Entering last Friday’s game against Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College was struggling through one of its worst seasons ever. The team was 1-10-2 and ranked 58th in team offense.
Things didn’t look up either, as the Tigers faced the top team in the NCHC, a Mavericks team that seems to score almost at will.
However, CC gutted out a 4-2 win on Friday to break its winless streak that dated to the season opener, then followed that with a 3-3 tie/shootout loss on Saturday.
CC coach Scott Owens said that it has been a difficult season so far, but the team had been working to get more consistent.
“I think it’s one of the toughest because it has been frustrating because we just haven’t been able to generate anything,” said Owens. “You know, 1.3, 1.4 goals for, it’s hard to win, and yet, the thing that has been frustrating is we have been in 0-0 games, 1-1 games, 1-0 games and haven’t been able to close things out. The attitude has remained really strong, really good for the team, and they just keep working.”
Entering last Friday’s game, CC hadn’t been able to get a two-goal lead since a game against Western Michigan on Nov. 1. When Sam Rothstein scored to put the Tigers up 3-1 over Nebraska-Omaha in the second period, the team felt a little relieved, even while knowing it had a ways to go.
“We’ve had leads in games before where we’ve let up a little bit, especially in the third period, not necessarily two-goal leads,” said Rothstein, a freshman who is fourth on the team in scoring with six points, behind three players who have seven points.
“I think against Denver we had a lead in the third. Getting the two-goal lead is nice, but we understood we had to lock it down still.”
While offense has been a major struggle, the team has played better defense, particularly on its penalty kill, which ranks 25th nationally.
While there have been a few games where the Tigers have given up a lot of goals, most of their losses have been in close games. Part of that is the play of goaltender Josh Thorimbert, who has played 96 percent of the minutes while putting up a .907 save percentage.
“He’s had a couple of games where they’ve gotten away from us on some nights,” Owens said of Thorimbert. “Last Saturday was 1-0 with three minutes to go in the game and he gave us a chance. He gave us a chance [last Friday] when it was 3-2. He made at least one or two saves. He’s really matured this year. He looks like a senior out there; he’s unflappable, he makes big saves for us, and he’s been playing a lot of minutes.”
The Tigers also have a tie/shootout win against St. Cloud State, a win against Minnesota-Duluth and a tie/shootout loss to Denver, things that Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais was quick to point out to anyone who thought the Tigers were a poor team, including his own players.
“No matter what you tell the guys, a team that has only won a few games, you still think you just have to come out here and put your gear on and show up and play, and that’s not the case,” said Blais. “Colorado College, I thought, outplayed New Hampshire at times. They beat Duluth, lost a lot of close games, and so they were hungry. They deserved the game.”
For now, Owens and his players are hoping to build on their most successful weekend to date. Despite their overall record, the Tigers are still third in the NCHC, ahead of Miami, Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan. With each win worth three points, it gives the Tigers some room to gain ground.
“I’m hoping that this reinforces that if you work hard and you give effort, some good things are going to happen,” said Owens.
New No. 1
For the first time since 2002, the St. Cloud State Huskies sit at the top spot in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll after an impressive road sweep of Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.
For coach Bob Motzko and his players, however, there is no reveling in the new poll position.
“It’d be a lot better if it were April 12,” said Motzko. “It’s great for your fans and school. All we talked about is we don’t think Yale was No. 1 last year in December. It’s just a nice snapshot of where things are now.”
The two games against Minnesota-Duluth were a study in contrast. The Huskies won on Friday despite being outplayed for much of the game. On Saturday, they came back with a much stronger effort to get the sweep.
“The thing on Friday is we were not having a good game and Duluth was having a great game,” said Motzko. “Our goaltender gave us a chance to win the game at the end and we were able to make a play. We were able to hang on.
“We weren’t good coming out of the break on Friday for whatever reason, but we gutted it out, found a way, and the guys really had a great effort on Saturday.”
For his efforts, Ryan Faragher captured NCHC goaltender of the week honors for the second time this year. Motzko said he has really noticed an improved play from his starter since this time last year.
“Christmas last year, we threw a challenge at him: We were playing pretty well in front of him, and he needed to become much more consistent and he has responded,” said Motzko. “I don’t have the numbers, but his record from Christmas on last year to today is pretty outstanding. Now he’s an upperclassman. We threw a lot at him the first three years, and he now is taking a leadership role. And in the big games, he has been very strong for us.”
In discussing his team, however, Motzko doesn’t sound like a coach who feels his team is at the top yet, which might be the most frightening thing for St. Cloud’s opponents. The Huskies have the top-rated defense in the country; their offense is eighth. Yet Motzko believes they can definitely be better.
