GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Colorado College players wanted to celebrate early. Scott Owens waited until he heard the horn.
After the Tigers sent the puck out of the zone one last time to seal a 4-3 victory over Michigan Saturday and a trip to the Frozen Four, the CC players started jumping up and down on the bench. Some seconds remained on the clock.
Owens, the Tigers coach, just had to wait until the clock reached zero to begin to appreciate his first trip to the national semifinals as a coach.
It’s just not like Owens to look too far ahead. In fact, he wasn’t even quite sure when the Frozen Four was going to take place or when his team would be leaving Colorado Springs for Columbus when questioned after the game.
But when it was time, there was joy behind the Tigers bench.
“Those guys were getting pretty fired up,” Owens said of his players. “I wasn’t thinking Frozen Four. I was just so pleased for our guys to win a game of that magnitude, to come from behind basically on the road like that. I was thrilled for them. They were like little kids on the bench. Everybody, even the guys that didn’t dress were right there just like the other ones. That’s kind of the way the team has been.”
The Tigers are in the Frozen Four for the first time since 1997, looking for their first national championship since 1957. Owens will be at just his second Frozen Four, the first coming when he accompanied Hobey Baker Award winner Peter Sejna to the presentation in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2003.
Not that CC hasn’t had its chances in recent seasons. With Sejna driving the team two seasons ago, it lost to Michigan in the regional final in Ann Arbor. In 2002, the Tigers lost to Minnesota a step before the Frozen Four.
“Two years ago we had more offensive talent and we had more scoring ability,” Owens said. “This year, it’s a real tight team. We also learned a little bit about composure.”
That became crystal clear against Michigan this time around. After falling behind 3-0 in the second period in front of a pro-Michigan crowd at Van Andel Arena, the Tigers momentarily looked lost. No one was quite sure who was supposed to be out for the ensuing faceoff at center ice.
It could have been the end, if not for a dig deep into the reserves.
Then, after coming all the way back and taking the lead, they had to endure a Michigan power play in the final three minutes. The Wolverines’ Milan Gajic had a great chance on the left side with CC goaltender Curtis McElhinney out of position, but McElhinney, either by plans or by luck, got his stick down on the ice behind him just in time and in position for the shot to hit it.
“Desperate measures,” McElhinney said. “You’ve just got to do things that you don’t normally expect. Fortunately for me, my stick was there and I’m very happy about it.”
Owens, a former goaltender himself, echoed McElhinney’s sentiment about the desperate times. The CC coaches decided to go back with McElhinney as the starter even though he allowed five goals on just 17 shots a day earlier against Colgate.
“Part of the reason he’s 62-15[-8] is just his competitive nature,” Owens said. “He just didn’t want to be denied, and that’s kind of the way the team has been.”
Colorado College had a tough draw in the regionals after being given the No. 3 overall seed when the selection committee went off the board to put Denver ahead of them. Owens’ teams haven’t had much luck in the NCAAs in Michigan, but this time was different.
It wasn’t how you would draw up a victory, but that matters little.
“I felt just so good inside for our guys,” Owens said of his first reactions after the buzzer. “You’ve got to enjoy these moments when they happen because they just don’t happen enough.”