January 6, 2006
Warrior Roller Coaster Headed Up

By Thomas Baldwin

 College Hockey America Notebook

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Its season has not been what could be considered a soap opera, but it has been full of intrigue. The latest – reportedly, an injury in practice – almost changed a player’s life.

In the scope of things, after a disastrous start which saw Wayne State start out 0-8-2, the Warriors have quietly been playing some quality hockey lately, and have won three of their last four and are 4-2-0 in their last six.

The streak started with a split at Air Force in early December followed by a sweep of Merrimack Dec. 9-10.

This past weekend, Wayne State got spanked 6-2 by Northern Michigan in the first round of the Badger Classic. However, the Warriors rebounded in impressive fashion, defeating Western Michigan, 6-3, in the consolation game last Saturday.

“It is obviously good to win,” Warrior coach Bill Wilkinson said. “The first part of the season was tough because a lot of the games were on the road, and we played without Stavros (Paskaris) …..and Nate (Higgins) was missing.”

The key to Saturday’s victory was quick starts to periods. Jason Bloomingburg gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead just 1:56 into the game. In the second period, Jon Grabarek (1:30 in) and Higgins (2:31) scored to give Wayne State a 3-0 lead. Higgins had two goals while Bloomingburg had a goal and an assist.

“It was a great win for us after we played, I thought, very poorly against Northern,” Wilkinson said. “Give Northern credit, they have a great team and stuck it to us pretty good. On Saturday, we were much better prepared mentally to come out and challenge Western. We got a few breaks early, and certainly it was the difference in the game, getting off to a good start.”

Now the bad news – the Warriors lost junior forward Mike Forgie for the season when he smashed into the boards during a recent practice and suffered a serious neck injury – a potentially life-changing injury.

“Fortunately, he didn’t paralyze himself,” said Wilkinson, who has seen all there is to see and then some in his extensive coaching career.

Also, sophomore forward Ty Michel has a broken fibula and should be out four to six weeks.


Nothing to show: Bemidji St. has played very well in non-conference games this season – and did again last weekend in the Sheraton/TD BankNorth Catamount Cup in picturesque Burlington, Vermont.

Unfortunately, Bemidji left New England with nothing to show for it, dropping a 3-3 tie (yes, a tie) in the opener against No. 15 Clarkson after losing 1-0 in a five-man shootout. The next night Bemidji led late in the third period, 3-2, but surrendered the tying goal with just 1:49 remaining before Dartmouth’s Nick Johnson won the game in overtime.

The Clarkson game was vastly frustrating for the Beavers.

“I don’t care about losing the shootout … we had a 3-1 lead and gave it up,” Bemidji St. coach Tom Serratore said. “That’s tough to swallow.”

The way the Beavers lost Saturday was just as disheartening.

“It was a tough weekend … we just couldn’t hold the lead on both nights,” Serratore said. “It is very frustrating when you can’t hold the lead. We actually played pretty good hockey the whole weekend, but we didn’t get a lot to show for it. You have to make sure you are on your toes and playing smart, intelligent hockey in the latter part of the game when you have a lead.”

On Monday the Beavers had a long bus ride from Burlington to Pittsburgh, where they will practice at Robert Morris’ rink before playing the Colonials twice this weekend.

“They have a good hockey team,” Serratore said of the Colonials. "They are well coached, and Derek (Schooley) has done a great job. They are always extremely difficult to play against. It should be a great series.”

Saturday shocker: In a startling outcome, Niagara traveled to New Hampshire and whipped the No.13 Wildcats Saturday night, 6-2, despite being outshot 20-1 during power-play opportunities.

“It’s one of our best wins ... it ranks up amongst the best wins in our 10-year history,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “All year we’ve been a pretty good offensive team, and we are going to score our goals. Every time there was a bad bounce or something it went our way, which is great. You need that, especially when you are the underdog.”

Niagara continues to get major production from its freshman class. This time it was Vince Rocco who came to the forefront, scoring two goals and adding an assist in the victory.

“We have a lot of freshman playing in key roles, especially on the power play,” Burkholder said. “Vince went hard to the net twice, and got a rebound goal and a goalmouth scramble goal. He’s got really good poise and good hands. But most importantly, he drove hard to the net.”

The Purple Eagles also received a sensational goaltending effort from senior Jeff Van Nynatten, who finished with 49 saves.

“He was a pillar back there,” Burkholder said. “He was unfazed by the crowd and by the traffic in front of the net. He was as good as it gets. When you go in as a major underdog you need a goaltender to step up, and he was solid.”

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Niagara at Minnesota (Fri.-Sat.)
Niagara faces still another arduous challenge this weekend when the Purple Eagles play at Minnesota, the second-ranked team in the nation.

“I would say last weekend has to help us,” Burkholder said. “We gained some confidence coming out of UNH. We’ve already had one opportunity on the Olympic (size) ice, so I don’t think that will be much of a factor. But obviously, we are moving up to the number two team in the country. It’s a huge test, but its something I know our players are excited about, and we are going to go in and play as hard as we possibly can.”


• Alabama-Huntsville coach Doug Ross was not in a holiday mood during a 6-2 loss at Minnesota State Mankato Saturday evening. He benched players for taking too many penalties and yanked his goaltender, Scott Munroe, with eight minutes to go in the game.

“Scottie let a couple of soft goals in,” said the usually blunt Ross. “Our goaltender didn’t play his 'A' game tonight, and neither did the team.”

It was not a great weekend for Munroe, who surrendered seven goals in the 8-5 Friday night loss to Nebraska-Omaha. On the weekend, Munroe gave up 13 goals on 83 shots for a save percentage of .843.

• Air Force got goals at crucial times in a 3-2 victory over Air Force Friday night. Josh Schaffer gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead just 52 seconds into the game. Then, with just 27 seconds left in the first period, Eric Ehn scored the eventual game-winning goal.

The Falcons tied the Tigers 2-2 Saturday to get three of four points from the series.

• If Niagara's win over New Hampshire didn't conjure up enough memories of the program's lone NCAA Tournament win, which came against the Wildcats in 2000, this weekend should. The Purple Eagles return to Mariucci Arena, which was the site of that year's NCAA West Regional.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.