Heading into the season the Tigers knew their schedule was going to be tough, but they had no idea it would evolve into the “Murderer’s Row” gauntlet it has become.
No. 4 Minnesota (10-3-2, 5-3-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) comes to town for a two-game series this weekend, marking Colorado College’s sixth top-10 opponent of the season. Of CC’s first 20 games, 13 will be played against teams that have been ranked in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll at one time this season.
It’s a brutal lineup that won’t get easier during the second half of the Tigers’ schedule, but coach Scott Owens and his players prefer it that way.
“I like the teams we’re playing,” Owens said. “I like the fact that we’re being challenged and tested. I think that, as we make the transition to the NCHC (next year) and with our intelligent fan base, I think we need to go that route.
“There are just going to be some games where we’re going to come up on the short end.”
The Tigers are 8-7-1 and 5-3 in conference. All seven of CC’s losses have come to teams ranked at the time.
Putting together such a challenging schedule means walking a fine line between testing the players and overtaxing them.
“You don’t want to be too worn out or beat up,” Owens said. “Even games you lose, you come out with some growth. I just want the fans to come out and enjoy the quality competition that we’re bringing to the World Arena.
“It’s what they expect, and the majority of them want it.”
The players, frankly, want it too.
“When guys get recruited by CC, I think (the schedule) is a reason they want to come here,” junior forward Archie Skalbeck said. “You play top opponents every night, and just that exposure and playing the best teams is really fun. You can’t ever take a night off with our schedule.”
Even Owens admits that the Tigers’ current stretch is especially difficult.
“Would I like it spread out a little bit more? Maybe,” Owens said. “If I had it to do over again, would I have thrown in one bottom-third team in the country just to give some guys a little more space and room to operate out there? In a perfect world, maybe there’s a couple more games against bottom-third teams, just so you can play a few more guys or catch your breath. I’m fine with it.”
Being battle-tested often helps teams withstand grueling matchups in the playoffs, and playing in those big games is a thrill for the players.
“I love it,” sophomore forward Charlie Taft said. “It’s nice to have a weaker opponent every once and a while, but I think the tougher teams are going to give you the best tests to see where you are as a team. It prepares you for the end of the season and the playoff run.
“I think it’s definitely better to play top-ranked teams. Those games are a lot more fun to play in when they’re intense and you’re playing against good opponents.”