CHA 2007-08 season preview

By DJ Powers

The already-fragile CHA starts the year on even shakier ground after last week’s announcement by Wayne State University that it was eliminating its men’s ice hockey program at the conclusion of this season. The program, which has seen its share of struggles in recent years, is being eliminated due to financial issues.

When the season concludes next spring, the conference’s remaining four teams face a great deal of uncertainty, not the least of which is their fates as Division I programs.

For now, the five teams are making their preparations for what should be a fun and unpredictable season in the CHA.

University of Alabama-Huntsville

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 0)

The reigning CHA Tournament champions became one of last season’s best feel good stories. After concluding their regular season at the bottom of the conference, Alabama-Huntsville charged back to capture their first ever D-I NCAA Tournament bid and nearly pulled off an upset of Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional. The Chargers will try to successfully defend their CHA Championship crown when they open their 2007-08 season against host Nebraska-Omaha at the Mutual of Omaha Stampede on Oct. 19.

This season, Alabama-Huntsville will usher in a brand new era when Danton Cole takes the helm behind the Chargers bench. Cole succeeds the program’s architect Doug Ross, who retired at the conclusion of the 2006-07 season. As the former NHLer explains, strong defense will form the basis of his team’s new identity.

“We’ll be hard to play against and we’ll be very good defensively. They’ll be a lot of will and a lot of passion on our team. Those are things that I’ve had on every team that I’ve been a head coach with and those are the things that we’re going to strive for. We’re fairly young this year but we hope that through some experience and good play early on, we do get the point where we’ll win another CHA Championship. We want to be a team that goes in there and competes. Eventually our goal for the program is to be a team that doesn’t have to win the CHA Championship to get into the NCAA Tournament.”

For Alabama-Huntsville, this season will definitely be a rebuilding process. Compounding the challenge of establishing a new system is the fact that the team will be very young. The Chargers will have just seven upperclassmen on their roster, only two of which are seniors.

Nowhere is the youth movement more evident than in goal. Marc Narduzzi has graduated and Jordan Erickson left the team. Sophomore Blake MacNichol returns as the lone veteran between the pipes. The Milam, OH native joined Alabama-Huntsville in the second half of last season. Though he only played eight games in his short rookie year, MacNichol was outstanding. He posted a 4-1-0 record with a 2.73 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Two incoming freshmen will challenge MacNichol for ice time. One of them is Wyatt Russell, the son of actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Senior Matt Montes and junior Scott Kalinchuk will anchor the young Chargers blueline. With the vast number of departures, Kalinchuk returns as the team’s top scorer. He finished seventh on the roster with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists).

One of the biggest hurdles facing Alabama-Huntsville this season will be in replacing the 43 goals that left with graduates David Nimmo, Grant Selinger and Brett McConnachie. The trio alone accounted for 33 percent of the team’s overall scoring last season.

Two returning players that are poised to have breakout years this season are a pair of sophomore linemates in Tom Train and Cale Tanaka. The duo, along with returning senior Tyler Hilbert, gave Alabama-Huntsville a superb line combination that excelled in post-season play. Train and Tanaka combined to score just 12 points in their rookie campaigns, but those numbers are expected to rise significantly this season.

Bemidji State University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 1)

The ending to the 2006-07 season that Bemidji State had hoped didn’t come to fruition. They just missed finishing atop the CHA regular season standings by one point. With a new season comes the renewal of the usually high expectations associated with the program. The Beavers will look to reclaim the CHA Championship title this season when they open their 2007-08 campaign on Oct. 12 hosting non-conference foe Army.

Bemidji State lost seven players to graduation and nowhere is that going to be felt more than upfront this season. Five of the seven departures are forwards, including top goal scorer Luke Erickson and co-team leading scorer Rob Sirianni. Erickson leaves Bemidji State as the program’s top career scorer in the D-I era with 121 points, eclipsing the mark of 115 that was previously set by Andrew Murray (CBJ).

Despite the losses, the Beavers should once again be very good upfront. Junior Travis Winter and sophomore Joey Moggach will be leading the offensive charge this season. Winter enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, co-leading the team with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists). His brilliant performance also garnered him an All-CHA First Team selection. Moggach enjoyed a stellar first year leading all Bemidji State freshmen in scoring with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists). He was also named to the CHA All-Rookie Team.

The Beavers will once again be young on the blueline, but they’ll be more experienced. The only loss was that of the imposing Nathan Schwartzbauer, who graduated. Senior and team captain Dave Deterding will be anchoring the Beavers defensive corps.

