Given that history, it was unlikely Niagara
would become the third non-CCHA team in 11 years to beat
MSU at home, right? Guess again.
Not only did the Purple Eagles take a 2-1
decision over the then-nationally ranked Spartans Friday,
but coach Dave Burkholder's team nearly left town with a
sweep, erasing a two-goal deficit with less than five minutes
in regulation, only to fall in overtime, 5-4.
Was Niagara happy to earn a split? Not entirely.
"We're very down," said Burkholder
following Saturday's loss. "That's a devastated locker
room. To be down in this building to fight back and force
overtime, to do what we did in the third period, that showed
me a lot about this team."
Friday's game didn't get off to a promising
start for the Purple Eagles. MSU's David Booth scored 41
seconds into the game to give his team a 1-0 lead. But the
Spartans couldn't pull away, stoned by goaltender Rob Bonk,
a native of nearby Fenton, Mich., on numerous scoring chances
and squandering many others. Niagara capitalized, drawing
even on a second-period power play goal and taking advantage
of a State turnover to notch the winner with a little more
than five minutes left in regulation.
"We're very opportunistic," Burkholder
said. "These guys are very hard working. We get after
teams on the forecheck and any time we seem to come up with
pucks in the neutral zone we're a dangerous team on the
Niagara twice trailed by two Saturday, but
rallied to send the game into overtime on a goal by Joe
Tallari, the nation's leading goal scorer, with 47 seconds
left in regulation and goalie Jeff VanNynatten pulled for
an extra attacker. Brock Radunske scored with 1:07 remaining
in OT to salvage the split for the Spartans.
"We've been in that situation before
where we've been tied or up a goal or down a goal,"
said junior defenseman Dave Hominuk about the weekend series.
"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to come out with
a win. Finally, we got a couple bounces here and there.
We learned that it just pays to keep working."
Despite one of the nation's most difficult
non-conference schedules (Michigan, UMass-Lowell, North
Dakota and Michigan State), the Purple Eagles have been
in every one of those games, and came very close to stealing
one from North Dakota in Grand Forks. The team's persistence
finally paid off at Michigan State.
"Against Michigan, there was an empty
feeling because I didn't think we played our "A"
game," Burkholder said. "What we did at North
Dakota, being in both games late in the third period –
one of them was tied 4-4. This is an outstanding weekend.
We've got to carry this over when we get back into conference
Hominuk echoed Burkholder's sentiments.
"You can't replace something like this,"
said Niagara's captain. "This is something we'll take
with us for the rest of our lives. But in terms of our goals
for this year, it's a step in the right direction. We have
to take this and learn from it, move on and bring it with
THAT UPSETTING FEELING
Niagara's shocker at Michigan State was
just one of the many surprises last weekend. Thankfully,
there's no BCS in college hockey. With a nod to one of our
favorite sportswriters, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons and his
Thirteen Levels of Losing, here are three types of upsets.
The Springboard: Is Minnesota-Duluth
ready to contend for home ice in the WCHA? Consider that
the 2-3-3 Bulldogs, fresh off a split at top-ranked Denver,
have a one-goal loss and two two-goal losses (one by virtue
of an empty netter) in addition to the three draws. Perhaps
Friday's 3-2 win over the Pioneers will give the young UMD
squad confidence to turn narrow losses and ties into wins.
"We played two pretty good games and
got two key points out of there," UMD coach Scott Sandelin
said. "The one thing I think our team has been is pretty
consistent from the start of the year, which has surprised
me a little bit since we've got such a young team."
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead Friday
on first-period goals by Luke Stauffacher and Junior Lessard.
The Pioneers scored twice in the second period to even the
score, but Stauffacher beat All-American Wade Dubielewicz
for his second of the night with 4:19 left in the third
period to provide the final margin of victory.
UMD has received solid contributions in
nearly every area. Goaltenders Rob Anderson, a senior, and
freshman Isaac Reichmuth have combined to post a 3.05 goals
against average; the team's GAA was 3.76 in 2001-02. Senior
captain Jon Francisco, the Bulldogs' top returning scorer,
leads the team with nine points in eight games and junior
Junior Lessard is on pace to improve upon the 30 points
he scored last season.
The improvement of younger players has also
given the 'Dogs a boost. Stauffacher, a sophomore, has four
goals after scoring four points –
all assists –
last season. Fellow sophomore forward Tyler Brosz, who had
11 points as a rookie, has eight this year.
