March 3, 2004
Eagles Grounded

By James Jahnke

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook

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What the heck happened to Niagara last weekend? That's what Purple Eagles coach Dave Burkholder would like to know.

Burkholder's crew was in control of its own destiny for the College Hockey America regular-season crown before getting murdered, 6-2 and 8-3, by fourth-place Findlay last week. And those games were in upstate New York, no less.

So, instead of having a colossal showdown with first-place Bemidji State to decide the Peters Cup this weekend, the Purple Eagles have a less important showdown with the new Peters Cup champions.

"I told our team afterward that one weekend does not define our season," Burkholder said. "It was just one of those weekends when nothing went right. But I think it's behind us."

The most shocking aspect of the Findlay series wasn't even that the Purple Eagles lost twice. It was the way they lost – allowing 14 goals on just 35 shots. As Burkholder said, "We just couldn't keep the puck from going in our net."

Compounding the defensive problems, Findlay became the first team to hold standout Niagara forwards Barret Ehgoetz and Joe Tallari scoreless for an entire weekend. In fact, the duo was a combined minus-14 in the series, and that's not a bit misleading.

"It's actually pretty accurate," Burkholder said. "It was probably the first time in three years I had to go to a postgame press conference and talk about Barret not playing well. We got down, got frustrated, and the guys on that line started playing on their own instead of like the dominant line they are when they play together."

But, of course, the show goes on. Niagara will still travel to Bemidji this weekend, and there's still plenty for which to play this season. Winning the Peters Cup is nice and all, but both teams would rather win the CHA tournament and automatic NCAA bid next week in Kearney, Neb.

"If we get into the NCAAs, I know a lot of people will forget about this Findlay weekend," Burkholder said. "Including our goalies."

Meanwhile, the Beavers are rejoicing in their first Division I conference championship. Bemidji was a Division II hockey power for decades and racked up 17 such league titles, but the Beavers hadn't won anything since 1995.

"Obviously, it's exciting and a sense of accomplishment for the team," Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. "We tried to build the team to win a championship, and they did. But, the most difficult task is the one that awaits. The pinnacle of the season is the league tournament."

Serratore credited his senior class, led by Bryce and Bill Methven, Wade Chiodo, Anders Olsson, and Jared Hanowski, for leading the Beavers' steady charge toward the CHA title. The senior class won just four games as freshmen, 12 as sophomores and 14 as juniors. Already this season, they have 18 victories, and the Beavers will look to add to that total against Niagara and in the postseason.

"The seniors earned it more than anyone," Serratore said. "I'm really excited for them and the couple of classes before them, because they were the ones that really helped us form our program. You can look at their track record. They were with us when we only won four games their freshman year."


Will Zimmerman

Zim!Air Force plays at Wayne State in the only CHA series of any significance this week (the teams are tied for fifth place), and Falcons forward Will Zimmerman might not dress for the games. He might not even travel to Detroit. But the sophomore is still in a darn good mood, for the simple reason that he's back on the roster.

Last April, Zimmerman was removed from Air Force's squad by coach Frank Serratore for being a negative influence. His grades were OK, but he wasn't taking care of his military duties – and his play on the ice wasn't impressive enough to compensate. He dressed for just eight games as a freshman and failed to register a point.

"I was having trouble saying 'Yeah, I messed up,'" the Long Island native recalled from his freshman year at the Academy. "When someone was yelling at me, I was always talking back and trying to get the last word in. You can't do that when you're new here. You have to take responsibility if you mess up and not try to weasel your way out of it."

After his dismissal from the team, Zimmerman decided it was time for an attitude adjustment. He began showing his officers more respect and set out to get back in Serratore's good graces. In the fall, he watched the team's practices and games from the stands, put himself through a strict weight training regimen and worked out alone on the ice whenever he could.

"I wanted to show him and the team that I really cared, and that I had changed," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman's improved work ethic led to a sterling recommendation from his squadron leader, which prompted Serratore to invite him back to the team in January. Zimmerman has played just once since then – the Falcons' 5-2 win over Holy Cross on Valentine's Day – but he felt good on the ice, considering his layoff. Now, he's hoping to set the stage for a bigger role next fall.

"I wish I could do it all over again," Zimmerman said. "I would come in here with a different attitude. I really want to be a guy everybody wants to be around."

