February 16, 2012
Scott Owens just suffered through one of the more disastrous weekends of his hockey life.
His Colorado College Tigers traveled to the exotic land of Bemidji, Minn., fresh from a strong home-and-home showing against Denver.
The Tigers, who have often wandered this season, seemed to have found themselves.
CC stumbled at Bemidji, losing twice by a combined score of 8-3. The Tigers, drained by a multitude of injuries, tumbled to No. 22 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine the 16-team NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have won only four times in their past 12 games, which means it’s all gloom and doom at the coach’s office.
“I’m still bullish on our team,” Owens said, showing an impressive combination of confidence and defiance.
“This team played pretty well at the end of last year. We’re pretty sound defensively. I think bullish is one very slim sliver beneath optimistic.”
Owens has reason to display caution. He needs – requires, really – a healthy Josh Thorimbert for the Tigers to revive. When Thorimbert stands in front of the CC goal, the Tigers rank among the nation’s mightiest teams.
When Thorimbert is standing anywhere else, the Tigers are, well … we saw last weekend how the Tigers play without Thorimbert.
Thorimbert departed the DU game Feb. 4 after suffering a concussion following a vicious, though accidental, collision in front of the net.
Owens declines to make promises, but he’s “hopefully and cautiously optimistic” Thorimbert will be close to 100 percent for this weekend’s series against Nebraska-Omaha.
If Thorimbert returns, CC’s offensive stars don’t need to score four or five goals to win a game. That’s good news. CC remains one of college hockey’s more talented teams. If the Tigers can regain their groove, there’s every reason to be bullish about this team.
CC entered 2012 ranked No. 5 in the nation, and several Tigers fans were talking about the team’s first visit to the Frozen Four since 2005. Trust me on this one; I heard from a few dozen of those fans.
The talent hasn’t gone anywhere. Jaden and Rylan Schwartz rank as college hockey’s top brother duo, and one of the top duos, period. This is a team that can make serious noise in the NCAA Tournament, if it can get there. Last season the Tigers sneaked into the NCAAs, where they stunned No. 1 seed and defending champion Boston College.
To me, competing in the NCAA Tournament is a requirement for a satisfying season from a program with the ambitions and status of CC.
“I spend a fair amount of time thinking about it (the NCAA Tournament),” Owens said. “We always expect to get there, unless we’re totally rebuilding. If we don’t get there, it’s disappointing.”
This doesn’t have to become a disappointing season, This team could follow the same satisfying script from 2010-11, when CC lost only five of its final 14 games, but the Tigers' margin for error is extremely thin. The team’s wandering ways must stop.
Strong, focused performances at home this weekend against Nebraska-Omaha and next weekend at Minnesota-Duluth are virtually required.
“I still like this team,” Owens said.
I do, too.