CHA 2006-07 season preview

By DJ Powers

It’s been a bit of an interesting off-season for the CHA (College Hockey America) as the number of member teams dwindled down to five due to Air Force’s move to the Atlantic Hockey conference. Despite being below the six-team minimum, the CHA will retain its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament this season.

In addition, the CHA will also co-host (along with the St. Louis Sports Commission) the 2007 Men’s Frozen Four, which takes place at the Savvis Center in St. Louis, MO on April 5 and 7.

The battle for the CHA Championship and the coveted NCAA Tournament bid looks to be good one again this season.

The reigning conference champion Bemidji State Beavers will be looking to successfully defend their CHA crown in hopes of making it a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 13 at Maine.

Despite the loss of some key contributors from last year’s team in forwards Ryan Huddy and Jean-Guy Gervais and defenseman Andrew Martens, Bemidji State returns much of their team intact. Senior Luke Erickson leads a superb group upfront. Erickson, who has already etched his name in both the CHA’s and the Beavers’ D-I era record books, will look to break Andrew Murray’s (CBJ) 115 D-I era career points record. Erickson has 105 coming into this season.

The blue line will be perhaps the Beavers biggest concern as senior Nathan Schwartzbauer and junior Riley Weselowski will lead a very young defensive corps. One defensive newcomer to watch is Chris Peluso. The Pittsburgh Penguins 2004 draft selection (seventh round, 194th overall) is the CHA’s lone current NHL prospect this season. Peluso is a good puck-moving defenseman that could become a regular on the Beavers power play.

With a young defense patrolling the blue line, getting solid goaltending will be crucial in Bemidji State’s run for the CHA Championship. The outstanding returning tandem of senior Layne Sedevie and junior Matt Climie will provide a stabilizing presence to the defense. Sedevie was instrumental in backstopping Bemidji State to a second consecutive conference title last season, stopping a combined 68 of 73 shots in the two games in the CHA playoffs versus Alabama-Huntsville and Niagara respectively.

While Bemidji State is pretty well set in goal, the same can’t quite be said for Alabama-Huntsville.

When the Chargers open their 2006-07 campaign on Oct. 7 at Colorado College, they’ll be doing it without Scott Munroe (PHI). The CHA Co-Player of the Year backstopped Alabama-Huntsville to a 19-13-2 record last season, and in the process rewrote the Chargers goaltending history books. His records include career saves (2,884) and career save percentage (.918).

With Munroe’s departure, the goaltending duties will fall to junior Marc Narduzzi and sophomore Jordan Erickson this season. The two combined to play in just seven of 34 games last season.

The other key losses for Alabama-Huntsville were two of their top point producers in forward Bruce Mulherin and offensive-defenseman Jeremy Schreiber. The two finished first and third respectively in team scoring last year. Despite the losses however, the Chargers return a very good group of points producers led by a pair of seniors in forward David Nimmo and defenseman Shaun Arvai. Nimmo, the returning top scorer, enjoyed a breakout season with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) last year. Arvai, who will serve as one of the Chargers’ co-captains, is the returning top scoring defenseman. He finished last season with 20 points (two goals, 18 assists).

In addition to a returning a solid group of veterans, Alabama-Huntsville will also bring in a freshman class that include two good offensive players in former Texas Tornado (NAHL) centerman Tom Train and former Milton Icehawks (OPJHL) left wing Kevin Morrison.

The success of Alabama-Huntsville will depend on overall team consistency, solid goaltending and disciplined play. The Chargers were one of the nation’s most penalized teams last season, averaging 22.94 penalty minutes per game. The penalty minutes were costly as power play goals allowed proved to be Alabama-Huntsville’s undoing in several games throughout the year.

One CHA team that found success not only on the power play but also in getting some balanced scoring last season was Niagara University. The Purple Eagles, who finished atop the CHA standings with a 20-15-1 record, fell to Bemidji State in the CHA Championship game.

