Coming into last season, it seemed as if the Colorado College Tigers were on top of the WCHA. They were the defending MacNaughton Cup holders and lost two games at home all season. The Tigers were hosting the West Regional and they wanted to snatch hold of that No. 1 seed to ensure the best road through the tournament.
Problem was, they burned out and by the time the regional rolled around, the team didn’t have enough gas to even make it to night two.
However, they retained enough players coming into last year to make us think they were primed for a repeat.
Instead, they didn’t meet expectations, finishing seven points out of first and ended up only tied for third (a spot that most teams would have killed for). All sarcasm aside, their season ended after being swept at home by eventual Broadmoor Trophy-winning Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA playoffs, missing the NCAA tournament completely.
Thanks to some key departures due to graduation and players leaving early, the Tigers are set to resume a role they haven’t seen in a few years — underdog.
“I think it’s easier perhaps in a sense, with some of the wear and tear and some of the emotions; it’s going to be kind of enjoyable in a sense to coach and teach again and to watch these kids emerge,” said coach Scott Owens.
“If everyone can be patient out here, I think it could be a real fun year.”
Offensively, the Tigers might struggle early on as they lost 100 points (their top three point producers) in the offseason. Losing Eric Walsky and especially Chad Rau to graduation will affect the Tigers, and not in a good way. CC also lost a tenacious forward in Scott McCulloch, whose on-ice presence will be missed.
Still, Owens has some players that will help lead the way, starting with senior Bill Sweatt. Other players with potential to break into scoring threats include senior Andreas Vlassopoulos and juniors Tyler Johnson and Stephen Schultz.
If Owens can coax more production out of a few more of his seniors, namely Brian McMillin and Mike Testwuide, the Tigers can only benefit.
If all else fails, however, CC has four freshmen forwards who will probably be getting a decent amount of playing time.
On the Blue Line
Like on offense, the Tigers lost two big players on defense, but for different reasons. Brian Connelly, the team’s third leading scorer, chose to leave early while defensive stalwart Jake Gannon left without a choice due to graduation.
Both players leave large holes to fill and there are a few players who may step up to help fill the void. The most likely suspects include seniors Kris Fredheim and Nate Prosser as well as junior Ryan Lowery and sophomore Gabe Guentzel.
Those four players will also have to do their best to help bring along the three freshmen defensemen that will also be battling for ice time.
In the Crease
If the Tigers have holes to fill offensively and defensively, they have a crater to fill in terms of goaltending. Would-be junior Richard Bachman jumped ship over the summer and reliable backup Drew O’Connell graduated, leaving CC with three options: Tyler O’Brien, a junior with three incomplete games of experience or two new freshmen in Joe Howe and Hudson Stremmel.
“In goal, we have a junior that’s played 40 minutes in his career of games that were not exhibition games and we’ve got the two freshmen that are in,” said Owens. “So, we’ve got a lot of question marks and we’re going to take our time and work ourselves through October, November to figure out exactly who fits where.
“It’s going to be pretty much a week-to-week deal [to figure it out].”