January 9, 2003
West Notebook

Alabama-Huntsville recovers nicely from brutal start.

By Mike Eidelbes

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The nation’s second-hottest hockey team, one spot below North Dakota and above the likes of Ohio State and Boston University, hails from Huntsville, Alabama.

Coach Doug Ross’ Chargers – the same team that started the season with six losses in a row against Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin – have won five straight, are unbeaten in their last nine and own a 9-1-2 record since starting the season 0-6-0.

“(Our players) want the opportunity to play against those types of teams,” Ross said from his hotel room in Findlay, Ohio, where Alabama-Huntsville was preparing for a two-game set with their College Hockey America rivals. “But that was a tough way to start the season, especially three weekends in a row on the road. It was challenging and we were hoping it would toughen us up for league play.”

The Chargers’ emergence has coincided with that of goaltender Scott Munroe. A heralded freshman from Moose Jaw, Sask. and product of the legendary Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., Munroe turned aside 52 shots in his first career start, a 4-2 loss to Minnesota at Mariucci Arena Nov. 2. He’s posted a 6-0-0 record since, including a 3-0-0 mark and a sparkling .940 save percentage in conference play.

“We were looking for someone who was capable of rotating with our senior (Mark Byrne),” Ross said. “Scott got the opportunity – he got his foot in the door. He looked good in practice in the preseason. Players are playing well in front of him, knowing that he’s real dependable.”

While the goaltending has given Alabama-Huntsville a boost, the team’s scoring has picked up. After scoring nine goals en route to their winless start, the Chargers have tallied 62 goals in their last 12 contests, including four or more goals on 10 occasions. Look at the list of the CHA’s top point-getters and you’ll find four Chargers in the top eight and nine among the top 25.

Despite the learning experience the first six games provided and the confidence gained during the last dozen games, Alabama-Huntsville players and coaches are acutely aware that no CHA team is a lock to take the league postseason crown and the ensuing NCAA Tournament auto-bid.

“All the teams in our conferenece have a legitimate shot at winning the conference tournament,” Ross said. “Whoever is playing well at the end of the season will have a real good shot at it.”

Things People Say

“We have a lot of guys who were part of the under-18 team that won the world championships and we have a great future with that age group. But this is a tough pill to swallow.” – North Dakota forward Zach Parise, lamenting the U.S. team’s fourth-place finish at the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I heard that he is one of the best-looking guys in the country, so I can’t really complain about that. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help our team win the national championship as well." – Michigan State senior Steve Clark, who bears a resemblance to Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel.

“Mom and Dad, please send money for beer.” – Sign displayed by a St. Cloud State student during Saturday’s tie with Minnesota at the National Hockey Center.

As a member of the U.S. entry in the IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Colorado College freshman Brett Sterling had the opportunity to see the sites of one of Canada’s Maritime provinces. Unfortunately, one of the side trips he made was to the city’s hospital.

During a power play/penalty kill drill at a Dec. 21 practice, Sterling was hit in the mouth by a shot off the stick of North Dakota defenseman Matt Greene – players are permitted to wear half shields in international competition.

“I went down and everyone kind of knew it was not good,” Sterling said. “Our trainer, who worked in the NHL for 17 years, said it was the worst lip laceration he had seen.”

The damage: 20 stitches to his upper lip, which Sterling says was basically hanging off his face in two pieces. His front incisors had been knocked back toward his throat and had dropped down about a quarter of an inch, forcing doctors to pull his palate back into place where the teeth were in a five-hour surgical procedure.

Sterling was released from the hospital that day, returned to practice two days later and played

“I have braces on the top layer of my gums that are basically holding my front two teeth in place until they solidify in my gums,” Sterling said. “They’re still kind of loose a little bit. My left canine was cracked off near the top, so I have to get a root canal done on that tooth and get it capped. Depending on how my left incisor does, I might have to get a root canal on that. My right incisor has already had a root canal on it because I cracked it off in hockey a couple years ago.”

