Back in October, all six
College Hockey America coaches agreed the league would be
wide open. Now it's March, and it's safe to say that all
six were exceedingly prophetic.
Last weekend, Alabama-Huntsville trekked to
Bemidji State. At dinnertime Friday, the Chargers were in
first place in the CHA. By late Saturday evening, they were
in third place after losing twice to the Beavers, while
Niagara swept Robert Morris on the road and took the conference
The Purple Eagles played their best hockey
down the stretch – that’s why they are the top
seed in this weekend's CHA Tournament. Another factor is
that everybody contributed to this club’s success.
To wit: On February 17, junior defenseman Pat Oliveto scored
his first career game-winning goal with less than two minutes
left in regulation to lift the Purple Eagles to a win over
Wayne State. At RMU last Friday, Armando Scarlato picked
the perfect time to score his first career goal, tallying
just 40 seconds into overtime to give the Purple Eagles
a 3-2 victory. Just two weeks earlier, Scarlato was recovering
from a serious leg injury suffered in early January and
wasn't sure he'd play again this season. Add in solid performances
from players expected to produce – senior goalie Jeff
VanNynatten and forwards Sean Bentivoglio, Ted Cook and
Randy Harris – and you get the idea at why Niagara
ended up on top.
Still, if the CHA coaches' hunches regarding
the wide-open regular-season race were spot on, then it's
safe to assume that this weekend's CHA Tournament at the
Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit will be just as thrilling.
Say what you will about Detroit, but it's a better site
for the league tourney than far-flung outposts such as Kearney,
Neb. and Grand Rapids, Minn.
Picking a favorite in this league is a dicey
proposition and could make one look foolish in a hurry.
But given the way Niagara played down the stretch, the Purple
Eagles should be considered the favorite. As prviously illustrated,
Niagara is getting timely goals from a number of sources
in addition to solid goaltending and leadership from VanNynatten,
a senior who was 2004 CHA Tournament MVP when coach Dave
Burkholder's squad last advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Niagara boasts impressive firepower, with six of the league's
top nine scorers. Three Purple Eagles – Bentivoglio,
Les Reaney and Cook – tied for the CHA scoring championship
in league play.
The only question mark surrounding Niagara
is its defense. The Purple Eagles surrendered tons of shots
all season, giving up an average of 37.0 shots per game
overall, and 33.9 shots per match in CHA contests. The Purple
Eagles were also badly outshot in the third period (foes
hold an astounding 438-298 edge). The team's much-maligned
defensive corps suffered a huge setback when senior defenseman
Marc Norrington broke his hand against Air Force Feb. 11.
He's scheduled to have the cast removed this week, but his
status for the weekend is questionable.
6 Wayne State vs. No. 3 Alabama-Huntsville
WSU: 6-22-6 (3-12-5)
UAH: 18-12-2 (12-7-1)
Season series: Alabama-Huntsville won, 3-0-1
desperately wanted to avoid this scenario, but the
Chargers fell from first to third in the final weekend
of the regular season find themselves having to play
their way into the league semifinals. The Chargers
have to stay out of the penalty box – 13 of
the last 24 goals they've surrendered have come
when they are shorthanded. UAH needs to get some players
other than Bruce Mulherin and Brett McConnachie to
score goals. The duo has combined for nine goals in
the Chargers' last seven games, while the rest of
the team has added six.
Wayne State is probably outmatched here,
but the Warriors have the ability to surprise opponents
as evidenced by a non-conference series sweep of Merrimack
and and a non-league win against Western Michigan.
Forward Adam Krug has heated up for the Warriors,
scoring five goals in his last eight games. He had
two goals in his first 23 games.
5 Air Force vs. No. 4 Robert Morris
AFA: 11-19-1 (8-12-0) RMU: 11-19-3 (7-11-2) Season series: Robert Morris won,
Not only do the Colonials own a 5-2-1
all-time record against the Falcons, but they've also
downed Air Force five straight times. Just two weeks
ago, Robert Morris went out to Colorado Springs and
swept the Falcons at Clune Arena, the only CHA team
to accomplish that feat this season.
Robert Morris goalie Christian Boucher
has more consistent than Air Force’s Peter Foster
all season, but Foster has ratcheted his play up a
notch lately. The Falcons are 5-3-0 in their last
eight games, and Foster allowed a total of 15 goals
during that span.
One key to Robert Morris's success over
its last 11 games has been the blossoming of its offense.
During that stretch, the Colonials have scored 5+
goals five times.