New Bobcats Lair – Construction could start as early as this summer on a $25 million hockey and basketball complex at Quinnipiac. The building, which has been in the works for five years, recently gained approval from local authorities, and the school hopes to have the facility ready for the 2006-07 season. Until then, the Bobcats icers will continue leasing ice time from the nearby Northford Ice Pavilion.

Bobcats athletics director Jack McDonald said the exact number of seats for the new hockey arena hasn't been set, but it's expected to be in the range of 2,500 to 3,000.

"It'll be great for the fans to be able to sit in comfort and have all the amenities of a Division I building," McDonald said. "And it will be great for the students to have a building right on campus."

McDonald said the complex will have views of the New Haven skyline and the Long Island Sound, in addition to luxury suites, film rooms, weight rooms and the other frills of modern arenas. He also acknowledged that the upgraded facilities could make Quinnipiac more attractive for a future jump to the ECAC or Hockey East.

"Anybody in sports would want to elevate their status," McDonald said. "If the opportunity came, we would welcome it."

Crunch Time – Holy Cross is No. 1 and American International is No. 9, but every other seed in the Atlantic Hockey tournament is still up for grabs this weekend. Mercyhurst needs just one point against Canisius to sew up second. Right below the Lakers, third-place Quinnipiac beat fourth-place Sacred Heart on Tuesday night, moving a point ahead of the Pioneers in the standings. Both teams have just one game remaining – Quinnipiac at Holy Cross and Sacred Heart at AIC. Nothing against the Yellow Jackets, but despite the one-point deficit, the Pioneers still might have the advantage.

Fifth-place Canisius has a three-point lead over sixth-place Connecticut, but the Golden Griffins have a tougher final weekend with a home-and-home against Mercyhurst. Meanwhile, UConn will probably be favored to sweep AIC and Army. That race could get interesting.

The Black Knights are one point ahead of Bentley for seventh place, which is good news for Army because nobody wants to be a part of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 play-in game on the first night of the tournament. The fewer games you play, the fewer chances to lose, right? Making the race for seventh even more interesting is that the Falcons and Black Knights meet in West Point on Friday. If Bentley wins, Army will be in the perilous eighth position with one game left.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Niagara at Bemidji State (Fri.-Sat.)
Yeah, this series no longer means anything in the race for the Peters Cup. But, the smart money says it will be a preview of next week's CHA tournament championship game to determine who goes to the Big Dance. So, forget about Niagara's shocking losses to Findlay last week, photocopy a few scouting report forms and analyze the matchups on this ice this weekend. Odds are, you'll see them again when the stakes are for real.

While you're there: Bemidji fans have already had a week to celebrate their team's regular-season title, but Beavers faithful are always up for a little more revelry. If Bemidji wins either game this weekend, head to the Keg N' Cork bar for some postgame merriment with north-central Minnesota's best hockey fans.

Stick Salute

Salute No. 1 is for Army senior netminder Bill Moss, the reigning Atlantic Hockey co-Goaltender of the Week. Moss posted a .932 save percentage and led the Black Knights to a win over Connecticut and a narrow loss to Sacred Heart last weekend. Not bad for a guy who spent his first two years in West Point on the JV squad and played just two regular-season games as a junior on the big club. He has gotten the call six times this year as Brad Roberts' backup, and has posted a 1-2-0 record and a 2.52 GAA. The word is that Moss has never once sulked about his playing time, either.

Salute No. 2 goes to Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, who simply has his older brother's number. The younger sibling is 10-0-1 all-time against brother Frank Serratore's Air Force Falcons. Maybe it's a little payback for getting picked on as a kid. Also, with two wins last weekend, Tom Serratore passed Vic Weber and moved into sole possession of second place on the school's all-time wins list. His 44 victories at BSU are just 658 behind school record-holder (and CHA commissioner) Bob Peters. "I'll have to coach until I'm 85 to catch him," Serratore quipped.

Bench Minor

Niagara's goaltending is a big reason why the Purple Eagles were in the league title hunt until the second-to-last weekend this year. But, on said weekend, the tending tandem of sophomore Jeff VanNynatten and senior Rob Bonk let the team down. VanNynatten and Bonk combined to allow 14 goals on just 35 shots in a series sweep by underdog Findlay. At home. If you left your calculator at home (and are unable eyeball a relatively easy fraction), the Oilers shot 40 percent. In Saturday's rout, VanNynatten and Bonk made eight saves and allowed eight goals (50 percent). I wish shot that well in my pickup basketball games.