Sophomore defenseman Chris Peluso (PIT), the CHA’s lone NHL prospect, made great strides in his development last season. He played in 26 games and posted six points (all assists). Peluso earned his lone CHA Rookie of the Week honor last December after posting three points in the Beavers sweep at Wayne State. The Wadena, MN native is expected to be a key contributor this season. He’ll also be looking for his first collegiate goal as well.

Goaltending looks to be Bemidji State’s strongest area coming into the year. Senior Matt Climie, an All-CHA First Team selection, was very solid in goal last season, despite posting a 3.03 goals against average and a .897 save percentage overall. He put together a record of 11-10-5 that included two shutouts. Where the Leduc, AB native was particularly impressive was in conference play. There he went 8-5-5. His 2.51 goals against average and .909 save percentage both led the CHA in conference play.

The one area that the Beavers will need to improve this season is their special teams. Last season, Bemidji State’s power play was clicking at an anemic 15.4 percent efficiency – the worst in the CHA. Their penalty killing didn’t fare any better at 79.4 percent. That ranked them 53rd in the nation. The only good news coming out of the Beavers special teams last season was their seven shorthanded tallies, which were among the most in the nation.

Niagara University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 0)

After falling to Alabama-Huntsville in the CHA Tournament semi-finals last spring, the Purple Eagles will be looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 at Merrimack. Despite failing to win the CHA Championship, Niagara’s season overall in 2006-07 was very good with the team successfully defending their CHA regular season crown.

Last season, Niagara featured one of the nation’s most prolific line combinations in Sean Bentivoglio (NYI), Ted Cook and Les Reaney. The trio alone accounted for nearly half of the team’s total goals (64) and over 28 percent of the team’s total points (138). Cook’s 32 goals, which also included 21 power play goals, both led the nation. Not surprisingly, the Purple Eagles also possessed one of the nation’s best power plays as well. Clicking at 20 percent, their power play ranked 10th in the nation. Unfortunately for Niagara, the team also surrendered nine shorthanded tallies to their opponents as well.

The loss of Bentivoglio, the CHA Player of the Year, means that the Purple Eagles will be looking to fill a significant hole on not only their top line, but more importantly on their top power play unit. One potential player that may likely move up to the top line is sophomore sensation Chris Moran. The CHA Rookie of the Year was the only other player on the roster, aside from the top line to amass 40 or more points last season. Moran led the nation in rookie assists with 31.

The likely candidate to fill Bentivoglio’s power play role is senior Matt Caruana. The Orono, ON native has steadily improved all facets of his game through his collegiate career thus far. As a result, he has become an invaluable asset at both ends of the ice and capable of playing in virtually any type of situation. Caruana finished fifth on the team in scoring last season with 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists).

In addition to their returning forwards, the Purple Eagles will welcome four newcomers. The one player to watch is David Ross. He is one of two players from Bowmanville’s (OPJHL) explosive top line playing in the CHA this season (Kyle Goodchild, who is with Alabama-Huntsville, is the other). Ross is a centerman that possesses a blistering shot and will also bring some serious firepower to Niagara as well.

Despite giving up an average of almost 3.50 goals per game last season, Niagara got strong goaltending from junior Juliano Pagliero He posted a 14-11-3 record that also included a .915 save percentage. His save percentage number is made even more remarkable by the fact that he faced an averaged of 32 shots per game. While backup Allen Barton was lost to graduation, experienced senior Scott Mollison returns to take his place and will challenge Pagliero for playing time.

Defense, particularly away from Dwyer Arena, will be the one area where Niagara will need to improve to be successful this season. And the task will be a bit more difficult without All-CHA First Team defenseman Pat Oliveto, who has graduated. The Purple Eagles allowed an average of just over 2.86 goals per game on the road last season, often forcing their netminders to carry the team on their shoulders. Senior Scott Langdon and junior Travis Anderson will be two of the returning players that Niagara will depend on to step things up.

Robert Morris University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 0)

The CHA’s newest member Robert Morris saw great success in their third season that culminated with a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime loss to Alabama-Huntsville in their first ever appearance in the CHA Tournament Championship game last spring. The Colonials will look to remedy that when they open their 2007-08 season against Hockey East powerhouse Boston University in the Nye Frontier Classic up in Anchorage, AK on Oct. 12. The meeting will be the first ever between the two schools.