Air Force’s Brian Reese has been
on fire lately with nine goals in his last 10 games.
The Falcons are have played in the CHA's first-round
match pitting the fourth and fifth seed five times
– they're 4-1 in those
How Niagara wins it all: By putting the pedal
to the medal. Sure, the Purple Eagles allow a lot
of shots, but that just means they're playing the
up-tempo style that makes them so dangerous. Besides,
they've got a goalie in VanNynatten who thrives on
the work and a bevy of talented scorers up front.
Niagara is 18-5-1 this season when it scores 3+ goals
2 Bemidji State
How BSU wins it all: By doing the exact opposite,
more or less. The Beavers have solid scoring depth
(nine players have 20 or more points), but they'd
rather play it close to the vest, keep the shot total
of its opponent in the upper 20's and rely on its
experience and solid special teams to take over.
THE GATE CRASHER
Robert Morris. You’ve come a long way,
in a short period of time. The Colonials are the
pick thanks in large part to reliable goalkeeping. Sophomore
Christian Boucher was solid this season, finishing with
a 2.96 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.
Boucher didn't receive a lot of help offensively –
the Colonials scored a league-low 51 goals in conference
games, the fewest of any CHA club. RMU also does a decent
job of staying out of the penalty box – minimizing
oppoent power plays is key for a team that struggles to
score – as the Colonials averaged 17.06 minutes per
game in 33 outings. RMU played quite well down the stretch,
going 6-4-1 in its last 11 games and giving Niagara all
it could handle despite being on the short end of a pair
of tough one-goal losses last weekend.
INCH’s ALL CONFERENCE TEAM
G – Layne Sedevie, Bemidji State
Sedevie was consistently solid all season for the Beavers
with a 2.36 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
He put an exclamation point on the end of the regular season
with a shutout over Alabama-Huntsville last Saturday.
D – Jeremy Schreiber, Alabama-Huntsville Schreiber had another great season, finishing tied
for third in defenseman scoring with 20 points. He set CHA
records for both career points (85) and assists (64) by
D – Andrew Martens, Bemidji
State Martens was the senior leader on a BSU team that
led the conference in scoring defense, allowing 2.59 goals
F – Sean Bentivoglio, Niagara
What he lacks in size he more than compensates for with
lightning quick speed. Bentivoglio finished tied for third
in scoring in league games and led the CHA with five game-winning
F – Les Reaney, Niagara
The burly winger nicknamed “Big Country” had
a sensational freshman year, ranking first among CHA rookies
in points, assists and scoring. He also ranked second with
four game-winning goals.
F – Bruce Mulherin, Alabama-Huntsville
A consistently good player for the Chargers, this guy does
everything. He tied for eighth in the CHA in scoring and
led the circuit with two shorthanded goals. He may not be
done, however – Mulherin has 14 goals in the Chargers'
last 15 games.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Derek Schooley, Robert Morris. Schooley made
the Colonials respectable in just their second year of existence.
RMU, which was 4-14-2 in league play last season, jumped
to 7-11-2 this year. Overall, the Colonials improved from
8-21-4 last season to 11-19-3 this year.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Les Reaney, Niagara. A very difficult choice
with so many worthy candidates in this league. Reaney was
a terror all season, and gave the Purple Eagles a dose of
toughness and tenacity up front. This terrific power forward
led the CHA in scoring with 13 goals and 26 assists.
“He’s a physical presence that
we had been missing the last couple of years up front,”
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Add to that that
his offensive prowess, and you have yourself one heck of
a hockey player.”
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Ted Cook, Niagara. The Hogansburg, N.Y. native
set a CHA record for most power play goals by a freshman
with 10 and ranks tied for 10th place nationally in that
category. Cook also set a CHA rookie mark with 21 power
play points. He led the CHA with 19 goals and is second
with 38 points. Not only has Cook been productive, but his
contributions are also timely. He set up the overtime winner
in Niagara’s biggest victory of the season (a Feb.
24 victory over Bemidji State) and followed up with the
game-winner the next night.
Randy Harris, Niagara. Back in October, there
may not have been a bigger question mark in the CHA than
Harris, who missed each of the last three seasons due to
medical issues. He answered all the doubts in resounding
fashion by tying for third in the league's overall scoring
race with 14-22–36 totals. Harris starred in Niagara’s
most important weekend of the regular season, torching Bemidji
State for five goals – a couple of them were highlight-reel
worthy – and three assists.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report.