Everyone has heard of a sophomore slump.
A few people think Niagara goaltender Jeff VanNynatten
had a junior slump.
That's right. A junior slump.
After a sophomore season in which he
was named Most Valuable Player at the CHA Tournament
and led the Purple Eagles to an NCAA Tournament berth,
VanNynatten was solid last season, but did not live
up to the lofty expectations of some.
He certainly had nothing to be ashamed
of with a 2.64 goals against average and a .904 save
percentage. Perhaps some thought he had an off year
because he didn't backstrop club to the NCAAs. Missing
a long stretch of games with a broken finger didn't
When Van Nynatten talks about it now,
one can tell last season is thousands of miles behind
“I don’t want to
talk too much about last year. I want to focus on
this year,” he said. “I think I was distracted
off the ice and was not as committed as I should have
been. I thought I could just kind of make up for that
by showing up Friday and Saturday and competing as
hard as I could and that would be enough. As it turned
out it wasn’t.
“I had lots of motivation
this summer, looking back on last year, to make this
year kind of a special year for the senior class and
the whole team.”
This past summer, the senior stayed
behind at Niagara to skate for 90 minutes every day
and lift for another 90 minutes with a group of teammates.
That dedication has paid off so far this season –
VanNynatten has been very steady, posting a 3.00 goals
against average and a .914 save percentage. His stats
aren't mind-boggling, but he's made big saves when
the game is on the line. He was especially sharp in
Saturday’s non-league win over Western Michigan,
a big reason he was named the CHA Defensive Player
of the Week.
VanNynatten is refreshingly frank –
what you see is what you get, and what he says is
the way it is.
“I don’t think I
am playing that much better this year,” he said.
“We started really strong as a team. I was confident
coming into this year. And being a senior, I knew
I was going to be relied upon to make sure I was ready
to go on Friday and Saturday nights and give the guys
a chance to win. We’re scoring goals right now,
and we are scoring goals at the right time. We are
getting good contributions from our freshman class,
especially [Ted] Cook and Big Country [Les Reaney].
As a team, we are gelling pretty well right now. We
are competing hard in practice and guys are ready
to play come the weekend.”
Despite an bumpy junior season, VanNynatten
says his confidence never wavered.
“I think any goaltender
will tell you...you can’t play this position
without having confidence in yourself,” he said.
“It’s a different kind of position than
others...related to maybe a pitcher or a quarterback.
If you don’t have confidence in yourself or
what you can do, then you are not going to perform.”
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, a former
goaltender at RIT, has noticed a difference in VanNynatten
“He even looks different
in practice,” Burkholder said. “Everything
seems easier for him. It doesn’t matter what
drill we are doing – he just sees pucks. He
is making things look easy or routine.”
AND HEARD IN THE CHA
Great Weekend Getaway
at Niagara (Fri.-Sat.) Air
Force couldn't do it against Colorado College
or Denver. Alabama-Huntsville couldn't do it
at Maine. So can Niagara knock off a ranked
opponent this weekend when undefeated Vermont
travels to western New York for a two-game set?
Air Force is bolting for Atlantic Hockey after
the season and the Falcons haven't had the greatest
success in recent years, but the Academy
did the right thing by re-upping with coach
Frank Serratore, a terrific ambassador
for college hockey and one of the game's more
loquacious bench bosses.
one expected them to escape Orono with a win,
but Alabama-Huntsville –
the pick of CHA coaches to win the league –
mustered just one goal at Maine last weekend.
Air Apparent – Air
Force coach Frank Serratore has lent stability to
the Falcons program since assuming head coaching duties.
Last week, he was granted a contract extension as
for his efforts.
“I still had a couple of
years left on my other deal, and I appreciate the
support of the administration for doing that,”
he said. “I appreciate the fact that they think
enough of me that they want to have me around and
in charge of their hockey program for the next five
“I think we’ve made
some great strides in my tenure here. I think in essence
we have truly taken this program to the Division I
Air Force has technically always been
a Division I school, but now the Falcons play a schedule
consisting entirely of other D-I clubs –
in the not too distant past, faced a handful of Division
III foes annually.
Speaking of Division I clubs, the Falcons
played two of the best last weekend, acquiting themselves
nobly in losses to perennial powers and Front Range
neighbors Denver and Colorado College.
“We outshot them, we outhit them,
we outplayed them,” Serratore said of Friday
night’s 4-2 loss to the defending national champions.
“It’s unfortunate we struggled to score
goals. We very easily could have won that game.”
Saturday, Air Force jumped to a 2-0
lead against Colorado College. Things looked good,
“I think all we accomplished
with that is banging the bee's nest,” Serratore
said. “They came out and flat out dominated
us in the next two periods. Their special teams on
that big sheet were exceptional.”
Colorado College led 4-3 after two
periods, but outshot Air Force 11-1 and added two
insurance goals in the third period to earn a 6-3
Air Force opens conference play this
weekend as it hosts Bemidji State, coached by Serratore’s
brother, Tom. More importantly, the Beavers are yet
another ranked opponent on the Falcons' docket –
five of their first eight games have come against
“Unfortunately, we have
not been able to knock one of those big dogs off yet,"
Frank Serratore said. "But for the most part,
we gave Maine and Denver all –
and probably more –
than what they wanted or were looking for.”
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Robert Morris, in only its second
year of Division I hockey, currently owns the most
potent power play in the country. The Colonials
have converted 12-of-33 attempts this season for a
36.4 percent success rate.
“Is it a surprise, yes,”
RMU coach Derek Schooley said. “We were not
good on the power play last year. I said last year
our power play will get better with age and maturity.
Now, we’ve got guys in places that know what
they are doing.
"[Senior forward] Kurt Wright is
doing a very good job. We are getting pucks on the
net and getting traffic. It’s an all around
Last weekend against Bentley, the RMU
power play sizzled, especially on Saturday Saturday
when the Colonials were 5-for-8 with the extra man.
All seven of RMU’s goals in the Bentley series
came on the power play.
Speaking of the Colonials, RMU goaltender
Christian Boucher rebounded nicely after
suffering an injury against Western Michigan the previous
“He was the difference
Saturday night when we got outshot 23-8 in the second
period,” Schooley said.
Boucher finished with 33 saves in the
Colonials’ 5-2 victory.
Alabama-Huntsville opened the season last weekend
with a pair of losses at Maine, falling 3-1 Friday
and dropping a 4-0 decision Saturday. The
Chargers haven't won a game in which they've scored
two or fewer goals since a 2-0 victory against
Minnesota State, Mankato on Jan. 4, 2002. Since then,
UAH is 0-40-2 when scoring less than three goals in
More on VanNynatten:
In Niagara’s victory Saturday, he made the 2,000th
save of his career. The Purple Eagles' all-time leader
in that category is Greg Gardner (1996-2000), who
finished with 2,639 career stops.
“I’m aware of all
the Niagara goaltending records and the guy who owns
them all,” VanNynatten said. “Most of
them are far out my reach. I didn’t know it
was the 2,000th save until I heard the announcer say
it after the game.”
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation
of this report.