HOUGHTON, Mich. — Going 40 shots without hitting the back of the net could be seriously demoralizing for some teams. Colorado College will tell you it’s not one of them.
Michigan Tech goaltender Cam Ellsworth stopped 55 of the 58 shots the second-ranked Tigers unleashed Saturday night — including the first 40 — but CC finally broke through for a 3-1 victory.
Tigers captain Tom Preissing scored the opener after 38 minutes, 39 seconds of Ellsworth brilliance, and Peter Sejna later added a critical goal as CC, relegated to keeping pace with North Dakota at the top of the WCHA, did just that.
As the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena scoreboard struggled to keep up with the barrage of CC shots, the Tigers just kept plugging away. It could have been maddening to attempt two score shots and not have any success, but either it didn’t happen or CC wouldn’t admit to it.
“We just stayed composed,” said Sejna, who furthered his Hobey Baker Award candidacy with a goal and an assist, and extended his point-scoring streak to 25 games. “We knew we were playing a pretty good game, we just had to bear down.”
Ellsworth’s 55-save performance was the most for a Michigan Tech goaltender since Luciano Caravaggio stopped 61 in a 1-1 tie in 1994 at Minnesota-Duluth, then coached by Huskies coach Mike Sertich.
“Brilliant. As good goaltending as I’ve seen in many years,” Sertich said of Ellsworth. “When you look at the great ones that played here, with nights like that and continued efforts like that, you can put him almost with the great ones.”
The Tigers lost their exclusive hold on the top spot in the WCHA after losing a two-goal lead in the third period and finishing with a tie with Tech on Friday night. That probably had as much to do with CC’s start as anything.
After the Tigers took the lead, CC goalie Curtis McElhinney kept it, making 10 saves in the final 20 minutes, four of them on two Huskies power plays.
And when it looked like Tech might claw its way back into the game after captain Brett Engelhardt’s 12th goal of the season 5:09 into the third, Sejna responded.
After collecting a pass from Noah Clarke on the left-wing boards, Sejna used Joe Cullen, who was in front of the net, as a decoy and fought his way to the net on his backhand. A calm flip over Ellsworth’s blocker and just inside the left post restored the Tigers’ lead to two, at 3-1.
Given the Tigers’ recent propensity for losing leads in the third period — see Friday night’s game and a 4-4 tie at North Dakota where the Sioux rallied from two goals down late — Sejna’s goal didn’t put the game away, but it sure came close.
“It was pretty big,” Sejna said. “This time, we really didn’t worry about if we’d score another goal. We just had to play the same way we played the first 40 minutes defensively.”
CC coach Scott Owens added: “At that point, the way things have been going for us, I’m still not 100 percent convinced [it's] going to end up on the plus side. But you get a goal like that and it’s huge for us. It allowed us to relax a little bit.”
The Tigers had every reason not to be confident for the first half of the game, when Ellsworth almost single-handedly kept Tech afloat. But Preissing and CC’s power play finally broke the ice to send the Tigers on their way.
Preissing, at the left point, one-timed a pass from Mark Stuart inside the left post while Ellsworth was moving.
Tyler Liebel then scored on CC’s 46th shot 2:47 into the third period for a 2-0 lead. Sejna’s goal was on shot No. 53.
But it could have been a completely different game if the Huskies had found a way to sneak onto the scoreboard while the Tigers were toiling with no success.
“That would have been absolutely huge,” Engelhardt said of what could have been. “One goal on five shots or whatever would have been huge. We didn’t get it tonight, but we stayed in there and played hard.”
Notes: Tech top-line center Jon Pittis injured a shoulder in the second period and is scheduled for X-Rays on Monday. … CC had Brett Sterling and Liebel injured 1:49 apart in the second period. Sterling had a stinger and Liebel hurt a knee, but both returned to the game. … Sejna’s point-scoring streak is one shy of the CC record. Mark Cullen holds that mark, 25, set two seasons ago. … The 28 shots Tech put on goal in the first period was more than the game total for the Tigers in five games this season.