COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After not making the NCAA tournament in 2006-2007, the Colorado College Tigers faced a daunting start to their current season, opening the season against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a series in Colorado Springs. The Tigers hadn’t beaten the Gophers in over two years. Tigers coach Scott Owens had a difficult decision to make regarding a goaltender for the first game, and chose freshman Richard Bachman.
For many freshmen, starting their college career against the Gophers might have created a lot of pressure, but Bachman stopped 23 shots in a 3-1 victory, and Owens went with Bachman again in the Saturday game. Bachman stopped 38 to help the Tigers earn a 2-1 overtime win and sweep that got them off to a strong start for the season.
“I think the first game against Minnesota was probably the biggest game for me,” said Bachman. “That was the game I was probably most nervous for, that and the second one (laughs). That first one, just kind of getting it out of the way and knowing you can play at this level without really having to have a bad game in the beginning, I think confidence-wise that helped me a ton. Growing up, you always hear about Minnesota, so for the first career game to be able to beat them was an awesome feeling.”
Captain Scott Thauwald believes that Minnesota series has been indicative of Bachman’s play all season.
“It was a huge game, and he steps in right away and we sweep them,” said Thauwald. “I think that was the second weekend of the season (the first regular games after two exhibitions), so that was huge. So many times, he’s saved our backs, where early in the game we could be down 3-0 but it’s a 0-0 tie.”
Bachman, a Colorado native, started playing hockey in New York when he was five. He had moved to Saranac Lake, just outside of Lake Placid, from Colorado, and took up hockey as something to do during the winter.
“Growing up, I played forward and ‘D’ a little bit, till I was about nine, and then it was just goalie from there,” said Bachman. “We needed a goalie, and the team supplied the pads. I just loved it after the first time, and I just kind of went with it. I moved back to Highlands Ranch, in fifth grade I believe it was, then played Littleton for a little while.”
Like many hockey players, Bachman played other sports as well. “At Cushing (Academy), I played baseball because you had to play two major sports. That was kind of fun actually. It was nice to get a break, play some other sports.”
The Tigers started to look at Bachman seriously during his junior year at Cushing, and, after considering Harvard and Cornell, he committed to CC before going on to play a year in the USHL with Chicago and Cedar Rapids.
“We knew Richard when he was playing for the Thunderbirds here in Colorado Springs,” said Owens. “We as a staff saw him and liked him. We stayed in touch with him and tracked him. We had pretty much made our decision with him before the USHL, when he was in Cushing. He played on a prep school that had a lot of success, and he played before on a midget team that had a lot of success in Chicago.”
Coming into the season, Owens had no preconceptions about how he was going to handle his goaltending situation. Initially, he planned to play Bachman and junior Drew O’Connell relatively equally. By the time the Tigers split on the road at North Dakota in early November, Owens believed Bachman had demonstrated enough to take the number-one spot.
“We had gotten beat 6-2 the first night, had lost three straight road games, two in New Hampshire and one in North Dakota, and he came in and just established himself that first period,” said Owens. “He probably made 14-16 saves and all of a sudden, the team kind of recognized it and went with it and we ended up winning 4-1. I think that was the game that really got him off the right way.”
While Bachman gets the majority of starts, O’Connell still plays, including getting a big start against Massachusetts in the final of the Lightning Classic, a game the Tigers lost in overtime.
“Drew had waited patiently two years for an opportunity and we kind of gave him some starts, but we also played Richard and just from the early going, it just looked like Richard was so composed and so sharp,” said Owens. “We still split them.”
Bachman and O’Connell maintain a close friendship on and off the ice, and Bachman credits O’Connell with helping him in his transition to Division I college hockey.
“Me and Drew are best friends,” said Bachman. “We hang out off the ice all the time. He’s such a great guy; he keeps things light, which is nice. We don’t really talk about things playing-wise or anything like that, but watching him before the season even started was a big help for me, kind of just watching and learning what he does to get ready. He’s a great goalie too; I looked up to him when I got here, his hard work, and I tried to match that every day, and I think that’s been a big key for me.”
Bachman has a lot of strengths as a goalie, including his lateral movement and his ability to control rebounds. He has transitioned well to playing on the Olympic-size sheet at the Tigers’ home rink, and is starting to play the puck more and assist with breakouts. He also communicates well with his defensemen, especially on the penalty kill. One attribute that draws praise is his poise and ability to stay focused.
“He’s so calm; he doesn’t get too nervous,” said Thauwald. “Emotionally, he doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low. If he lets in a goal, he doesn’t let it get to him. He’s a competitor; he loves to compete.”
Echoes Owens, “I think he’s got composure, he’s got poise, he’s very even-keeled. He’s a team-first guy; he doesn’t have a lot of ego.”
Bachman credits a former goalie coach with teaching him that skill on the ice, including learning to sing a song to help relax.
“I try to sing a song in my head in between whistles just to keep me from listening to the crowd or anything like that, or talking when the play is down at the other end, I think that helps me be mentally ready. (After) giving up a goal, I start singing another song or focus on who’s coming out for their team so I’m not thinking about that goal. They’ll be times where after the goal I just won’t think about it at all and then after the game I’ll have to go to film to see how it was scored.”
One concern the Tigers have as the season progresses is making sure that Bachman doesn’t tire out. So far, Owens has been happy with how his rookie has held up to the grind of a full season in Division I, and believes that Bachman’s experience in the USHL helped with that.
“We try to be careful; we’re taking every Tuesday off from January on,” said Owens. “We’re trying to conserve his strength as well as some of our older guys. I think he’s holding up pretty well. It’s different when you have a senior goaltender who can play every game; they’re a little bit older and more mature. We’re being a tad bit cautious, but that being said, Richard’s played every game but five this year.”
Bachman himself prefers to get more work, and likes to see more shots during the game to help him keep his focus.
“I enjoy being able to play back-to-back nights; I think it helps me get in a rhythm, helps keep me going, you don’t really get rusty I guess,” said Bachman. “With school, it’s a little different now, especially after not having school last year. It makes for a lot longer day. I think that’s one thing I’ve had to adjust to.
“I like to be the guy who faces 20 shots in a period and stops them all. I kind of like having that pressure. I think shots early in a game are key. They help you get into the game, get a sweat going, feel comfortable with the puck, but the beginning of the season we were giving up a lot of shots — now we’re not.”
The Tigers host the West Regional this year in Colorado Springs, and would also have an opportunity to play the Frozen Four just up the road in Denver. For Bachman, who grew up in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, the opportunity to play on college hockey’s biggest stage in front of his hometown fans is a goal his team is working towards, and something he relishes.
“I grew up watching CC and Denver play when I really started getting into hockey. It was a great chance for me to play for one of those schools and be 45 minutes from home and have my parents come to the games.
“It can’t be set up any better I think. Pressure-wise, there’s always pressure to go out and play your best, whether it’s a Regional or the Frozen Four, but I think we’re such a great team, that if you do let up a goal, the guys are going to be right there to get it back for you, or the ‘D’ is going to step up to make a play on an odd-man rush. I don’t think it’s pressure so much on me, just pressure on the guys, and this has been our goal the whole time, to get to the Regionals, and we’re just having fun with it right now.”