Incidentally, Sterling and Greene meet as opponents at the end of the month when North Dakota visits Colorado Springs to face the Tigers. The Colorado College forward says he and his Team USA teammate have already talked about the incident and the two will share a laugh when they see each other in three weeks.


There’s been an inordinate amount of alterations to team rosters during the course of the last month. To wit:

Alaska Anchorage:
13 skaters will serve suspensions for violating NCAA rules regarding textbook purchases. Seven-game suspensions were levied against Kurt Johnson and Jim Dahl. 11 players – B.J. Ballas, Petr Chytka, Spence Gilchrist, Dan Gilkerson, Lee Green, Pavel Hlavacek, Sean Honeman, Vladimir Novak, Sean Ober, Morgan Roach and Matt Shasby – were handed three-game suspensions. The penalties will be staggered so the Seawolves will have an adequate number of eligible players on the roster.

Bowling Green: Coach Scott Paluch dismissed two players – Kip Horner and Colen Pappas – for violating team rules. An additional five skaters were suspended for last Friday’s contest against Alaska Fairbanks for similar reasons. They were Erik Eaton, Mike Falk, Roger Leonard, Ryan Minnabarriet and Brandon Piersol.

Miami: Forward Derek Edwardson, who ranks tied for ninth in the CCHA in scoring with 24 points, is expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in the RedHawks’ overtime loss at Michigan last Sunday.

Michigan State: Defensemen Duncan Keith and Evan Shaw both left the team prior to the Spartans’ appearance in the Great Lakes Invitational. Keith joined the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. According to the State News, Shaw has yet to decide whether to transfer to another school or join the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Minnesota: Forward Dan Welch was dismissed from the team because of academic issues. The Hastings, Minn., native missed all of the 2000-01 season and the first half of the 2001-02 campaign due to academic woes.

Notre Dame: Forward Alex Lalonde departed from South Bend in order to play in the major junior ranks. He had one goal in 12 games this season.


Three Great Weekend Getaways
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1. North Dakota at Minnesota: Coaches will tell you every game matters regardless of whether it takes place in mid-October or mid-February, but we’re getting to point in the season where a series can be labeled “huge”. This one fits into that category. Minnesota needs to get untracked against quality conference opponents - they’re 1-3-2 against teams in the league with records at or better than .500. North Dakota, while unbeaten in its last 15 games, hasn’t played a road contest in two months (Nov. 8-9 at St. Cloud State). They haven’t exactly been tested during that stretch, either, with just four games against foes above the .500 mark.

While you’re there: In case you’re still thirsting for hockey action following the Gopher-Sioux series, the Minnesota Wild skills competition takes place at the Xcel Energy Center Sunday. You know you want to see how fast Cliff Ronning can skate, so don’t try to deny it.


2. Michigan at Western Michigan (Saturday): The two teams play in Ann Arbor Friday, but Saturday’s game in Kalamazoo will be one of two that sell out at Lawson Arena this season (the other being the Broncos’ game against Michigan State in March). The atmosphere at Lawson when U-M or MSU rolls into town – especially in the WMU student section – is how I envision soccer hooliganism.

3. St. Cloud State at Denver: St. Cloud State travels west coming off a three-point weekend against the hated Gophers. Denver got a weekend off after shutting out Miami and New Hampshire en route to the Denver Cup title. The Huskies took three of four from the Pioneers in St. Cloud prior to the Christmas break. Feel free to tack on your own clichéd revenge comment.

Red River Red Carpet: Grand Forks, N.D., was tabbed by USA Hockey to host the 2005 World Junior Championship. Ralph Engelstad Arena will be the primary venue for the tournament, which will start in late December 2004 and conclude with medal games in early January 2005.

Thief River Falls, Minn., will also host selected WJC tournament games at its new 3,800-seat facility, also named Ralph Engelstad Arena. Grand Forks beat out Columbus, Ohio, and Omaha for the right to host the event. The last time the IIHF brought the tournament to American soil was in 1996, when Boston served as host.

December to Remember: Ohio State’s R.J. Umberger and Zach Parise of North Dakota were honored by the Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners’ Association as December’s Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month, respectively.

