Howe, defense turn from liabilities to assets, fueling Colorado College’s run

All season, Colorado College had the reputation of a team that could rack up the goals in a given game but allow more.

Defense and goaltending was the Achilles’ heel of a CC team that entered the WCHA Final Five with a losing record and allowed 3.41 goals per game.

2013 WCHA Final Five

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But CC’s play in the defensive zone and Joe Howe’s sturdiness between the pipes the last two nights has the Tigers playing Wisconsin for the Final Five title Saturday night.

Howe recorded 35 saves in his third shutout of the season in a 2-0 win against Minnesota in the semifinals Friday night.

“It’s tough for me to say whether or not I’m on a roll,” Howe said. “I take one game at a time and leave the other games in the past. I wouldn’t say I’ve put up the same numbers I have in the past but there’s no reason to look back. I’m looking ahead.”

Howe gave up four goals on 29 shots when CC tied Minnesota on Dec. 7. He didn’t play the following night and was shaky for the next month, allowing 16 goals in five games.

Howe earned the permanent starting spot after a 39-save performance in a 5-1 win against Minnesota-Duluth in mid-January and he hasn’t shared starts since.

“We had goaltending issues until early January and we just decided to give [Howe] the ball,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said. “He’s slowly gotten better and better. He used to make three really good saves and then allow a really soft goal but now he’s really dialed in.”

Howe was tremendous in the second period after CC had taken a two-goal lead. He stopped Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula on back-to-back short-handed breakaways, snagging Bjugstad’s shot in his glove and catching Haula’s in his chest.

Minutes later, Howe sprawled out in front of the crease to cover up a loose puck with Gophers players on the doorstep and made a fancy glove save on Kyle Rau before the period ended.

“When you have confidence in your goaltender, you can wait for your opportunities,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.

With CC desperate to win to extend its season to the NCAA tournament by winning the Final Five, the Tigers were fortunate to have a senior goaltender playing his best.

Such was the case when Minnesota-Duluth needed to make a run at the Final Five to get an automatic bid in 2009 and Bulldogs goalie Alex Stalock stole the show, allowing one goal the whole tournament on 91 shots with a pair of shutouts.

Howe has allowed three goals on 67 shots in this Final Five.

“Not only is he playing well right now but he’s sending a message to everyone else,” Owens said. “I’m very happy for him. He’s played a lot of games lately and I hope he can keep it going.”