COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Michigan Tech’s season slide continued as a Scott McCulloch hat trick led Colorado College past the Huskies, 6-1, in the opener of a two-game WCHA series at the World Arena.
A freshman, McCulloch had just one collegiate goal prior to his three tallies Friday and now has six points on the season.
“[McCulloch] has been getting better and better here as the weeks go on,” said CC coach Scott Owens. “He’s a power forward who can score. Basically he’s just very good down low and I think he’s getting his feet and his confidence and adjusting to the WCHA.”
“At first it was a little slow, but we came out in the second pretty well,” said McCulloch. “It feels pretty good [to get a hat trick], but it also feels good to get the two points tonight.”
The Huskies now hold a 1-9-1 overall record and a 1-8-0 record in conference play, while the Tigers improved to 7-2-0 overall and 3-2-0 in the WCHA.
The penalty-free first period got off to a slow start with mostly back-and-forth action and wide shots until the Huskies offense picked it up and put pressure in the Tiger zone for the better part of ten minutes. A late scoring drive led to three goals in the last five minutes of first-period play by the two teams.
“It was an awful first period and we weren’t moving our feet,” said Owens. “We were fortunate we didn’t behind two or three goals early … We got better and better considering we only had eight shots in the first period and it was nice to have different people scoring.”
CC got on the board first after taking a faceoff in front of the Huskies’ net. Aaron Slattengren caught a rebound on MTU netminder Cam Ellsworth’s stick side and hit the far post, sending it to McCulloch, who dumped in it at 15:32 to put the Tigers up 1-0. Scott Polaski also earned a helper on the play.
The CC lead did not last long as Tyler Shelast grabbed the puck from the center ice faceoff and shoveled it to John Scott. Scott got it to Taggart Desmet and with no defensemen to aid Tiger goaltender Curtis McElhinney, Desmet evened the score at 16:14 with a quick wrister.
Just over a minute later, at 17:40, the Tigers regained the lead when Scott Thauwald, who was waiting at the crease on Ellsworth’s glove side, capitalized on a feed from Joey Crabb and Trevor Frischmon. Despite a 12-8 MTU first-period shot advantage, the late Tiger awakening put CC up 2-1 going into the middle frame.
After Mike Batovanja was whistled for boarding at 2:14 of the second period to give CC the first power play of the game, CC’s golden duo of Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling, who have accounted for nearly half of the Tigers’ goals this season, each earned a point. The two assisted Crabb on his second goal of the season at 2:36.
McCulloch netted his second goal of the game at 5:41 when Polaski got the puck from Weston Tardy, skated it up the right side and slid a perfect pass across the ice to McCulloch for CC’s fourth lamp-lighter of the game.
During another CC power play in the third, Crabb took on two MTU defenders behind the net and got the puck out to Sterling. Almost even with the post on the right side, Sterling angled a hard shot directly between Ellsworth’s skate and the pipe to put the Tigers up 5-1 at 7:09. CC captain Mark Stuart was also credited with an assist on the play.
McCulloch secured his hat trick and closed out the scoring at 16:16 when Slattengren sent him a pass from behind the goalie’s glove side and put the puck in the five-hole as Ellsworth stretched to try to make the save.
Polaski earned his third assist of the evening to give him No. 2 star of the game honors. McCulloch was No. 1 and McElhinney No. 3.
The win was McElhinney’s fifth of the season, giving him a perfect 5-0-0 record. He made 25 saves in net for the Tigers, while Ellsworth turned aside 27 for the Huskies.
The two teams will face off again Saturday night in the second game of the series. Last season, after a 6-0 CC win in Houghton, Mich., on Jan. 30, the Huskies came back to win the next night by a score of 5-3.
Owens’ game plan includes reemphasizing the home-ice factor.
“We’re capable of starting [tomorrow] a heck of a lot better than we did tonight,” he said.