At first glance, it’s not clear what the Colorado College Tigers will be playing for Saturday.
The obvious answer is the Broadmoor Trophy, the symbol of the WCHA playoff championship. The Tigers earned that right by beating Minnesota-Duluth 4-3 in overtime Friday, a game CC never led until Brett Sterling’s game winner 7:18 into the extra period.
That propelled the WCHA’s regular-season champions into a matchup with either Minnesota State or Minnesota, the opponents in Friday’s second semifinal.
But how much does the title matter? The Tigers’ win essentially guaranteed them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, a favorable position for any team with aspirations of winning it all.
“We never talk about that as a team, because it’s a distraction,” CC head coach Scott Owens said. “[But] I’m thinking at this point that we’ll be No. 1 or No. 2 overall [in the NCAA selection criteria], and we’ll be rewarded with the right seed for the kind of season we’ve had.”
And besides the WCHA championship itself, for the Tigers there’s still more.
“We’ve never won [the Broadmoor Trophy],” said Owens, who noted that the trophy’s namesake, the historic Broadmoor Hotel in CC’s home of Colorado Springs, Colo., is a powerful motivator. Tiger hockey had its birthplace there in 1938, when the hotel turned its riding academy into an ice rink.
“It would be a real honor,” he said.
And with an NCAA top seed apparently sewn up, the Tigers’ fortunes could rise or fall on the performance of rival Minnesota. The Gophers, who are currently positioned for a second seed in the NCAAs, will host the West Regional at Mariucci Arena next weekend.
If the status quo holds, a literal reading of the NCAA’s guidelines on seeding of the tournament suggests that Colorado College might have to face Minnesota in its own building to reach the Frozen Four.
Before conspiracy theorists get up in arms, it should be noted that the alternative isn’t much better for the Tigers: a one seed at Yost Arena, home of tournament-bound Michigan. With ECAC power Cornell and at least one Hockey East team — possibly New Hampshire or Boston University — looking like top seeds as well, there’s no way the Tigers would go all the way East.
Of course, this would be less relevant if CC hadn’t shown its resilience in rallying to beat UMD, which seemed to be a team possessed. The fifth-seeded Bulldogs had already pulled one upset against North Dakota Thursday. They also held a 3-2 lead after two periods, and were unbeaten in 18 games this season in that situation.
But CC pulled out the win with a combination of old and new talent. The “old” was Hobey Baker finalists Tom Preissing and Peter Sejna, who combined on Preissing’s WCHA record-tying 22nd goal of the season to tie the game in the third period.
The “new” was Sterling, who has outperformed expectations en route to a berth on the league’s All-Rookie team as part one of the best freshman classes in recent memory.
“[Sterling] definitely knows how to score goals,” said Joe Cullen, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s in the right place at the right time.”
There was more to it than those three, of course.
“There’s a certain calmness about this team,” said Owens, who praised his players’ character in the comeback.
That’s a trait which will be tested again Saturday, and then next weekend in either Ann Arbor or Minneapolis.