ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If Colorado College fans thought the Tigers had the easy draw at the Midwest Regional, they were misled.
Yes, the Tigers beat Wayne State 4-2 to advance to Sunday’s quarterfinal game, where they’ll face the winner of the Michigan-Maine game, but CC had to work to get past a tenacious team from Detroit that had its chances right up until the end.
CC head coach Scott Owens, however, knew from the start that his team would be challenged.
“We did know it would be a difficult game,” said Owens. “We talked around and spoke to [fellow CHA member] Air Force people and other people and we knew it would be a battle.
“They’re stronger than I thought they would be, stronger on their sticks, and they played very well in this rink.”
In the end, the Tigers needed strong play from their special teams to secure the victory and another chance to play for a trip to Buffalo.
Three different Tigers scored on the power play, including Noah Clarke, whose 21st goal of the season at 14:09 in the second stood up as the game winner.
The CC penalty kill also saw plenty of action. Assessed 35 minutes of penalties, the Tigers were without junior Andrew Canzanello for the final 50 minutes of the game; Canzanello was given a misconduct for checking Chris Vail into the boards from behind.
“We’ve had four games this year when Andrew hasn’t played,” said Owens, “and we made the same adjustments that we always do … Tommy Preissing goes to the strong side, and [James] Laux goes to the weak side.
“Laux was the key in the first 30 minutes of the game as far as I’m concerned. Great poise and composure with the puck, made some things happen.
“Nobody got too flustered or rattled because we’ve had this situation where [Canzanello] has been hurt. There’s nothing wrong with having the league-leading scoring defenseman [Preissing] slide over to the quarterback position.”
Brett Sterling opened the scoring for CC at 16:26 in the first, tipping in Laux’s shot from the top of the left circle, and the Tigers led 1-0 after one.
Keith Stanich tied it up for the Warriors at 4:51 in the second, after taking a diagonal from Dustin Kingston.
But when Laux scored less than a minute later, the Tigers pulled ahead for good. Clarke’s goal made it 3-1 CC at the end of two.
The Tigers gave the Warriors plenty of opportunity to get back into the game, and WSU was able to capitalize on one such chance early in the third when Billy Collins brought WSU to within one of the power play.
On the delayed penalty, Collins picked up Greg Poupard’s rebound while on his knees, swiping the puck past CC goaltender Curtis McElhinney backhanded.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy. Here we go,’” said WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson. “That’s sometimes the kind of goal that gets you going. I classify them as garbage goals, where you’re in there picking up whatever you can to put it away, and Billy did a great job with that, but their penalty kill really hurt our power play.
“They jumped out so quick that we really couldn’t get the flow of the puck going like we had. We didn’t have enough time [and] we weren’t used to their speed up front, and … that was a critical part of the game tonight.”
Preissing’s power-play goal from Peter Sejna at 10:02 capped the game for the Tigers.
“I thought the kids played great,” said Wilkinson. “Our game plan obviously was to board up the red line and make them fire it in, and I thought we did that with pretty good efficiency.
“One concern that came back to bite us was the power play. We knew they were running the number-one power play in the country. That was really the turning point, I thought, of the whole game.
“David [Guerrera] played great in goal for us. I couldn’t ask much better of how our team played.”
“I was happy with our game,” said Owens. “We won it with special teams. We have 30 wins this year, and we’ve gone about it different ways. Tonight it was special teams, and I’m very proud of our guys.
“Was it picture perfect? No, but we knew it wasn’t going to be. It was a good win and I’m proud of the way we battled.”
The Tigers (30-6-5) finished the night 3-for-5 on the power play; McElhinney had 23 saves. CC will face the winner of the Michigan-Maine game Sunday at 3 p.m. in Yost Arena.
The Warriors (21-17-2) were 0-for-9 on the power play; Guerrera stopped 27 in the loss.