While Colorado College is certainly not satisfied with its recent performances after going 1-4-1 over six games, the Tigers’ fortunes may be on the upswing if CC’s series last week against No. 9 North Dakota is any sign of things to come.
The No. 19 Tigers (8-7-1, 5-3) enter this weekend’s home showdown against Western Collegiate Hockey Association nemesis No. 4 Minnesota (10-3-2, 5-3-2) allowing 46 shots per game over their past four, but are also coming off possibly their best performances of the year from goaltenders Joe Howe and Josh Thorimbert. Howe (season-high 44 saves) and Thorimbert (38 saves) combined to stop 82 of 88 North Dakota shots during the split.
“The timing for their play was perfect for us,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “We have given up a few too many shots, we were giving up a few too many goals and they came in and both played equally well to really give us a chance this past weekend.”
After Thorimbert (4-4, .886 save percentage, 3.33 goals-allowed average) started six of the Tigers’ first seven games, Owens switched to a goalie-by-committee approach. The 14-year coach started his rotation during CC’s road trip to Wisconsin at the beginning of November. Howe, who started 36 games in both his freshman and sophomore years, was sensational in a 3-0 victory over the Badgers with a 33-save shutout Nov. 3.
Howe (4-3-1, .906, 3.38) will start Friday night. Owens hasn’t determined a Saturday starter.
“It’s a little bit of a feel, nothing is etched in stone,” Owens said. “Josh got the ball a little bit to run with it and did pretty well. (Howe) was patient. He worked hard, and then he played very well against Wisconsin for 60 minutes. That kind of got him another shot.”
While a goalie-by-committee approach can be difficult, Howe and Thorimbert understand the main objective is to win.
“As a team you want both guys to be playing,” Thorimbert said. “It makes you a stronger team when you know you can put either goalie in and have success. Joe has played really solid all year long and as long as we keep winning that’s the main part for this team.”
“Whatever works,” Howe said. “We both want to play so it’s out of our control. You prepare every day like you would if you were to play.”
Thorimbert has not been the same goalie after leading the WCHA with a .928 save percentage and a .735 winning percentage in conference play last season. The junior believes he has fixed some flaws in his positioning that have caused him to struggle at the beginning of games.
“When I was having my struggles I found that I was playing a little too deep in my net,” Thorimbert said. “I’m not a big guy so I need to challenge. My angles were off just a bit and those were causing me some problems.”
Captain William Rapuzzi says CC has confidence in both of its goalies, regardless of who is starting.
“Having two goalies be able to split like we have, and for them to give us a chance to win means a lot,” Rapuzzi said. “They battle in practice. They help each other. They push each other and have a good tandem.”
Rapuzzi understands CC (ranked fifth nationally at 3.69 goals per game) needs to do more to help the goalies after giving up the most goals in the WCHA (55) thus far.
“We may score a lot, but we’re also giving up a lot of shots,” Rapuzzi said. “That’s a focal point, especially for this week. We have to tighten our d-zone.”
Howe is confident the Tigers can fix the errors that have plagued them during the past six games.
“Minnesota’s is another good WCHA opponent; anyone can beat anyone on any night,” the senior said. “We know they are good but we also know we’re pretty good too.”
CC’s hockey weekend
No. 4 Minnesota (10-3-2, 5-3-2 WCHA) at No. 19 Colorado College (8-7-1, 5-3)
7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday at World Arena
Tickets: CCTigers.com; 576-2626 or at the World Arena Box Office. (750 tickets remain each game)
On the Air: Both games will be telecast live regionally by Fox Sports North, with Friday’s opener also airing on ROOT.
Coaches: Minnesota— Don Lucia (328-176-56, 14th season); Colorado College— Scott Owens (307-192-44, 14th season)
All-time series: Minnesota leads 161-85-7
Top players: Minnesota — Erik Haula jr., F (7g, 12a); Kyle Rau, soph., F (6g, 8a); Nick Bjugstad jr., F (8g, 5a); Adam Wilcox, fr., G (9-2-2, 1.61 GAA); Colorado College — Rylan Schwartz, sr., F (8g, 11a); William Rapuzzi, sr., F (8g, 11a); Scott Winkler, sr., F (10g, 8a); Joe Howe, sr., G (4-3-1, 3.38 GAA).
Outlook: Howe, Thorimbert and Rapuzzi all said the Tigers are confident that they can compete with the Gophers, who are coming off a weekend split against Nebraska-Omaha. Thorimbert made 38 saves in a 2-1 victory against the Gophers at Mariucci Arena last season and 35 saves in a 2-1 loss. Colorado College will need Howe and Thorimbert to be dialed in and the Tigers have to limit the shot selection for Minnesota’s offensive attack (3.27 GPG). Getting a win this weekend would be huge for the Tigers’ confidence before heading on a six-game road trip.