“The one thing that has happened is we have been balanced and guys have taken turns,” said Motzko. “Jonny Brodzinski and Nic Dowd have been the two at the top leading us, but we are having a hard time getting guys on a roll. Joey Benik scored very early in the season and now he’s slowed down, and David Morley was slow at the start and now he’s coming on.
“There’s been very solid balance in our offense, but the critical thing is our defense. We haven’t had to score many. I just believe we are going to have to get a little more high-powered offense going. Our power play is making strides, moving in the right direction, but I just think if we get into that second-half run, we’re going to have to find ways to score goals a little bit better than we have been.”
North Dakota looks for second-half surge
For a young North Dakota team that sports eight freshmen, last weekend’s sweep of Western Michigan might be a springboard to a more successful second half, something very common in the Dave Hakstol era.
In his tenure as coach, Hakstol’s teams have had a stronger second half in all but two seasons, though Hakstol doesn’t think it’s necessarily something to do with coaching.
“I think that’s just the players,” said Hakstol. “Year after year, their commitment level to improving what they are doing individually, their commitment level to improving what they are bringing to the team mechanism on a regular basis, that’s what I attribute it to. The people in the locker room that push hard and get better, and when you get better individually, collectively usually your results get better, and I think that’s been the case for us.”
This year’s North Dakota team has had its share of struggles, having a three-game losing streak in the first two weeks of November and then a four-game winless streak near the end of November.
For November, the team went 3-6-1. However, with the sweep last weekend of Western Michigan, North Dakota is back to .500.
“We’re growing up in a lot of areas,” said Hakstol. “On a nightly basis, we’ve played good teams throughout the first half, and when we’ve been a little bit off our game, whether it be execution-wise or intensity-wise, it’s difficult to win. That’s probably the biggest thing for us this past weekend. I thought we competed hard both nights for 60 minutes and with some good bounces, got some good wins.”
One of the key contributors last weekend was freshman Luke Johnson, who captured NCHC rookie of the week honors for his four-point weekend.
“I think he’s going through a fairly difficult year for a good young player,” Hakstol said of Johnson. “He’s had his stretches where points have been tough to come by, but we’re really trying not to judge his play based on just point production. His baseline level of play has been solid, and consistency with producing points will come. Hopefully, last weekend was a good sign for him.”
Johnson was moved to a line with Rocco Grimaldi and Drake Caggiula last weekend, and Hakstol said the line showed “good chemistry.” The trio leads the team in scoring, and could help key a run in the second half.
Despite his squad’s overall youth, Hakstol was adamant that it doesn’t factor into some of the inconsistent results in the first half of the year.
“It’s not something we’ve wanted to use as a crutch,” said Hakstol. “I think as soon as you start doing that, it’s easy to start making excuses. I feel like we’ve got 26 pretty good players in the room and it’s up to us to bring a high level of play night in and night out, and we haven’t been successful enough doing that on a regular basis.”
NCHC players of the week
Offensive player of the week — Austin Czarnik, Miami: Czarnik captured offensive player of the week honors for the second consecutive week and third time this season for his four-point effort against Denver. On Friday, he assisted on Miami’s only goal in its 3-1 loss. On Saturday, he scored the first goal to get the RedHawks going, assisted on the game-winner, and added an empty-netter to polish off the win. He finished plus-2 on the weekend.
Defensive player of the week — Kevin Gravel, St. Cloud State: St. Cloud, which has the top defense in the country, gave up only three goals in two games against Minnesota-Duluth, and Gravel was a big reason why. On Friday, he had two assists, including on a power-play goal in the first period that tied the game and an empty-netter that finished the win. On the weekend, he posted three assists while having a plus-5 rating and blocking two shots. This is the second time this season Gravel has taken home defensive player of the week honors.
Rookie of the week — Luke Johnson, North Dakota: In his team’s first weekend sweep of the year, Johnson, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, had two points in each game. On Friday, he scored two power-play goals in the team’s 3-2 win, and on Saturday, he had two assists, including on the game-winner, in another 3-2 win. He finished the weekend plus-1.
Goaltender of the week — Ryan Faragher, St. Cloud State: St. Cloud swept Minnesota-Duluth behind Faragher’s goaltending, as he had a 1.50 GAA and a .948 save percentage on the weekend while playing both games and making 55 saves. He allowed only three goals in the two games, one of which was a power-play tally, while helping to kill off seven of Duluth’s eight power-play chances. Faragher captured goaltender of the week honors for the second time this season.