• Just because Holy Cross has already clinched its No. 1 seed, don't expect the Crusaders to play any differently this weekend. "This is college hockey, not the NHL," Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said. "It's not like we have some secret system that the guys have been going over for 18 hours a day that we're going to break out now. We're not going to change a thing."

• Penalties minutes were flowing like Cristal at Nelly's house in two league games last weekend. Quinnipiac and Bentley combined for 181 PIM in a chippy (to say the least) Bobcats win Friday. Three players from each team (Matt Froehlich, Troy Maleyko and Ty Deinema for Quinnipiac and leading scorer Brendan McCartin, Brett Murphy and Ryan Lessnau for Bentley) received game disqualifications for fighting and had to sit out their teams' Saturday contests. The short bench forced Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold to play forward John Kelly as a defenseman in the 3-3 tie with Holy Cross.

But if you thought Quinnipiac and Bentley had short tempers, look at the box score from Wayne State's win at Alabama-Huntsville on Sunday. They combined for 187 PIM, although much of that punitive time came from 10-minute misconducts. UAH's Keith Rowe received a game DQ, meaning he'll miss the team's first game at Findlay this weekend. The two teams' 187 minutes, UAH's 100 PIM and Rowe's 29 PIM all set CHA single-game records.

• There were a few surprises between the pipes in Atlantic Hockey games last weekend. For instance, Army starter Brad Roberts didn't play against Connecticut or Sacred Heart, as senior Bill Moss got the nod instead. Similarly, Quinnipiac played Justin Eddy both nights instead of using Jamie Holden. The Bobcats duo usually shares time in net. In both cases, school officials say, it was just a case of the coach going with a hot hand. Holden played Tuesday night, and Roberts is expected to see time this weekend. Meanwhile, Bentley junior Simon St. Pierre returned to the crease Saturday after missing seven games with a sore knee. It was a rough welcome back, however, as he surrendered seven goals to Mercyhurst.

Army's Ryan Cruthers could become the first plebe to lead the Black Knights in scoring since 1978-79. In official NCAA games, the Farmingdale, N.Y., native's 16 points lead sophomore Seth Beamer by one. But Army counts exhibitions in its statistics, meaning Beamer's 22-point total is one better than Cruthers' in the eyes of the Academy. Regardless, Cruthers will get the chance to claim the undisputed scoring crown against Bentley and UConn this weekend.

Quinnipiac is reporting that both sophomore defenseman Joe Testa (2-3—5) and sophomore forward Joe Dumais (4-3—7) are done for the year with undisclosed injuries. The ailments are the latest health woes for the Bobcats, who have resembled an infirmary as much as a hockey team this season.

Wayne State, for all its problems this season, earned its first road sweep in more than two years by dusting off UAH last weekend. The wins ended a school-record 10-game losing streak and marked the Warriors' first back-to-back victories since November. Goaltender Matt Kelly, who had been sitting behind Marc Carlson most of February, earned both wins and is 2-0-1 with a 1.33 goals-against average in his last three starts.

On the subject of road sweeps, Findlay took a pair of road conference games (at Niagara) for the first time in five seasons.

• You could view American International goaltender Chad Davis' Saturday performance against Canisius two ways. You could say he had a remarkable game, amassing 50 saves. Or you could say he played poorly, allowing six goals and absorbing the loss. We'll lean toward the former and blame the AIC defense for allowing a so-so Golden Griffins attack to generate so many shots.

Bemidji's third line of Ryan Huddy, Riley Riddell and Rob Sirianni had a crazy good weekend against Air Force. The trio amassed 12 points Friday, led by Huddy's hat trick and Riddell's four assists, then the threesome put up four more points Saturday, paced by a goal and an assist by Riddell.

Meanwhile, Findlay senior Brian Sherry was helping the Beavers clinch the CHA championship by blitzing Niagara across the country. Sherry put up a hat trick Friday and added another goal and two assists Saturday, giving him six points for the weekend.

Niagara freshman goalie Allen Barton wasn't part of the Findlay carnage, because he's been nursing a pulled hamstring for about three weeks. He also landed in the hospital with flu symptoms Monday, but he still might be able to play this weekend.

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

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