March 11, 2006
College Hockey America Tournament Semifinals
It's No. 1 vs. No. 2 for Title...Barely

By Thomas Baldwin

Niagara 3,
Robert Morris 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-NU Sean Bentivoglio (16) EV
8:15 T. Cook, L. Reaney
2-NU Pat Oliveto (4) EV
11:18 V. Rocco

Second Period

1-RM Jake Sparks (4) EV
3:56 C. Margott, A. Bonello
2-RM Sean Berkstresser (11) EV
4:32 D. Conley, R. Cowan
Third Period
3-NU Matt Caruana (12) EV
18:52 A. Lackner, D. Sullivan
RM: Christian Boucher (58:58, 26 saves, 3 GA)
NU: Jeff Van Nynatten (59:28, 36 saves, 2 GA)
Penalties: RM 11/22; NU 11/33
Power Plays: RM 0-8; NU 0-9

DETROIT – Though Niagara won all four of its regular-season meetings with Robert Morris, the series was closer than it seemed. Three of the games were decided by one goal; the last two were identical 3-2 wins in favor of the Purple Eagles.

It should come as no surprise, then, that today’s CHA semifinal game between top-seed Niagara and fourth-seed Robert Morris at Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum went down to the wire. And true to form, Niagara escaped with a 3-2 victory when Matt Caruana scored with 1:08 left in regulation to put the Purple Eagles into Sunday’s championship game, where they'll face second-seed Bemidji State for the right to advance to the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

“It pretty much epitomizes our whole year,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder of the win. “We just find a way to win ugly.”

Caruana tipped a Dan Sullivan shot from just inside the blue line past Colonials goaltender Christian Boucher, who made 26 saves for RMU. Niagara, which got timely goals from a variety of contributors in winning seven of its last eight games, used the same formula to its advantage Saturday.

“That’s one of the best attributes of our team,” said senior forward Jason Williamson. “We have great depth and every night it could be someone else.
I think we have six or seven guys with 30 points. If one line is off, another is going to pick up the slack.”

Niagara (20-14-1) played like the tourney’s top seed in the first period as Sean Bentivoglio and Pat Oliveto scored just over three minutes apart to spot the Purple Eagles a 2-0 lead. The second period was totally different, as the Colonials (12-20-3) battled back to even the score in short order. First, Jake Sparks scored just under four minutes into the period to cut the lead in half, and Sean Berkstresser scored just 36 seconds later.

Goaltender Jeff VanNynatten, the CHA Co-Player of the Year, proved his worth by making 36 saves, 17 of them in a busy first period.

Obviously, we got great senior goaltending again,” Burkholder said. “Jeff was terrific when we needed, and we found a way at the end to get it done.”

Bemidji State 4,
Alabama-Huntsville 3 (ot)
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-BS Blaine Jarvis (7) EV
3:12 M. Allen, S. Holman
1-AH Mike Salekin (8) PP
16:58 S. Canter, D. Nimmo
No Scoring

Second Period

2-AH Grant Selinger (8) EV
14:08 D. Nimmo, S. Canter
Third Period
3-AH Dominik Rozman (4) EV
1:59 M. Sweazey, T. Hilbert
2-BS Luke Erickson (16) EV
7:02 R. Miller, R. Huddy
3-BS Tyler Scofield (6) EV
15:22 M. Pope, A. Martens
4-BS Rob Sirianni (16) EV
1:20 G. Roth, A. Martens
AH: Scott Munroe (61:20, 29 saves, 4 GA)
BS: Layne Sedevie (61:12, 37 saves, 3 GA)
Penalties: AH 7/14; BS 5/10
Power Plays: AH 1-5; BS 0-7
Attendance: 1,008


As was the case in the Niagara-Robert Morris game, Alabama-Huntsville squandered a two-goal lead in its semifinal match against Bemidji State Saturday. But unlike the first game, the Chargers wouldn't regain the lead after letting the Beavers back into the game.

Rob Sirianni scored 1:20 into overtime to lift Bemidji State (19-13-3) to a 4-3 win over Alabama-Huntsville (19-13-2), propelling the Beavers to their fourth straight appearance in the CHA playoff championship game.

Sirianni's game-winner was the last of three unanswered scores for Bemidji State in the final 14:28 of play. Luke Erickson started the Beaver rally with a goal a little more than seven minutes into the third period, and BSU's Tyler Scofield sent the game into overtime when he tied the game at 3-3 with 4:38 remaining in regulation.

The Chargers, incidentally, scored three straight goals after falling behind three minutes into the game when Blaine Jarvis got the puck past UAH netminder Scott Munroe. Mike Salekin's power-play from the right circle three minutes before the first intermission evened the game at 1-1. The Chargers dominated the second period, outshooting the Beavers by a 23-6 margin, but managed just one goal – Grant Selinger's successful attempt from the top of the crease set up by a feed from David Nimmo. Dominik Rozman pushed the UAH advantage to 3-1 on his fourth goal of the season 1:59 into the third period.

Layne Sedevie made 37 saves for Bemidji State. Scott Munroe, who shared CHA Player of the Year honors with Niagara's Van Nynatten, turned aside 29 shots.


Niagara and Bemidji State compete for the CHA playoff championship in Detroit Sunday. The Purple Eagles are 7-1-0 in their last eight games, but it's a deceiving statistic – five of the seven wins were by one goal. Deceiving, too, is the Beavers' record. Sure, BSU is a respectable 19-13-3, but the Beavers are a mediocre 11-11-1 since Dec. 1, a span that includes three losses to Niagara, two of them coming in western New York just two weeks ago.

Mike Eidelbes contributed to this report.