Climbing Tigers

This has been a tough year for the Colorado College Tigers, who after beating Minnesota-Duluth in their season opener didn’t get another win until December. And while CC has still struggled in the second half, there have been moments that point to a squad that is getting better and could be dangerous come playoff time. Some second-half highlights have included a tie with then No. 7 Providence, a convincing win over Miami, and a tie with Minnesota-Duluth in Duluth.

This past weekend, Western Michigan, one of the hottest teams in the country in the second half, traveled to Colorado Springs for a key NCHC series, and CC accomplished something it had only done once before in this season, back in early December when Nebraska-Omaha came to town, in getting points in both games.

After Friday’s contest, CC could have been forgiven for thinking it would not be their weekend. The Tigers opened up a 3-0 lead by midway through the second period, but starting with just under three minutes left in the second, Western Michigan rallied with four goals in an eight-minute span to take a 4-3 lead. The Tigers tied it back up less than two minutes later, and after a scoreless overtime, lost the shootout.

“It feels like a loss,” said a disappointed Scott Owens after Friday’s game.

Commenting on the fact that the Tigers had finally scored a few goals, only to suffer some defensive breakdowns, Owens said, “It’s like most guys’ golf games. When the putting’s good, they can’t drive well, and when the drives are good, they can’t hit the green. It’s been like that all year; it’s been like this for four months. It was nice to see some pucks go in, but we had some lapses defensively.”

However, CC regrouped the next night, and while the game was scoreless entering the third, the Tigers had outshot the Broncos in both periods. In the third, CC struck twice early, with Charlie Taft netting the first goal at the 21-second mark and Luc Gerdes getting one at 3:26.

CC then clamped down defensively, preventing the Broncos from staging a rally, and Sam Rothstein scored a power-play goal at 16:53 to seal it.

“We hung in there and it was just kind of a chess game for awhile,” said Owens. “When you score on the opening faceoff on a play like that, it kind of gets the building going and your bench going. That’s a huge deal.”

Next weekend, CC plays a home-and-home with arch-rival Denver. On the line is the Gold Pan, awarded to the winner of the season series. Since Denver claimed the Gold Pan last year, CC would have to outright win it to get it back, meaning the Tigers would have to take both games this weekend.

There is an asterisk though. Denver tied CC in the first game between the two this year, and won the shootout. The Pioneers then won the next night at home. Owens and Denver coach Jim Montgomery still haven’t made a decision about how the shootout affects things, but both seemed to believe the first game counts as a tie, so Denver is 1-0-1 in the series so far.

“Jim and I had a talk right before it last time, and we haven’t finalized it,” said Owens. “I think we’re going to leave it just as the way the points were. They have a three-point to one lead, even though they won the shootout. I’ll talk to Jim about it this week.”

Huskies gain key sweep
Entering a series against in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth that could have further jumbled the NCHC standings, St. Cloud had been struggling in the second half to string together consistent performances, especially defensively. The Bulldogs had been a hot team in the second half, and while they hadn’t won in St. Cloud since 2004, there was reason for optimism.

Instead, St. Cloud swept the weekend by 5-3 and 4-3 scores, staying three points ahead of North Dakota, which also swept the weekend, and opening a six-point lead on third place Nebraska-Omaha.

On Friday, St. Cloud opened up a four-goal lead in the first period and, after the Bulldogs had scored two in the second to make it close, Jimmy Murray scored his second of the game just 21 seconds into the third to give the Huskies some breathing room. Austin Farley scored for Duluth at 17:01, but that was as close as the Bulldogs got.

On Saturday, St. Cloud took a 3-1 lead on two goals early in the second, but Duluth rallied. Dominic Toninato scored at 10:41 of the second to pull within one, and Alex Iafallo scored a five-on-three power-play goal at 4:56 of the third to tie it.

However, St. Cloud’s Jonny Brodzinski came up big with the game-winner at 18:11 of the third.

“We needed a game like that; we needed to find a way to win a tight one,” said Huskies coach Bob Motzko after Saturday’s game. “We were kind of enjoying it. We were talking between each period that it was just a great game. We had nothing to say, keep playing. We were our worst enemy. We were our best friend for a lot of it and then the turnover on the second goal, getting beat one-on-one, and then two bad penalties. We were doing a lot of good things, but we also kept stubbing our toe.”

White flag for Miami?
Have the Miami RedHawks given up on the year? While Colorado College has fought to improve, the RedHawks, who started the year full of promise, continue to have a dreadful second half in which they have only won one game.

Saturday night may have been the RedHawks’ nadir. On Friday in the first game against North Dakota, Miami fell behind 3-0, but a late goal by Sean Kuraly pulled Miami within one with under a minute left. However, they couldn’t pull any closer.

Having scored the last two goals of Friday’s game, you would have thought Miami might have some momentum for Saturday. Instead, Miami suffered its worst loss since 1997, a 9-2 drubbing. Rocco Grimaldi had four points for North Dakota, which scored four goals by the 12:58 mark of the first, despite having two goals waved off.

North Dakota added another four goals in the second, and poured salt on the wound by answering Riley Barber’s goal at 17:19 of the third with a power-play goal at 19:01 of the third.

Miami coach Enrico Blasi made no excuses.

“There were a lot of things that didn’t go our way tonight. They deserved to win from the moment the puck dropped and they didn’t let off the gas.”

Miami is now in last place in the NCHC, four points behind seventh-place Colorado College. It doesn’t get easier for the RedHawks, who host first-place St. Cloud State this weekend and then Minnesota-Duluth the following weekend before ending the season with a series in Denver.