Last year, Colorado College received the rematch that it desired against Wisconsin, and it almost reached the Frozen Four. Michigan Tech is now coming back around for a second time, and the Tigers are confident in their chances of extending their season a lot longer.
Beginning Friday, No. 19 CC hosts Michigan Tech in the opening round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs – coming off a momentum-building weekend in which it swept the Huskies, with a 2-0 win preceded by a 5-2 triumph. The Tigers (18-14-2, 15-12-1 WCHA) stand 19th in the PairWise rankings, so to make the 16-team NCAA Tournament, they must get past Michigan Tech, then win at least one game at the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, Minn. If CC loses the best-of-three series, its season is done.
After CC split at Wisconsin to close the 2010-11 regular season, it defeated the Badgers in the WCHA playoffs in Colorado Springs, taking a pair of one-goal games on the heels of a loss in the series opener. It was a springboard to the Final Five, where the Tigers beat Alaska-Anchorage before they fell to North Dakota, and in the NCAA Tournament, they pummeled defending national champion Boston College and narrowly lost to Michigan.
“It worked out well for us last year,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said. This time, Michigan Tech (14-18-4, 11-13-4) will have the benefit of a full week of preparation in the Springs, not making the long trip home since it’s the school’s spring break. And “they’ll get used to the air, and they’ll get used to everything else,” Owens said. “I think it helps them.”
Owens said his players “will respect (Michigan Tech) because of the way they competed” on Saturday, a game CC was “very fortunate to win,” considering the Tigers were outshot 34-22, with sizable deficits in the first and third periods. No doubt a sharp reversal from Friday, when CC held a 41-28 edge in shots, having dominated Michigan Tech in the first and the second. Both nights, CC won more faceoffs, and Michigan Tech was a combined 0 for 6 on the power play, with no answer for Jaden Schwartz, who scored three goals.
Despite being overmatched at times on the Olympic-sized ice sheet, Michigan Tech owns “good quickness and good depth” among its forwards, said Owens, whose team is 23-2 against Michigan Tech at World Arena, its only losses in the 2007 WCHA playoffs. The Huskies have six players with 20-plus points, including Brett Olson with 29 and Jordan Baker with 26, and goaltender Josh Robinson (13-13-4) is an All-WCHA candidate.
Under Jamie Russell, Michigan Tech “kind of packed it in, and they just kind of chipped the puck around,” CC defenseman Gabe Guentzel said. The Huskies were 15-85-12 over the previous three seasons, however, with Mel Pearson, the favorite for WCHA Coach of the Year, “they’re getting into a skating game,” Guentzel said. “They’ve got a lot of guys who can skate now. They’re a good, fast team, and their line rushes are really good.”
The rematch “doesn’t give either team an advantage,” Guentzel said. “We just know what they’re going to do, and each team knows what’s going to happen. We can work things out in practice that we didn’t know about them before, and I’m sure they’re going to do a lot of the same.” Guentzel added, “It’s do-or-die hockey. It’s the playoffs. You’ve got to expect every team’s best, and you’ve got to make sure you bring your best every night.”
WCHA PLAYOFFS, FIRST ROUND
No. 8 Michigan Tech at No. 5 Colorado College
Game 1: March 9 at 7:37 p.m.
Game 2: March 10 at 7:07 p.m.
Game 3: March 11 at 7:07 p.m. (if necessary)
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