MADISON, Wis. — By his own admission, Colorado College coach Scott Owens has been around too long to quantify the importance of one win or loss over a marathon season, especially considering his team is barely four weeks into its season.
But maybe, just maybe, this is one that could mean a little something more.
“I was happy with the way we responded,” said Owens, who watched his team erase a pair of Wisconsin leads to earn a 5-4 overtime victory over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center Friday. “I really was. We didn’t get very frustrated at all and hung in there. It was a good reward for our guys.”
Mired in a three-game losing streak after reeling off three victories to open the campaign, Colorado College (4-3-0, 1-0-0 WCHA) knew it had the right ingredients to make one final run at the WCHA’s MacNaughton Cup before heading to the soon-to-be-formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season.
So getting flustered or frustrated 20 minutes into its initial conference game was not the ideal time to start reinventing the wheel, so to speak.
“It was learning how to battle through adversity,” said CC junior winger Alexander Krushelnyski, who one-timed the winner following a Charlie Taft pass from behind the net 25 seconds into the extra session. “Last week, we had a couple tough losses [at Cornell)] and the consensus among the team was it was going to happen this weekend.”
With the team motto in hand, the Tigers learned the power of persistence. Letting Wisconsin (1-3-1, 1-1-1 WCHA) score two goals in the opening period, one of which was created by assistant captain Rylan Schwartz knocking the puck into the left corner of the net, Colorado College answered with a pair of timely snipes in the second.
Outshooting Wisconsin 17-7 in the middle period, the Tigers tied the score with freshman Hunter Fejes’ first collegiate goal (a rifle from the slot that beat Joel Rumpel at the right post) and senior defenseman Mike Boivin’s power-play slap shot from the left circle within a two-minute span.
After Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe scored 54 seconds into the third period, seniors Scott Winkler and William Rapuzzi netted tallies against Rumpel, who made 34 saves but gave up some goals Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said “he would like to have some of those back.”
With 17 different players having collected at least one point through the team’s first six games, the trend continued as all five Tigers’ goals came from different sources and 11 different players recorded a point.
“It’s one of our biggest [strengths] and one of our only,” said Owens, referring to his club’s early-season scoring balance. “Our secondary scoring and our diversity in scoring has been really good.”
Scoring isn’t the issue for Wisconsin – which returns 15 of their top 16 scorers from a season ago – as much as it finding a complete performance. In addition to scoring the game’s first two goals and taking its early third-period lead, Wisconsin appeared poised to steal a point after junior Keegan Meuer knocked in his own rebound at 15:42 in the third.
“[After the goal], I thought we had a stranglehold on it,” said Meuer. “I thought we were going to win. We had all the momentum.”
Whatever momentum it possessed, however, was quickly erased off Rumpel’s overtime turnover, as all of its missed opportunities and bad gaps dropped Wisconsin to 5-5-1 in home openers under Eaves.
“We can’t seem to put a whole 60 minutes game together thus far,” said McCabe.
Before the opening faceoff, Wisconsin kicked off its 50th season in the modern era by dedicating the ice sheet to former head coach Bob Johnson, naming it Bob Johnson Rink.
Johnson, who coached three seasons at Colorado College before coming to Madison, won 367 games and led UW to three NCAA titles from 1966 to 1982. He took two NHL teams — Calgary in 1986 and Pittsburgh in 1991 — to the Stanley Cup finals before passing away in 1991 from brain cancer at age 60.
“I was happy that CC was going to be here,” said Owens.
The only coach to win an NCAA and NHL championship, Johnson has had three former players – Eaves, Mark Johnson and Denver coach George Gwozdecky – all win national championships, another nod to his ability as a teacher.
“Fans will be able to look down, see my dad’s name and remember his legacy,” said Johnson’s son, Mark, who won a national title under his dad in 1981. “His legacy will live on.”