Alabama-Huntsville Punches NCAA Ticket In Final CHA Championship
by Becky Ebert/CHN Reporter
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. It’s was a story book ending for Alabama-Huntsville freshman Keenan Desmet. His goal in overtime, coming on a controversial power play no less, gave the Chargers the win the final CHA Championship Game, and the conference's final automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The first CHA championship was played in 1999 between these same two teams, Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville. The Purple Eagles won that one. Tonight, UAH had a different ending in mind.
“We’re obviously really excited and our university has gone through some tough stuff lately and it’s a good win for the University,” said UAH coach Danton coach Cole.
The win comes with some irony. Of the four teams left standing in this final season for the league, UAH is the only one that could not find a conference to play in next season. This could be the Chargers' last legitimate chance to make the NCAAs for a long time.
Goaltender Cameron Talbot was the story of the tournament. Talbot was awarded MVP of the tournament, making 43 saves on the night. To say he gave the Chargers a chance to win it, would be a massive understatement.
Coming off a 5-4 upset win over the Bemidji State Beavers, Niagara went into tonight’s game winning five of their last six games, but none of that would matter.
Niagara took a blow about 10 minutes into the first when freshman Dan Weiss had to be escorted into the locker room after receiving a crushing hit. Niagara more than doubled the Chargers in shots, 16-7. Alabama-Huntsville had a one goal lead over Niagara, which only lasted for a few seconds. Following a video review, the goal was disallowed due to a distinct kicking motion. The first period of the championship game ended with a scoreless tie.
Forward Dan Weiss was back on the ice for the start of the second, but his return wasn’t going to stop UAH from securing the first goal of the game, one that would stay on the scoreboard. Defenseman Barker released a slow wrister that made its way past goaltender Chris Noonan.
Niagara was quick to tie up the game at 1-1 with a goal just moments later. Leading scorer for the Purple Eagles, Chris Moran, ripped the puck top shelf on the blocker side of UAH goaltender Cameron Talbot.
Another questionable call was made by the referees in the second, when NU freshman Giancarlo Iuorio deflection into the net was called down for a high stick. Upon further review by the officials, the Purple Eagles’ faithful were sent into an uproar when the play was ruled as a no goal.
“It’s a goal. It’s a goal one hundred percent. We have replay. You would hope that replay would prove that,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “He stick was down and he chipped it. I’ve seen it five times.”
With 3:29 left in the second period, the Chargers gained their one goal lead back on a power play opportunity. Forward Cody Campbell was left unattended by Niagara and scored his 8th of the season from the backdoor, to put his team in front 2-1.
At the 14:34 minute mark in the third period, speedy forward Bryan Haczyk took off down the ice to beat the defenseman and make a picture perfect pass to Marc Zanette for the tying goal. It seemed like NU had the game working for them, but goalie Talbot was determined to make every save necessary to take it into OT.
“Just keep the puck out and give us a chance to win. That’s all I was thinking,” said Talbot.
That’s exactly what Talbot did to get his team into the extra period of play.
With the momentum swinging in every direction, NU’s Jim Burichin found his way to the penalty box for a fairly weak slashing penalty just five minutes into overtime.
“That’s an overtime call that doesn’t need to be called,” Burkholder said. “That’s a real soft call in overtime.”
As the Chargers’ power play got rolling, Vince Bruni made a pass along the half wall to Neil Ruffini for the one timer. The rebound on Ruffini’s shot came straight out into the slot, where Desmet put the puck in the net for the tournament winner.
“Ruffini got it on the half wall and had a one timer shot and it came out to the slot and my eyes lit up and put it in the back of the net,” said Desmet.
Next season UAH will be playing as an independent team. The CCHA made the decision to deny Alabama-Huntsville into the conference. As UAH makes its way into the NCAAs for the second time in school history, the CCHA may be regretting that decision.
“There were some moments there in the game where we were relaying a little too much on Talbot there. We looked like we had a little more jump there in the overtime and you throw everything you have on net,” Cole said.