Umberger scored nine goals and four assists while leading the Buckeyes to a 5-0-1 record in six December contests. The junior from Pittsburgh, Pa., earned CCHA Offensive Player of the Week three times last month.

Parise played in four games for the Sioux last month and had two goals and seven assists. The Faribault, Minn., native, who led Team USA in scoring at the recently-concluded World Junior Championship, received WCHA Rookie of the Week status twice in December.

Speaking of Awards: Three CCHA players – Ohio State goaltender Mike Betz, defenseman Brad Fast of Michigan State and Notre Dame’s John Wroblewski – are among the 15 nominees for the Humanitarian Award, presented annually to college hockey’s finest citizen for their contributions to society.

The award was first presented in 1996. Past winners include Michigan’s Blake Sloan (1997), Erik Raygor of Wisconsin (1998) and Nebraska-Omaha’s Jason Cupp (2001).

News of the Weird: Lake Superior State and Bowling Green have combined for two wins in conference play so far this season – both against Michigan State. The Spartans, whose struggles under first-year head coach Rick Comley are well-chronicled, haven’t lost to the Lakers and Falcons in the same season since the 1995-96 season.

Bobble-Red: Wanna bring Michigan coach Red Berenson home with you…for good? The first 1,000 fans attending Friday’s Michigan-Western Michigan game receive limited edition bobbleheads created in the likeness of the legendary Wolverine coach.

An additional 1,000 will go on sale for $15 each. Can’t make it to the game? You can order one through the U-M athletic department at (734) 615-2025 using your Master Card, Visa or Discover. Proceeds from the bobblehead sale go to the Dekers Club hockey booster group’s scholarship fund.

Berenson is the second CCHA coach to be honored in plaster. At last year’s league tournament, fans were presented with bobbleheads of outgoing Michigan State coach Ron Mason.


YES Network:
For carrying selected U.S. Junior National Team games from the recent IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Hockey fans receiving the YES Network on cable or via satellite thoroughly enjoyed the broadcasts. We encourage you to email comments of support to info@yesnetworktv.com.

Gregg Wong: The longtime scribe for the St. Paul Pioneer Press will drop the ceremonial first puck prior to game one of this weekend’s Minnesota-North Dakota series at Mariucci Arena.


Ann Arbor News writer Antoine Pitts: The Michigan hockey beat writer recently lamented that, due to the yearly inclusion of Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech in the Great Lakes Invitational, the event has grown stale, and even suggested that Tech, which founded the tournament, should excuse themselves due to its recent struggles. It must be a decent tournament, because the Wolverines have a pretty good program and haven’t won the GLI since 1996.

Fox Sports Net (insert geographical reference here): I love the fact that Fox Sports Net, in its various forms, brings live college hockey broadcasts from across the nation to my rumpus room. But enough with the silly, invasive, in-game promos. Rupert Murdoch, if you’re reading this, I’m aware that your family of sports outlets carries The Best Damn Sports Show Period and Super Bowl Saturday Night. Please, I beseech you, quit showing John Kruk’s mullet-swaddled head or Jimmy Kimmel putting a whole apple into his mouth when I’m trying to see the game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve going to go watch The Junction Boys.


Boston Bruins: Recalled forward Andy Hilbert (Michigan) from Providence of the American Hockey League.

Carolina Hurricanes: Recalled defenseman Steve Halko (Michigan) from Lowell of the American Hockey League.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Recalled defenseman Paul Manning (Colorado College) from Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

Los Angeles Kings: Placed forward Bryan Smolinski (Michigan State) on injured reserve; assigned center Mike Cammalleri (Michigan) to Manchester of the American Hockey League.

Minnesota Wild: Recalled goaltender Dieter Kochan (Northern Michigan) from Houston of the American Hockey League.

Nashville Predators:
Recalled forward Wyatt Smith (Minnesota) from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League.

Phoenix Coyotes: Recalled forward Jeff Taffe (Minnesota) from Springfield of the American Hockey League.


Manchester Monarchs (AHL): Signed forward Dan Welch (Minnesota) to an amateur tryout agreement.

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

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