we don’t think). But Saum and Leonard have
moved on, creating a Mark Mangino-sized leadership void in Colorado
Springs. Senior defenseman Steve Mead steps into the captain’s
role this year, and his efforts will be integral to building the
bridge between the Falcons’ tempered present and brighter
With all due respect to Niagara’s Barret Ehgoetz,
Jared Ross gets the nod here. Ross is a threatening
force every time he’s on the ice because his combination of
speed, quick hands and hockey intuition is good enough to play for
any team in the nation. He’s been the Chargers’ No.
1 threat since the day he took his first shift, and that won’t
change. Ehgoetz brings similar abilities to the rink (although his
UAH counterpart might have a slight edge in a skills competition),
but where Ross really has the advantage is in his value to the team.
Niagara could carry on without Ehgoetz. UAH couldn’t without
There has been
a considerable buzz surrounding Bemidji State freshman forward
Jake Bluhm this preseason. The Red Wing, Minn., native
played juniors in Fairbanks (NAHL), where he led the team in scoring
last year. And he certainly struck the fancy of one opposing junior
coach, who said, “He should have been able to name his school.
It’s a joke that he’s not playing for Michigan or BC.”
Here’s guessing you won’t hear anyone complaining near
the Paul Bunyan statue for the next four years.
Last year, Niagara
forward Justin Cross played on the first line at times.
And the second line. And the third line. And the fourth line. He
even was a healthy scratch early in the season. Regardless, he still
put up 29 points in 34 games, ranking fourth on the team in scoring,
and netted a team-high four game-winners. Not bad for a player who’s
been skating in the shadows of Ehgoetz and Joe Tallari ever since
he arrived from Camarillo, Calif.
“Justin’s in such great shape,” Niagara coach
Dave Burkholder said. “He’s trained really hard, and
now he’s found an extra step. He’s one of the most skilled
guys on our team when he has the puck on his stick, so when you
combine that with his extra step, he’s very dangerous.”
Consider yourself warned.
led by senior captain Barret Ehgoetz, returns 20 players from
last year's NCAA Tournament qualifier.
Robert Morris escape the CHA cellar? Hey,
why not? The Colonials have nothing to lose, and talent-wise, they
rank in the middle of the conference. Inexperience is working against
them, but expect coach Derek Schooley to have his team playing hard
every shift. It wouldn’t take much luck to finish fifth this
2. Will there be a CHA next season? Let’s
hope so. The last thing college hockey needs is a conference to
fold. Robert Morris bailed out the CHA by replacing Findlay this
season and keeping the league’s enrollment at the NCAA’s
magic number of six. But the Colonials and Air Force have expressed
interest in joining Atlantic Hockey, and Niagara put in an unsuccessful
bid to hook up with the ECACHL. It’s clear that teams are
looking to jump ship whenever possible, and with no known school
joining the Division I ranks next season, the CHA might have trouble
replacing a deserter.
Wayne State come together as a team? Last year’s
Warriors never seemed to unite as a single-minded force. Part of
it was youth, with a huge freshman crop replacing a core of trusted
seniors that had guided the team to the NCAA tournament the year
before. The other part of it were injuries, which seemed to hit
Wayne State as hard as any team east of the Plains. More roster
shakeups jolted the program this offseason, with juniors Nathan
Rosychuk and Billy Collins signing with pro teams, sophomore Derek
MacKay leaving school and senior Aaron Hundt deciding not to return
for his fifth year. But, perhaps, those who are left will become
even tighter in the face of adversity.
Five things you can take to the bank in the CHA this season
transfers will play a large role in determining the league outcome.
Kris Wiebe brings equal amounts of grit, talent and leadership to
a strong Niagara program. Will Hooper will be a major player in
Wayne State’s crease. And Kurt Wright becomes one of Robert
Morris’ few veterans.
Ross will be one of the 10 semifinalists for the Hobey Baker Award,
but won’t make the Hobey Hat Trick cut. Complain about “Big
Four” bias if you’d like, but Ross’ presumably
impressive statistics won’t be enough to overcome the lack
of respect for the CHA among voters.
can say it won’t be, but the Riley Riddell situation
will be a distraction for Bemidji State until it’s
resolved. Taking Riddell’s production out of the lineup is
one thing. But trying to look past what could be a painful legal
process for a friend and a teammate is even tougher.
“Big Four” schools will fall victim to CHA squads.
This pretty much goes without saying. As the quality of play in
the CHA improves each year, more of these upsets are bound to happen.
Watch out, MSU-Mankato (vs. Bemidji Nov. 5-6), Lake Superior State
(vs. Bemidji Dec. 3-4), Vermont (vs. Niagara Oct. 22-23) and Western
Michigan (vs. Niagara Nov. 5-6) in particular.
will prove to be a welcome addition to the college hockey world.
Pittsburgers (if that’s not what they’re called, they
should be) will welcome the Colonials’ work ethic, talent
and lack of threats to move to Winnipeg.
nonconference schedule (UMass Lowell, Maine, Vermont, Clarkson,
Western Michigan, Massachusetts) will hone Purple Eagles for
of star defensman Bryce Methven will hurt more than many believe.
defenseman Jeremy Schreiber: "We can be just as good as
Bemidji, maybe better. We’ve been to the (league) dance
for years, but we’re bridesmaids every time. We have to
get out of the league. That’s our Achilles’ heel."
of former Findlay goalie Will Hooper will spare the Compuware
Sports Arena nets further abuse.
Brooks Turnquist is thisclose to being an all-league
have to prove they don’t belong at the bottom.