March 10, 2004
True to Form

By James Jahnke


Brendan Cook and Bemidji State are eyeing their first Division I NCAA Tournament appearance.

CHA Tournament Brackets
This week's schedule
National TV Schedule

CCHA Tournament Preview
Hockey East Tournament Preview
WCHA Tournament Preview

Rarely does anything in hockey go by the book, but this College Hockey America season was pretty close.

Bemidji State, Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville finished 1-2-3 in the standings, just as the league's coaches predicted they would before the season. Only Wayne State, which was picked fourth and finished last, failed to live up to or exceed the coaches' expectations.

The CHA is the only Division I league that will wrap up its tournament this weekend, meaning the winner can pencil itself into the 16-team NCAA field and then sit back and watch the other 15 seeds fall into place. Conventional wisdom has Bemidji and Niagara meeting in Sunday's final in Kearney, Neb., as both teams have byes into the semifinals.

But, remember, Wayne State won it all last year as the No. 3 seed. Perhaps there's an advantage to getting a game under one's belt in the first round as opposed to sitting in the stands all day Friday.

We'll see soon enough whether the CHA playoffs follow the plan like the regular season did. You can always expect the unexpected in postseason hockey, right? Maybe not.


Bemidji State won the regular-season crown by a healthy five points, and lost just three league games all season. The Beavers also led the CHA in scoring offense (4.50 goals a game) and scoring defense (2.40 goals allowed) in conference contests – which is a pretty hot combo.

Truth be told, they're solid in all facets of the game. Coach Tom Serratore's nine seniors will keep the team focused on the ice and in the locker room in Kearney, and goaltenders Grady Hunt and Layne Sedevie have both proved to be reliable. The Beavers are difficult to beat because they're able to win both defensive struggles and shootouts with equal ease. And their bye into the semifinals doesn't hurt, either.


 First-Round Matchups

No.3 Alabama-Huntsville vs. No. 6 Wayne State
11-15-4, 10-9-1
WSU: 8-23-3, 4-15-1
Season series: Tied, 2-2-0

Charger Fact: Star center Jared Ross didn't record a shot in either game against Findlay last weekend – the first time all season that has happened.
Warrior Fact: The Warriors are 7-0 all-time in CHA Tournament games, including a 2-0 mark versus UAH.

How UAH wins: On defense, keep Wayne State's big forwards from crashing the net. Offensively, avoid pressing if the puck doesn't go in right away.
How Wayne State wins: Keep the Chargers' dangerous top line (Ross-Bushey-Mulherin) in check defensively, and find a way to score some goals, which has been a problem all season.

Winner plays: No. 2 Niagara

No. 4 Findlay vs. No. 5 Air Force
10-21-5, 7-11-2
AFA: 14-20-2, 6-13-1
Season series: Air Force leads, 2-1-1

Oiler Fact: The Oilers' recent five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1), which ended Saturday, was the school's longest ever.
Falcon Fact: The Falcons, fresh off a sweep at Wayne State, have entered the CHA Tournament on a winning note four of the five years of its existence.

How Findlay wins: Harness the nervous energy of knowing it could be the last game in the program's history, and channel it in a positive manner.
How Air Force wins: Get solid goaltending (presumably from Mike Polidor) and work hard mentally and physically to avoid defensive breakdowns.

Winner plays: No. 1 Bemidji State

Despite being told in January that the team will be discontinued by the university after this year, fourth-seeded Findlay is probably the hottest team in the field. The Oilers are 5-2-1 in their last seven games, including a sweep at No. 2 Niagara and a splits with No. 3 Alabama-Huntsville and their first-round opponent, Air Force. The Findlay players seemingly have banded together in an attempt to go out on a high note before they scatter to various colleges next year. That makes for a very scary opponent in a one-and-done format.

Always beware the wounded dog – especially when it has arguably the league's best goalie in Will Hooper on its side.


G – Will Hooper, Findlay
Hooper had similar numbers (2.40 GAA, .913 save percentage in league contests) to Niagara's Jeff VanNynatten (2.36, .912) this year, and they were the league's only true No. 1 tenders throughout the season. But, while VanNynatten won more games, Hooper achieved success with a lesser supporting cast and led Findlay's second-half resurgence.

D – Jeremy Schreiber, UAH
The Medicine Hat, Alb., native paced the league's blueliners with 21 points (10-11), and was a consistent, steady force in the Chargers' zone.

D – Bryce Methven, BSU
The Beavers' captain put up respectable offensive statistics (5-10—15). But, even more importantly to his team, he was probably the toughest D-man in the conference to beat one-on-one.

F – Jared Ross, UAH
Hometown hero Ross led the nation in points per game with 1.57 and dished out a league-leading 30 assists.

F – Barret Ehgoetz, NU
The junior from Kincardine, Ont., tied for the national scoring lead with 50 points (25-25) and led the CHA in goal-scoring.

F – Brendan Cook, BSU
Overshadowed by Ross and Ehgoetz all year, Cook easily finished third in the league in points (23-16—39). And his team won the regular-season championship.


As mentioned above, Findlay has persevered through trying circumstances, which can largely be traced back to bench boss Pat Ford. In his first year as a Division I head coach, Ford kept his players committed to each other and their goal of getting to the NCAA Tournament, even though they – and probably he, too – wondered what the future would hold. Most preseason prognostications had Findlay pegged for fifth place in the CHA. They didn't beat that prediction by much – finishing fourth – but given their youth, challenging nonconference schedule and off-ice distractions, it's a marvel the
Oilers performed as well as they did. Credit Ford's crisis management
for that.


By an eyelash over Jared Ross, Niagara junior center Barret Ehgoetz gets the nod here. He and North Dakota's Brandon Bochenski were the only players in college hockey to reach 50 points in the regular season, and he's one of only three players to rank in the top 15 nationally in both goals and assists. Ehgoetz is a responsible defender, too, and coach Dave Burkholder raves about his work ethic in practice. The 5-foot-8, 170-pounder also had a penchant for showing up in "big" games this season, scoring goals against Colgate, Ferris State and Union and a hat trick against New Hampshire.


With respect to Hooper, Bemidji State forward Luke Erickson earned this by cracking the 30-point plateau, which only six other CHA players did. Erickson out-paced the next highest-scoring rookie (Wayne State's Jason Baclig) by eight points, and was a key cog in the Beavers' league-leading offensive attack. The 5-foot-8, 161-pounder from Roseau, Minn., also finished second on the team with 110 shots and two game-winning goals, and rated plus-6 for the year.


Where did Bemidji State junior forward Brendan Cook come from? Well, technically he's a native of Reston, Manitoba, and he played junior hockey for the Winkler Flyers (MJHL). But, in the score books, Cook came from relative obscurity to finish second in the CHA with 23 goals this year. Consider: He had just two goals and eight points as a freshman, followed by a modest 10-6—16 last season. But Cook turned it up this year, and will be a consensus All-CHA honoree with a tough-to-ignore 23-16—39 for the first-place Beavers. With a similar 23-point jump next year...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

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