Besides losing at home in the playoffs last year to league upstart Michigan Tech, the Colorado College Tigers have another motivating factor this season to do well — the NCAA West Regional comes back to the World Arena.
“We’re very excited and anxious for the season to get started,” said coach Scott Owens. “Losing last year at home in the playoffs for the second year in a row left a bad taste in our mouths and knowing that we have an opportunity hosting the West Regional in ’07-’08 I think has really excited our team.”
CC has a lot of upside this year, returning a good chunk of its offense and, although the Tigers are a young team with 16 underclassmen, the argument could be made that they didn’t lose as much as the rest of their league counterparts.
One could also argue that the only thing the Tigers really did lose is a goaltender — and a fantastic one at that — in Matt Zaba, leaving the Tigers’ net a question mark.
“Drew [O’Connell] we’re going to give an opportunity to, early in particular, because of the time that he’s put into the program and he’s a good goaltender,” said Owens, “but [freshman] Richard [Bachman] has a lot of talent.”
“We think he’s very talented, but he’s a freshman with an ’87 birth date and Drew is a junior with an ’87 birth date, so they’re the same age, but one’s just been around the college game a little bit longer.”
Translated, that probably means that either O’Connell has the early edge or Owens may go with a platoon between the pipes.
The Tigers are most set in terms of offense; their top four scorers are back this year — senior Jimmy Kilpatrick, junior Chad Rau, sophomore Bill Sweatt and senior Scott McCulloch, though the former will be out until at least late October from a hip labrum injury.
A possible surprise this season may be junior Eric Walsky, a transfer from Alaska-Anchorage who led the Seawolves in scoring in the 2005-06 season.
Other than that, sophomores Addison DeBoer, Mike Testwuide and Andreas Vlassopoulos should also have improved seasons.
The two new freshman forwards, Tyler Johnson and Stephen Schultz, should also be in the mix before too long.
On the Blue Line
Colorado College’s defensive ranks lost a lot of leadership at the end of last season with the graduation of senior co-captains Brandon Straub and Lee Sweatt. As a result, Owens will have just two upperclassmen working the blue line — senior Jack Hillen and junior Jake Gannon, unless junior Cody Lampl returns back to his original position.
Therefore, Owens will rely on sophomores Nate Prosser, Kris Fredheim and offensive-defenseman Brian Connelly until freshmen Ryan Lowery and Brett Wysopal can step into the system.
In the Crease
With workhorse Zaba gone to graduation, the Tigers are yet another WCHA team with a question mark in net.
“In goal, again, [we are] talented but inexperienced,” said Owens. “Drew O’Connell is a junior, he’s played 600 minutes in his two years that he’s been here.”
Those 600 minutes translate into nine starts in 12 games played and, as Owens pointed out, “only three of those in the WCHA, three or four.”
While O’Connell’s experience may give him a slight edge, he will get competition in practice from freshmen Tyler O’Brien and Bachman, the latter a fourth-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars.