January 19, 2006
Too Close For Comfort

By Thomas Baldwin

 College Hockey America Notebook

National TV Schedule

The race for first place in the CHA heated up this past weekend and, as a result, three clubs are jammed at the top with only a single point separating them.

Bemidji State and Niagara are currently tied for first place with 13 points each, while streaking Alabama-Huntsville is only one point back with 12.

“I’ve said all year this is the way it is going to be,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, whose club took three of four points against Wayne State this past weekend.

It would be impossible to select one game to epitomize the up-and-down nature of the CHA this season, but last Friday’s Niagara-Air Force game is a worthy candidate. With Niagara up 2-1 entering the third period, the Falcons exploded for three goals in a span of 5:56. Niagara could have quit, but Sean Bentivoglio (power play) and Randy Harris (a four-on-four goal with 22 seconds left in regulation) scored in the final five minutes of regulation to pull the Purple Eagles even at 4-4. Niagara’s comeback went for naught, however, as Mike Phillipich scored 3:30 into overtime to give Air Force a 5-4 victory.

“It was a game where you went through every emotion possible,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “You would figure a one-goal lead on the road would be enough, but it wasn’t. To their credit, they just kept coming at us. To our credit, to come back and at least force overtime...but still, it's a tough way to lose.”

Saturday, Niagara reasserted itself, easily defeating the Falcons, 7-2. Freshmen Ted Cook and Les Reaney each scored two goals.

“With our backs against the wall, it was a real test for our guys,” Burkholder said. “We told the guys before the game, ‘We have to come out of here with a split.’”

In this league this season, it seems like anybody can beat anybody on a given night. WIth that it mind, the race for first place in the conference will be a knockdown, drag-out affair that goes right to the wire and everyone knows it.

“It’s definitely a logjam up top right now,” Niagara captain Jason Williamson said. “We kind of knew that was the way it was coming in, and it looked like it was going to a three-horse race. It is definitely setting up to be that way, and is going to be a battle for the finish.”


Little things mean a lot: The CHA is so tight at least at the top it could very well be a small element of a single hockey game that influences what eventually happens at the top. And crazily, the team at the bottom of the league might have the final say.

“It’s going to boil down to a lot of little things,” BSU's Serratore said. “The bottom line is you have to win games. You have to win game at home and you have to win games on the road. It will be interesting to see how things shake down.

"The team that is the healthiest, playing the best, having good goaltending and special teams…all of those little intangibles [determine] the team that is going to win it."

Accurately predicting what will transpire down the stretch in the conference might want to take up a pastime with less variables. Something like, say, investing in lottery tickets.

“I think 13 wins can win our league this year," Serratore said. "We’ve had separation with teams in the past and we don’t have that anymore. I think from top to bottom there is a goal difference between the teams, and that is a fine line.”

Great weekend getaway (it was getting back that was tough): Shortly after its weekend split at Air Force, Niagara left Colorado Springs for Denver, where the Purple Eagles' entourage would catch a red-eye home. It would be a tough night, but at least everyone would be back home early Sunday, giving the players time to rest and be ready for the resumption of classes Monday morning.

Good idea...with one hitch.

The Purple Eagles had an unexpected three-hour layover in New York City, getting them back to campus much later than anticipated. But there's more. Without getting into specifics this is one of the few times media members don't want coaches to be candid with their comments Burkholder said many of the players came down with the flu.

Thankfully, Williamson says the bug is passing and the Purple Eagles will be ready to go this weekend for a key series against Alabama-Huntsville.

“I think we are getting over it now,” he said. “The jetlag, the tiredness...we can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve been home for a week. Practice was pretty good (Wednesday) and I am expecting a pretty good one again (Thursday).”

Besides, Williamson recognizes that there are tougher modes of transportation.

"Alabama-Huntsville...they don’t even fly," he stated. "They bus all the way up here."

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Alabama-Huntsville at Niagara
These two teams split a science fiction-like series in Huntsville back in early November the Purple Eagles blew two three-goal leads in a 5-4 loss, while the Chargers squandered a 3-0 lead in the series finale, an 8-4 Niagara win. The stakes are high in the rematch. Only one point separates these two clubs in the CHA standings, but the Chargers have two games in hand on co-leaders Bemidji State and Niagara.

“It’s big,” Burkholder said. “It’s a great goalie matchup…(UAH's Scott) Munroe vs. (Niagara's Jeff) VanNynatten. It looks like (UAH forward Bruce) Mulherin is getting hot. Whoever wins this weekend’s series stays in the first-place race, that’s for sure.”


• Many media members and CHA fans predicted before the season Bemidji State would win the league title. Serratore doesn’t feel his club is under pressure to live up to the lofty expectations.

“I think the pressure is on everybody else,” he said. “We’ve won it two years in a row. Some teams haven’t won it. That’s pressure."

• Niagara's Burkholder hit the nail on the head when he said Mulherin is getting hot. The Alabama-Huntsville senior had two goals in the Chargers' 3-1 victory over Robert Morris in the series opener between the two teams last weekend. In the finale, Mulherin keyed an 8-1 win with a hat trick. He also added three assists for an eight-point weekend.

• Another illustration of the bizarre nature of this league. In a game where the shots were 45-42 Saturday, one might figure it was a shootout – or a reasonably close game, at the very least. But it was neither, as Alabama-Huntsville scored eight times while Robert Morris scored on one of its 42 shots.

• Yeah, it's mid-January, but last Friday was May Day in Detroit. Wayne State's John May assisted on third-period goals by Greg Poupard and Derek Punches last Friday as the host Warriors erased a 3-1 deficit and salvaged a 3-3 tie against Bemidji State.

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