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
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.”
AND HEARD IN THE CHA
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
"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
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.
even fly," he stated. "They bus all the
way up here."
Great Weekend Getaway
(Fri.-Sat.) 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
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• 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
• 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
• 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
A variety of sources were utilized
in the compilation of this report.