"I like the way our team has played
the first eight games," Sandelin said. "Hopefully,
our young players will gain that experience and confidence
to play in this league and contribute. You need more production
from your sophomores and your juniors, and your seniors
need to be leaders."
The next step for UMD will be establishing
a home ice advantage. The Bulldogs, 0-2-2 at the DECC this
season and 2-1-1 on the road, will get that chance with
eight of their next 10 in Duluth beginning with this weekend's
series against Wisconsin.
"We've got to win at home. Right now
I'd rather stay on the road. I told our team we've got to
strive to be a .500 team on the road, but hopefully they
don't forget about winning at home. This is a real important
stretch for us."Getting points every weekend is important."
The Rivalry Win: Danger
always lurks when two rivals face each other. Case in point
Friday's win by Minnesota State University, Mankato over
"A lot of these kids have played against
each other their whole lives," Minnesota State coach
Troy Jutting said. "We have a pretty good feel for
who's on Minnesota and Minnesota has a pretty good feel
for who's on our team, so it's a pretty familiar setting
for the kids."
The Gophers have been riddled by injuries
this season. And then Riddle was injured –
leading scorer Troy Riddle left Friday's game in the second
period with a minor shoulder separation after notching the
contest's first goal.
It didn't look like the Gophers would need
Riddle to cruise to a victory. Minnesota outshot the Mavericks,
23-11, in the first two periods and took a 2-0 lead 41 seconds
into the final frame on a Dan Welch goal. Minnesota State
battled back, however, getting goals a minute apart from
leading scorers Grant Stevenson and Shane Joseph before
junior defenseman Matt Paluczak picked up the go-ahead tally
with 5:48 left in regulation. MSU backstop Jason Jensen
kept the Gophers at bay with 13 saves in the third period
and 35 for the game.
"We got great goaltending and I thought
we did a very good job of limiting their quality opportunities,"
said Jutting, whose team is 2-4-2 this season, including
an overtime loss and tie against St. Cloud State last month.
"It helps build a little confidence. But one of the
things we've tried to do this year is make sure the highs
don't get too high and the lows don't get too low.
"It's a good win for our program, but
it's one win and it's early in the season and we need to
view it as that and we have a lot of games left against
a lot of very good hockey teams."
Some of those very good hockey teams to
which Jutting refers are on the docket in the near future,
including a home home-and-home series with another rival
St. Cloud State –
"We've got a little leg up in that
we prepared much the same last week for Minnesota as we
would for St. Cloud," said Jutting. "With it being
a school very similar to ours in a lot of ways, it's a big
rivalry for us. There's no question about that."
The Confidence Builder:
With two wins –
both against CHA opponents –
in 11 outings, the first third of the season has been a
rough one for Bowling Green. And the Falcons didn't earn
a victory against visiting Michigan last weekend, but did
give the Wolverines all they could handle in a 6-4 loss
Friday and a 1-1 tie Saturday.
"It was our most consistent weekend
as far as generating chances," said Scott Paluch, the
Falcons' first-year head coach. "We thought over the
course of the six-plus periods, we competed pretty hard.
The difference between Friday and Saturday was we made a
couple of critical mistakes Friday."
Leading that response was sophomore goalie
Jordan Sigalet, who turned aside a career-high 48 saves
en route to the tie. Even though he's the only netminder
in the conference to have seen game action and not won –
he's 0-3-1 in four starts –
the Surrey, B.C., native ranks third in the CCHA with a
.925 save percentage while leading the league in saves per
game (36.75). A Boston Bruins draft pick, Sigalet also boasts
a respectable 2.96 goals against average.
"He's been very solid," said Paluch
of Sigalet. "He's given us a good chance to win hockey
games. (On Saturday) he didn't give up a lot of rebounds.
He's been good at eliminating rebounds and covering loose
Ironically, the Falcons come off the encouraging
weekend series with Michigan and play just two games –
an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team Friday and
a home contest against Michigan State Nov. 22 –
between now and Dec. 7. And while some coaches may worry
about losing momentum, Paluch believes the break is much
"We started practice on a Thursday,
had an exhibition Tuesday and played in the Lefty McFadden
Tournament Friday and Saturday," explains Paluch. "We've
had 11 games and 24 practices. Now we get a chance to reverse
that and take a little teaching time."