Robert Morris will be one team to watch this season. The Colonials lost only five players and return an excellent and very experienced group.

Among those that have moved on are two of the team’s top three scorers from last season in Aaron Clarke and Doug Conley. Clarke, an All-CHA Second Team selection, led Robert Morris with 25 assists and ranked second on the team with 36 points. Conley finished third with 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists).

Despite the loss of Clarke and Conley, Robert Morris will have no shortage of point producers this season. Senior Ryan Caruthers leads a very good group upfront. Caruthers, who formerly played at Army, led the Colonials in scoring last season with 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists). In the process he set new school single-season records in points, goals, power goals (9), points per game (1.09) and goals per game (0.50).

One area where Robert Morris was particularly dangerous last season was on the power play. The Colonials ranked 11th in the nation, clicking at just under 20 percent. What makes the statistic even more remarkable is the fact that the team was able to spread the wealth, with over half of the regulars posting at least one man-advantage tally.

The team’s blueline, like the forward lines, will be rich in experience this season. While the loss of Bryan Mills to graduation is significant, the Robert Morris defense should be rock solid. Senior captains Rob Cowan and Chris Kaufman will anchor a deep and intimidating returning defensive corps.

How successful Robert Morris will be this season will depend greatly on how well junior netminder Christian Boucher performs. Though he saw the bulk of time in goal last season, he was also streaky. Boucher finished the season with a 9-13-2 record with a 3.58 goals against average and a disappointing .899 save percentage. The Colonials are hoping that Boucher will be able to regain his form and be more consistent this season.

Interestingly, Boucher’s counterpart last season, Joe Tuset, will be one of his coaches this season. The Eagan, MN native saw action in 14 games last season and fared a little better than his younger counterpart. He posted a 5-6-0 record that also included the team’s only shutout, along with a 3.08 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. After graduating, Tuset joined the Colonials coaching staff.

Wayne State University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 0)

After last week’s bombshell announcement, the Wayne State Warriors are in a state of flux. The challenge of getting the team on the same page this season was already great to begin with, but the added distraction of the team’s eventual demise at season’s end only complicates the process even further. Nevertheless, the Warriors will try to salvage whatever they can when they open their 2007-08 (and final) season on Oct. 12 taking on host Alaska-Anchorage in the Nye Frontier Classic.

Wayne State will definitely have a new look this season. The Warriors roster will feature an astounding 16 freshmen – among the most of any D-I team. With an overwhelmingly young team, Wayne State’s leadership and guidance will be crucial to the team’s success.

Nowhere will that be more important than on defense. Junior Matt Krug and outstanding sophomore Jeff Caister will lead the Warriors defensive corps. Krug is the lone upperclassmen on the Wayne State blueline this season. Caister, a CHA All-Rookie Team selection, will serve as one of the assistant captains. He is also the top returning scorer among defensemen after posting 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) last season.

With a predominantly young blueline hitting the ice this season, the Warriors will be looking to their goaltenders for some stability. This is perhaps Wayne State’s area of strength coming into the year. While graduate Will Hooper will be missed, the emergence of sophomore Brett Bothwell provides a superb foundation to rebuild on. The Red Deer, AB native provided the backbone to a team that struggled mightily on defense last season. Bothwell posted a respectable 8-9-1 record that included a 3.57 goals against average and an .899 save percentage. His strong season performance also earned him a selection to the CHA All-Rookie Team.

Another issue that Wayne State will have to contend with is sorting out their forward lines. The Warriors lost five of their seven top point producers and 41 percent of their scoring to graduation. While Wayne State did a very good job of getting offensive production from throughout their lineup last season, having to replenish that much scoring is going to be a daunting task for a youthful Warriors team that must rely on scoring by committee.

Sophomore Jared Katz returns as Wayne State’s top scorer. The diminutive dynamo was one of the Warriors most consistent players last season. He led the team in rookie scoring with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) playing on Wayne State’s top line. Where Katz was particularly effective was on the power play. Of his 11 goals, six came on the power play, which also led the team. The St. Clair Shores, MI native was the third Wayne State player to be named to the CHA All-Rookie Team.

Senior Mike Forgie returns to serve as Wayne State’s captain again this season. The Scarborough, ON native is the definitive warrior for his team. Despite battling injuries the last two seasons, Forgie has become the cornerstone of the Wayne State program, contributing in variety of areas while providing strong leadership. He posted 12 points (six goals, six assists) last season that also included tallies both on the power play and in penalty-killing situations.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.