COLUMBUS, Ohio — What happened?
Colorado College imploded. The Tigers took too many penalties, their team defense was shoddy at times, and their goaltender, who should be the best player on the penalty-kill unit, wasn’t. Because of that, Colorado College went home empty-handed from Columbus after a great season in 2004-2005.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said CC coach Scott Owens.
After a solid first 10 minutes, CC went flat. Denver got its game into high gear thanks to an early CC penalty to Marty Sertich. A couple of great chances that were turned aside by Curtis McElhinney got Denver thinking offense, which it had been working on all season.
However, Denver, which looked similar at the start to the way it did against Bemidji State (which was not good), started to get its legs. It was their hands that dominated this game, with five power-play goals, including two in the first period.
“They took what was given, and they created their own chances,” said defenseman Mark Stuart.
It was obvious that the number of penalties were the undoing of CC. Not so much because it had to waste so much time killing penalties, but rather that it looked like it was killing penalties at home on the Olympic sheet as opposed to the NHL-sized sheet at the Schott.
“They have older defensemen who move the puck so well, they were just so confident,” said Owens, countering the notion that CC was timid on its PK.
The Tigers were timid on the PK, and that combined with a team that was playing with confidence and moving the puck so well spelled disaster. There seemed to be no jump in the kill, no eye of the Tiger mentality to eliminate chances before they happened. No forcing mistakes, no active sticks.
Colorado College was not much-penalized during the season. Yet, it was playing in the home rink of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the most-penalized team in the country. Did some of that rub off the finesse-laden Tigers? Apparently it did, but the Tigers took penalties that were needed to prevent scoring chances on some occasions, and others that were just outright undisciplined … i.e. dumb. Those penalties that were needed to eliminate chances were the result of a poor play clearing the defensive zone, which is usually the case.
That being said, the penalty kill wasn’t good. There was very little pressure, poor rotation in response to puck movement, and the goaltending was shaky. McElhinney was deep in his net, screened on almost every shot, yet didn’t appear to have the killer instinct to find pucks through traffic. He was not up on screens, and was not explosive on shots from the points through traffic. His counterpart, Peter Mannino, was brilliant when called upon in special-teams situations, and especially when the teams skated 5-on-5.
Anyone at the game and watched it probably realized that Colorado College was the better team on the ice 5-on-5. It generated chances, got to the net, created off the rush and did well making things happen out of the quiet zones. Mannino was great, especially early. The Pioneers took the puck to the net early, and despite not shooting a bit earlier when scoring chances presented themselves, they hit the net and had rebounds to attack.
Then the penalties started.
Despite being down 3-0, the Tigers scored and looked to have life. They got the short end when coincidental penalties were called after their goal, especially when Matt Carle hauled off and belted Joey Crabb. If one punch constitutes a fight, Carle should have been gone for the game.
The bottom line here is this: Colorado College’s PK, which had been good against Denver (and everyone else) this season, let down. Denver’s power play moved the puck with confidence, changed the angle of attack often and cleanly, and got traffic and shots to the net. Shot lanes were created with active movement, something Denver hadn’t been doing lately. It had become a perimeter team that needed to get inside the box instead of around it, and did it. CC helped with a passive PK.
The Tigers dug a hole that Denver made it impossible to crawl out of, and to add salt to the wound, the Pioneers scored their fourth power-play goal of the game with under 10 seconds left in the second period for a 4-1 lead.
The Pioneers had Colorado College on the 200-by-85 sheet, and the last change. CC won the games between the teams on the 200-by-100, and when it had last change. Denver has owned the 200-by-85/last-change battle.
Owens said that he felt his team played well and did a lot of good things. Agreed. He also told me that his team will learn from this debacle and be better for it. Agreed. Remember, the ’83 Oilers took it on the chin from the Islanders before ripping off five titles in seven years.
The mark of a good program is rebounding from these types of losses. CC should get high marks when that challenge arises. Today, however, they get an “F.”
Dave Starman serves as an analyst on CSTV Friday Night Hockey and contributes weekly to CSTV.com. Starman has coached professionally and in the amateur ranks.