March 7, 2007
CHA Tournament a Roll of the Dice

By Warren Kozireski

College Hockey America

Niagara sophomore forward Ted Cook leads the nation in both goals and power-play goals.

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For a while, it appeared that the landscape of the conference was changing. But even with the tightest race in the conference’s eight-season history — only eight points separated the league's first- and fifth-place teams — the only differences between the CHA's final standings and the preseason coaches poll (as well as INCH’s) were Niagara finishing first ahead of Bemidji State and Wayne State placing fourth instead of fifth.

None of this is meant to belittle the accomplishments of Niagara, which won its second consecutive regular-season title and the third in program history, or Robert Morris, which rose to the highest finish (third place) in its brief three-year history, or Wayne State, which finished the season on a seven-game unbeaten streak.

The tightness of the final standings combined with the performances of the upper- and lower-tier teams over the last weeks of the season should make for an interesting tournament this weekend.

It's being played in Des Moines, but perhaps Las Vegas would be a better venue, because it looks like a crapshoot.


Despite the recent 1-5-2 skid, it's still Niagara. The Purple Eagles feature the CHA's top three scorers and five of the league's top ten in points, though they've scored three or more goals in just three of their last eight games. When they're playing on the same line, forwards Ted Cook, Sean Bentivoglio, and Les Reaney are as dangerous as any trio in the nation.

It's not just about the offense, however. Goaltender Juliano Pagliero led the league in save percentage, and Niagara boasted the conference's top-ranked power play and the second-ranked penalty-killing unit.

Bemidji State has beaten Niagara in the conference championship game two years in a row and during the regular season, three of the four games between the two teams ended in ties. If they should meet again in the league final Sunday, expect the Zamboni to extra duty.


Wayne State, which is playing its best hockey since winning the College Hockey America championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament in 2003. The Warriors started a seven-game unbeaten streak by beating Alabama-Huntsville at home February 10 and haven't lost since. Included in that run were back-to-back three-point weekends against the league's first- and second-place teams. Having 11 seniors in the lineup — three of whom see regular duty on defense — certainly doesn’t hurt at playoff time.

CHA Tournament Matchups

No. 4 Wayne State vs. No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville
8-10-2 (12-20-2 overall)
7-11-2 (10-19-3 overall)
Season series:
Tied, 2-2
Warrior fact: Senior forward Nate Higgins netted four of his team's 15 goals it scored against Alabama-Huntsville this season.
Charger fact: The last loss the Warriors suffered was at the hands of UAH back on February 9, and the Chargers won last season’s conference first-round match, 3-1.
How WSU wins: Don’t make your goalie face 59 shots, like freshman Brett Bothwell did against the Chargers back in October.
How UAH wins: Fall behind. Both Charger victories over Wayne State this season came when the Warriors scored first.

No. 2 Bemidji State vs. No. 3 Robert Morris
9-6-5 (14-13-5 overall)
RMU: 9-10-1 (13-18-2 overall)
Season series: RMU won, 3-1
Beaver fact: Bemidji State managed to score more than two goals once in four games against against the Colonials this season — a 3-0 BSU win.
Colonial fact: Eight different Robert Morris skaters accounted for 11 goals the team scored in the season series against Beavers this season.
How BSU wins: Get ahead early. In four regular-season games against the Colonials, the Beavers scored first once and failed to register a first-period goal.
How RMU wins: Find its defensive rhythm. During last month's five-game winning streak, the Colonials allowed no more than two goals per game. In the six games since, they’ve given up an average of more than five scores per contest.

No. 1 Niagara vs. Wayne State/Alabama-Huntsville winner
9-5-6 (18-12-6 overall)
8-10-2 (12-20-2 overall)
7-11-2 (10-19-3 overall)
Season series:
NU won 4-1-1 vs. WSU; NU won 2-1-1 vs. UAH
Purple Eagle fact: One win and two ties over their last eight games isn’t exactly the kind of momentum a team seeks going into the playoffs.
How NU wins: Take advantage of the man advantage. The Purps converted 25 percent of their power-play opportunities against UAH and 32 percent against WSU this season.
How WSU wins: Start strong. The Warriors jumped out to a 3-0 lead and limited the Purps to just three shots in the opening stanza of their only series win.
How UAH wins: Stay out of the box. Niagara had just two power play chances in the Chargers' only series win on the next-to-last day of the regular season.


G – Matt Climie, Bemidji State: The junior stepped to the fore after senior Layne Sedevie was hurt, shattering his previous high for minutes played and appearing in each of the Beavers' 20 conference games. He led the league with a 2.88 goals against average and two shutouts, and ranked second with a .903 save percentage.

D – Dan Iliakis, Wayne State: Four goals and 16 assists in 31 games doesn’t begin to quantify the senior's value to the Warriors. Maybe this does — when he missed three games in November and December with an injury, Wayne State went 0-3, was shut out twice, and was outscored during that stretch by a 7-2 margin.

D – Mike Salekin, Alabama Huntsville: Salekin ranked second in the league in goals among defensemen with five, and the senior also led all CHA rearguards in points per game (0.67 ppg) en route to the best season of his career.

F – Ted Cook, Niagara: Ranks among the best natural goal scorers the league has ever seen and, with two seasons of eligibility remaining, will only get better. He scored an NCAA-best 32 goals in 36 games and also led the country with 21 power play goals — a great career for some players.

F – Sean Bentivoglio, Niagara: The Purple Eagles' senior captain put up the first 40-point season of his career with 16 goals and 30 assists, and also played an important role on the conference’s second-ranked penalty-killing unit.

F – Ryan Cruthers, Robert Morris: The transfer from Army scored 14 goals, surpassing his output from his two seasons with the Black Knights. He also more than doubled his power-play goal totals, helping the Colonials to a third-place league finish in the program's third year of existence.


Bill Wilkinson, Wayne State: Coaches from teams finishing in fourth place in a five-team league don’t usually win this award. But the Warriors — picked by CHA coaches to finish last in the league's preseason poll, but ended up just one point out of third place — jumped from three conference wins last season to eight this year while doubling their overall wins from six to 12.

Maybe the veteran coach was sandbagging the first half and timed his team’s seven-game unbeaten streak to launch them into the playoffs. As if it were that easy.


Ted Cook, Niagara: The sophomore from Hogansburg, New York, entered the postseason leading the country in both goals (32) and power play goals (21). He shattered the conference records in those categories. The league's previous high for goals was 26, shared by ex-Niagara standouts Kyle Martin and Joe Tallari, while Andy Berg of Air Force held the circuits prior mark for power-play goals with 15.


Chris Moran, Niagara: From manning the point on the power play to finishing fourth in the country in assists (32), the rookie winger registered 40 points in 36 games to help the Purple Eagles return to the top of the CHA standings.


Travis Winter, Bemidji State: One season removed from scoring one goal and four assists in 16 games, the sophomore exploded to share the team lead in scoring with 27 points, including 10 goals.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Warren Kozireski can be reached at