Last season, Niagara featured the exciting freshman duo of Ted Cook and Les Reaney. Both led the team in scoring with 40 points apiece, a new CHA rookie record. In addition, Reaney set a new CHA rookie record for assists with 27, while Cook set the rookie record with 20 goals. The Purple Eagles “dynamic duo” returns to help lead a superb group of forwards that also includes stalwart senior Sean Bentivoglio, who will serve as team captain this season.

While the Purple Eagles look set up front, goaltending will be the biggest concern when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 6 at Clarkson. CHA Co-Player of the Year Jeff Van Nynatten, who played in 33 of Niagara’s 36 games last season, has graduated. He leaves Niagara having set new goaltending records that include career saves (2,640) and saves in a single season (1,057).

With Van Nynatten’s departure, the goaltending duties will fall to junior Scott Mollison and sophomore Juliano Pagliero. Both Mollison and Pagliero combined to play in just eight games last year. How well Niagara does this season will depend largely on getting good and consistent goaltending.

Compounding the goaltending situation this season is the fact that the Purple Eagles will have a predominantly young defensive corps. Senior Pat Oliveto and junior Scott Langdon are the only returning upperclassmen on the blue line. An area that will need to be addressed is bringing down their goals allowed. Niagara gave up just about as many goals (3.36 per game) as they scored (3.50 per game) last season.

Meanwhile in Moon Township, PA, Robert Morris University made more progress in their second season as a Division I team. After going, 8-21-4 in their inaugural season in 2004-05, the Colonials finished their 2005-06 campaign with a 12-20-3 record, that included a season sweep of now-former CHA rival Air Force. Robert Morris will look to continue that progress when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 7 at Canisius.

One area that the Colonials vastly improved from their inaugural season was their team offense. After not having a single player on the roster with 20 or more points in 2004-05, Robert Morris had four such players last season. All but forward Kurt Wright, who has graduated, return this season. Sophomore Chris Margott led the team with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). The CHA All-Rookie team selection also finished second in the conference in rookie scoring.

The Colonials also continue to get great goaltending from junior Christian Boucher. Boucher, who started in 32 of Robert Morris’ 35 games last season, posted a 10-18-3 record that included one shutout.

A solid defensive corps led by junior co-captains Rob Cowan and Chris Kaufman round out Robert Morris’ returning players. Cowan will be joined by his younger brother Dave on the Colonials blueline this season. The younger Cowan will bring some size and toughness to Robert Morris’ defense.

The Colonials will bring in some experience amongst their group of newcomers. Defenseman Jake Obermeyer and forward Ryan Cruthers are transfers who’ll be returning to collegiate action this season. Obermeyer played in 11 games at Michigan Tech in 2004-05. Cruthers comes to Robert Morris from Army, where he finished second on the Black Knights team in scoring with 16 points back in 2004-05.

Robert Morris isn’t the only CHA team looking to make a move up this season. The Wayne State Warriors are also looking to do that when they open their 2006-07 season on October 13 at Minnesota.

The Warriors were hit hard by injuries last season, as only four played in all 35 games. Among the players hit by the injury bug was junior forward Stavros Paskaris. Paskaris fought through a shoulder injury that he suffered very early last season. He finished his sophomore season with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) playing in 29 games. Paskaris’ scoring and health will be vital to the Warriors success this season; especially since sophomore Adam Krug, the team’s top scorer last season, left Wayne State over the summer and has transferred to SUNY-Fredonia (D-III).

In addition to Krug, Wayne State also lost two other key players in top defenseman Steve Kovalchik and goaltender Matt Kelly, both of whom graduated.

With Kelly’s departure, the goaltending duties will fall to senior Will Hooper this season. Hooper, who split time with Kelly last season, is coming off of a 2-13-3 year. While his record was poor, Hooper did post decent numbers in save percentage (.899) and goals against average (3.45). However, those numbers will need to significantly come up if Wayne State is to avoid finishing in the CHA basement again this season.

Coming off of a disappointing and frustrating 2005-06 campaign and suffering three significant off-season losses, the Warriors will have several issues that need to be addressed if they want to contend for the CHA crown this year. The most glaring of these is team defense. Wayne State gave up an average of four goals per game, tied for 57th in the nation. Only American International had a worse overall team defense last season.

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