ST. CLOUD'S SILVER LINING
For a team that won its first nine games
last season and opened the 2000-01 campaign with a 6-1-1
record, you'd think St. Cloud State fans would be disappointed
in the Huskies' current 4-3-1 mark.
While there are a couple of game the teams
would like to replay –
namely a 1-1 tie at Minnesota State and a 3-1 home loss
to Rensselaer –
the Huskies are just another team that has stayed afloat
despite a rash of injuries.
St. Cloud State has lost 23 man-games to
various ailments so far. Among those who've spent time in
the infirmary: high-scoring wing Ryan Malone (hip pointer),
team captain Jon Cullen (separated shoulder), rugged junior
defensemen Jeff Finger (broken hand, foot) and Ryan LaMere
(shoulder soreness), sophomore forward Brian Schuster (separated
shoulder), and freshmen Greg Tam (separated shoulder), Jonathan
Lehun (leg stress fracture) and Brock Hooton (separated
shoulder). That list doesn't include junior forward Matt
Hendricks, who has played with a cast on his broken wrist
for two weeks.
The bumps and bruises have forced coach
Craig Dahl to juggle his lineup extensively. For example,
nine freshmen suited up for the Huskies' Nov. 1 win against
Rensselaer, while 10 rookies participated in the series
finale the following night. While it's not an enviable position
to put so many freshmen in key roles, it may help St. Cloud
State down the road.
"Usually as a freshman or sophomore,
you play on the third or fourth line," said Malone.
"Now we have freshmen and sophomores playing up on
the first and second lines this season. The situation has
allowed some of our younger players to get a lot of experience
early on in the season."
Malone, who scored 49 points in 41 games
as a junior, returned to action for last week's series against
North Dakota after a three-game hiatus, while Cullen came
back after a four-game absence. It didn't take long for
either player to regain their scoring touch –
Malone had three goals and two assists in Friday's win over
the Sioux, while Cullen added a goal and four assists.
"It felt good to be back on the ice
and it was nice to have Jon back on the ice, too, said Malone,
who Monday was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week.
"We were able to reunite the line that I've been skating
on for much of the past three seasons (Cullen, Malone and
senior Joe Motzko), so it felt great to get back in there
with that line in front of a home crowd.
"It was tough to have to sit out those
three games, especially watching those games at home. It
was tough to see (SCSU) lose when you're on the sidelines."
TIE ME A RIVER
The best deal in college hockey nowadays
has to be tickets to a Bemidji State game. More often than
not, fans get to see 65 minutes of hockey for the price
The Beavers have one win in eight games,
but are only one game below the .500 mark thanks to a whopping
five ties. That's right, FIVE TIES.
"If you let a whole season play out,
you're going to see five to six overtime games during the
year," said BSU coach Tom Serratore. "But not
to start off the year."
Bemidji State has gone to the extra session
six times, including the first five games of the year. The
Beavers are 0-1-5 in those contests, including a loss to
Union last month. BSU's other loss was a 3-1 decision against
Minnesota State University, Mankato.
The team's lone win –
a 2-1 triumph over Findlay last Friday –
was a nailbiter as well. Sophomore center Andy Murray scored
the game winner with 24 seconds left in regulation.
"We've still played good enough hockey
where we feel we could be 6-2 right now," Serratore
said. "The majority of the games that went into overtime,
we had a territorial advantage in those games."
Despite scoring two or fewer goals in six
of eight games, Bemidji State has been buoyed by the performance
of goaltender Grady Hunt. This week's College Hockey America
Defensive Player of the Week, Hunt has given up four goals
in three starts and leads the conference in goals against
average (1.26) and save percentage (.960). Serratore says
the team's positive outlook has also been a key.
"The psyche and mindset of your team
is a lot different with a tie than a loss," the second-year
head coach explained. "It's a different kind of feeling.
After a tie game, you walk into the locker room and you're
not totally frustrated with the outcome of the game."
Serratore adds that his troops have also
found humor in the unique situation.
"The other day before a game, one of
our players said, 'Let's play 65 good minutes of hockey'
and everyone broke out laughing."
RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES
Carrying the flag: "Carrying
the flag" was a phrase used by former Michigan State
coach Ron Mason to describe teams that performed well against
in non-conference play. With most teams at the quarter pole,
we'll check each conference's results against non-league
opponents over the next three weeks, starting with the CCHA
(non-conference record in parentheses).