It’s not your imagination. The numbers confirm it: Colorado College consistently fades in the second half of the season, as blistering starts often dissolve into lackluster finishes.
The combined winning percentage of the Tigers has dropped month over month in the 13 seasons that Scott Owens has coached CC, and under Owens, CC has posted more losing records (seven) after Christmas than winning records (six) after the holidays, including a 7-11-2 mark this season, according to a game-by-game study of Owens’ tenure.
A mere two times with Owens at the helm – in 2001-02 and in 2007-08 – have the Tigers tallied a better record after Christmas than they had before Christmas. The career winning percentage of Owens is 71.9 percent in October, 68 percent in November, 62.7 percent in December, 59 percent in January, 53.7 percent in February and 53.5 percent in March. In all, under Owens, CC has marked 12 straight winning seasons with one Frozen Four trip, winning 67.6 percent of its pre-Christmas games but only 54 percent post-Christmas.
They’re numbers that have been good enough to get the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament seven times since Owens, 56, replaced Don Lucia, now at Minnesota, in 1999. And under Owens, who owns a 299-185-43 career record, CC has claimed three Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles, with two Hobey Baker Award winners, 15 All-Americans and 30 All-WCHA picks. There’s no question he has kept CC at a high level.
Of course, CC hasn’t won a national championship since 1957, nor has it taken home the Broadmoor Trophy, awarded to the WCHA Final Five champion, in the 30 years that it has existed. Critics of Owens – there are a lot more than you’d think for a program that’s routinely a national power – were fired up on Internet message boards before CC lost at home this month against Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Now, a few fans are demanding CC rescind the long-term contract it gave Owens in December.
Some blame CC’s post-Christmas swoon on Owens. Some say it’s a lack of conditioning that causes the Tigers to fizzle. Some think CC’s academic standards are so stringent, it’s difficult for the players to focus on hockey. Some point to the tougher schedule typically awaiting CC down the stretch. Some even fault questionable officiating in the WCHA.
The Tigers took an 11-5 record into Christmas, then following an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Air Force, the wheels fell off. There were wins over eventual Frozen Four participants Minnesota and Union, and CC won and tied vs. Denver to recapture the Gold Pan, but it was swept by Bemidji State and Minnesota-Duluth; it split against Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State; and it didn’t win back-to-back games until a sweep of Michigan Tech to end the season. Too much damage was done for CC to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Owens cited a dip in scoring the second half of the season, as well as a defense that was porous, a penalty kill that ranked among the nation’s worst and a power play that gave up a nation-leading 11 short-handed goals. CC sometimes struggled to get secondary scoring – none of its six freshmen skaters had a goal. Plus, CC never found a reliable body in the right wing position on the top line with Jaden and Rylan Schwartz, from Scott Winkler to William Rapuzzi to Jeff Collett, forcing Owens to juggle his lines in the WCHA playoffs.
Injuries also played a major factor in CC’s demise. Jaden Schwartz couldn’t shoot against Minnesota-Duluth because of a sprained wrist. Rylan Schwartz played through a broken pinky finger and a separated shoulder. Winkler was hampered by a broken hand. Collett separated his shoulder in the WCHA playoffs. Eamonn McDermott missed eight games with a torn ligament in his knee. Dakota Eveland (neck) and Michael Morin (ankle) both suffered season-ending injuries. Nick Dineen and Josh Thorimbert sustained concussions against Denver, and Mike Boivin and Tim Hall had concussions against Bemidji State.
“It’s a heck of a lot,” Owens said, adding that “we had to play three lines (in the WCHA playoffs) because we got behind, and it’s tough to do. We’re a four-line team.” He noted, “There’s no doubt we weren’t at 100 percent. Even when we had guys back, they weren’t at 100 percent. … We began to wonder who was going to get hurt next.”
Owens maintains he’s as frustrated as anybody with another promising season that didn’t materialize. “We have to be disappointed,” he said, “because we didn’t get to (the Final Five) and we didn’t move on. … We were never able to get it all going at the same time.”
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