With all due respect to college football, this weekend’s set of collegiate hockey matchups will likely dominate the local sports landscape.
With perennial area powers Colorado College and Air Force squaring off, a top-10 team coming to Colorado Springs and nationally ranked Denver also on the slate, it’s going to be an interesting couple of days for the state’s trio of college hockey teams.
Colorado College, ranked 19th in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll, begins tonight with its annual grudge match against defending Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament champion Air Force at Cadet Ice Arena.
The teams go their separate ways Saturday night, when CC hosts No. 9 UMass-Lowell (0-0-1) and former Tigers assistant coach Norm Bazin at the World Arena and Air Force travels an hour north to take on the seventh-ranked Denver Pioneers. Both Colorado Springs-based teams are amped up for the big weekend, with their coaches full of mixed emotions about the early season tests.
“The Air Force weekend, you don’t usually look forward to until the puck drops,” said CC coach Scott Owens, whose Tigers earned a pair of 5-4 wins over Clarkson last weekend. “There will probably be a lot of emotion in the Air Force game, and then you’ve got to turn right around and play on the big sheet against a great team. Air Force is a team that’s going pretty well, so it should be a classic matchup.”
The Tigers (2-0) will have added incentive against the Falcons after Air Force beat CC 2-1 on the big ice at the World Arena a year ago. Air Force (0-0-2) has only defeated CC eight times in 68 tries, but two of those have come in the past four years.
“The guys are going to be ready to play,” said Falcons coach Frank Serratore, whose team is receiving votes in the USCHO poll. “They see the national rankings and know the history. This weekend, we need to play like a team that has more experience.”
Revenge is a strong word, but the Tigers have not forgotten about last year’s result.
“Any time you lose a rivalry game like that, you’re definitely uncomfortable with it,” CC assistant captain Rylan Schwartz said. “Air Force, with the rivalry, that’s a huge game. UMass-Lowell is a highly ranked team, so that’s a good test for us to see where we are.”
Air Force’s crew is excited about the chance to make it two in a row against the Tigers and possibly get a win in Denver.
“It’s a battle for the state title between the hockey teams around the state,” co-captain John Kruse said. “We look forward to these games, and we’ve got a lot of buzz around us.”
Owens is excited to welcome Bazin and another former CC assistant, Jason Lammers, back to Colorado Springs a year after the duo helped turn a losing River Hawks squad into a national contender.
“They’re a good team, and Norm has done a great job,” Owens said of UMass-Lowell. “It’s no big surprise how well they’ve done, but it is surprising how fast they’ve done it. It’s going to be a good test for us early (in the season).”
Serratore said this weekend is what excites fans of both teams on a consistent basis.
“Games like these are great,” said Serratore, whose squad is coming off a pair of ties in Alaska. “You’ve got to have some of these on your schedule. The boys love to play them, the fans love to see them and they’re why people buy season tickets.”
A look at this weekend’s big area college hockey matchups
No. 19 Colorado College at Air Force
7:05 p.m. Friday, sold out
Coaches: Colorado College — Scott Owens (301-185-43, 14th season); Air Force — Frank Serratore (255-250-53, 16th season)
All-time series: Colorado College leads 58-8-2
Top players: CC—Rylan Schwartz, sr., F (1g, 2a); William Rapuzzi, sr., F (2g, 1a); Archie Skalbeck, jr., F (3g); Eamonn McDermott, jr., D (3a). Air Force—Jason Torf, jr., G (0-0-2, 2.20, gaa); Tony Thomas, jr., F (2g); John Kruse, sr., F (1g, 1a); Cole Gunner, soph., F (2a).
Outlook: CC is coming off a pair of 5-4 wins over Clarkson, while Air Force battled Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage to 3-3 overtime ties. Air Force defeated the Tigers 2-1 at the World Arena last year when CC was ranked fifth nationally, marking the second time in four years the Falcons had gotten the best of CC. Air Force had been 0-29-1 in its previous 30 games against the Tigers.
No. 9 UMass-Lowell at No. 19 Colorado College
7:07 p.m. Saturday, tickets available
All-time series: CC leads 7-3
UMass-Lowell coach: Norm Bazin (24-13-2*, second season)
Top UMass-Lowell players: Josh Holmstrom, jr., F (1g); Doug Carr, jr., G (0-0-1, 28 saves)
Outlook: Saturday night will be a homecoming for a trio of River Hawks, including second-year coach Norm Bazin. Bazin spent eight years as an assistant coach at CC and turned a 5-25-4 UMass-Lowell team into a 24-13-1 national powerhouse last season. Bazin’s associate head coach, Jason Lammers, was a CC assistant for two seasons before moving on. UMass-Lowell junior Josh Holmstrom, who scored the River Hawks’ goal in a 1-1 tie in their season opener against Vermont, is a Colorado Springs native who is a former Colorado Rampage player.
*Record heading into Friday’s game against Denver.
Air Force at No. 7 Denver
7:05 p.m. Saturday
All-time series: Denver leads 31-3
DU coach: George Gwozdecky (398-239-55, 18th season)
Top DU players: Nick Shore, jr., F (13g, 28a); Joe LaLeggia, soph., D (11g, 27a); Juho Olkinoura, soph., G (9-8-3, 2.18 gaa); Sam Brittain, jr., G (8-4, 2.36); Adam Murray, sr., G (8-2-1, 2.98).*
Outlook: Air Force’s last win over DU in Denver was in 1980, and the Pioneers own a 19-2 all-time record against the Falcons in games played in Denver. The Falcons fell to DU 7-1 at home last season the day after defeating CC at the World Arena. Denver opens its 2012-13 season Friday night against No. 9 UMass-Lowell.
*2011-12 season statistics.
NEAL REID, THE GAZETTE