DULUTH, Minn. – This late in the season, with the NCAA Tournament picture starting to clarify, there are some things you don’t want to hear from your favorite team’s coach.
Maybe this is one of them: “We’re not that bad of a team,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said Saturday after the No. 16 Tigers endured a sweep at No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth, suffering their fifth loss in the past six games, including their fourth straight on the road.
It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to assert CC (16-14-2, 13-12-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) no longer resides on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Its bubble may have burst in a 4-3 overtime defeat and a 5-2 trouncing over the weekend – setbacks that dropped CC to 21st in the PairWise rankings used for picking the 16 NCAA Tournament qualifiers. Now, all that’s left is a weekend home series against mediocre Michigan Tech.
The Tigers are tied for fifth place in the WCHA, and they can finish no higher than fourth and no lower than eighth. One win against Michigan Tech would guarantee CC home ice for the March 9-11 first round of the WCHA playoffs – if CC is swept, it could still host, but only if Nebraska-Omaha (against No. 9 Denver) and St. Cloud State (vs. Minnesota-Duluth) stumble as well. In addition to Michigan Tech, No. 14 North Dakota, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State are possible first-round foes for CC.
Even a sweep of Michigan Tech (14-16-4, 11-11-4) and another sweep in the first round likely aren’t going to launch CC in the PairWise, a statistical rating that has North Dakota at 14th, Wisconsin at 25th, St. Cloud State at 26th, Nebraska-Omaha at 30th and Bemidji State at 31st, with Michigan Tech not strong enough to crack the 32-team list. Of course, there’s an NCAA Tournament spot for the WCHA Final Five champion next month in St. Paul, Minn. And CC fans are routinely reminded the Tigers never have won that event.
“We have played pretty well,” Owens said, alluding to the resiliency CC displayed Friday in rallying from a 3-0 deficit and the spunk it showed Saturday in a 1-1 tie into the second period. “We have made some bad mistakes that have cost us games, and if we can smooth that out a little bit and get into our building for home ice, then we’ve got a chance.”
For CC center David Civitarese, “it’s more in terms of the process,” he said. “We need to do more things right,” such as tightening a defense that has allowed 25 goals in the past six games, reigniting a penalty kill that was 4 for 8 against Minnesota-Duluth and getting stinginess from goaltenders Joe Howe and Josh Thorimbert. “Rather than just gutting out a couple wins against Michigan Tech, we need to right the mistakes that we’re making.”
“Hockey is a game where you can get on a roll any time,” said CC center Rylan Schwartz – the top scorer for the Tigers with 37 points, including 22 goals. “But you can’t just keep waiting for it and waiting for it. You’ve got to work. It’s not going to come on its own.”
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