Colorado College is about to embark on its biggest road stretch of the season with nine of the Tigers’ next 11 games away from home.
It is always tougher to play away from the comforts of home, yet this weekend’s road trip to Minnesota for a two-game set against St. Cloud State (9-7, 7-5 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) may be exactly what CC needs as the Tigers (8-8-2, 5-4-1) try to get out of their 1-5-2 funk following a five-week stretch of playing only in Colorado.
“While it is an advantage for us to play at home at this altitude and (the Olympic) sheet it just becomes so routine,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “Getting out on the road perhaps will help us in some areas.”
One area the Tigers have struggled with all season is falling into early deficits. Colorado College is 4-8-2 when its opponent scores first and has been outscored 25-13 in the first period. On the flip side, CC has a 51-36 scoring advantage over the final two periods.
Therefore, it may be possible playing in a hostile environment away from Colorado Springs can help CC establish a strong focus at the start of games, similar to when the Tigers swept at Wisconsin at the beginning of November.
“I am excited to see after this long home stretch how our team is going to respond to that,” Scott Winkler said. “Hopefully it will be a little extra spark and we won’t be down 3-0 going into the second period.”
Fellow senior Mike Boivin (six goals, eight assists) believes the road trip can certainly be good for the Tigers who are in seventh place in the WCHA. Yet CC only trails first place Denver by five points and has two games in hand.
“I always love going on the road,” Boivin said. “It makes a weekend of hockey that much more the center of your focus. Even just being in a hotel, kind of not in the comfort of your home sitting around waiting for the game to start might help us be more focused and ready for the start of the game.”
Winkler, Boivin and the other five CC seniors had a similar stretch of playing nine of 11 games on the road during their freshmen year, going 3-4-2.
The road trips provide opportunities to continue building team camaraderie as well.
“It’s the small stuff,” Winkler said. “It’s like grabbing two-to-three guys to watch a movie on the plane on a little laptop with a little screen. You always make jokes and little things come up that you normally wouldn’t find because you’re with each other basically 24/7."
Defenseman Aaron Harstad will not make the trip to St. Cloud because of a shoulder injury that is expected to keep him out a couple of weeks, according to Owens. Michael King will continue to see extended playing time in Harstad’s place.
Following a holiday break, the Tigers head back to the road for a Jan. 4-5 series against Nebraska-Omaha.
Owens hopes that during the Tigers’ longest trip of the season his team will become battle tested and be ready for a late-season push.
“I’m hoping that by the middle of January our skin is thick, we are grizzled, we have battled a little bit, we have improved and that we can have a good last 60 days,” Owens said.
Winkler (10 goals, 10 assists) believes this weekend’s series against St. Cloud, tied for third place in the WCHA, is an opportunity to end the year on a high note before kicking off the second half of the season.
“We’re pretty strong,” Winkler said. “Teams can kind of learn or go the other way with losses and the tough stretches we have had, but from what it looks like in the locker room we are going in the right direction. This will be a good test.”
CC’s Hockey Weekend
Colorado College (8-8-2, 5-4-1) at No. 17 St. Cloud State (9-7, 7-5 WCHA)
6:37 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday at the National Hockey Center
On the Air: Friday’s game will only be televised locally in Minnesota, but can be viewed online, courtesy of AmericaOne.com, at this link: http:
/www.americanonesports.com/partner_members.asp?id=28 Saturday’s series’ finale will be televised locally on Altitude.
Coaches: St. Cloud State — Bob Motzko (146-116-34, 8th season); Colorado College— Scott Owens (307-193-45, 14th season)
All-time Series: Colorado College leads 45-32-6
Top players: Colorado College — Rylan Schwartz, sr., F (10g, 14a); William Rapuzzi, sr., F (9g, 13a); Scott Winkler, sr., F (10g, 10a); Joe Howe, sr., G (4-4-1, 3.34 GAA). St. Cloud — Drew LeBlanc, sr. F (5g, 16a); Nic Dowd, jr., F (8g, 12a); Kalle Kossila, fr., F (8g, 5a); Ryan Faragher, soph., G (8-7, 2.44 GAA).
Outlook: After earning an emotional 4-4 tie against No. 4 Minnesota in Saturday’s series’ finale by scoring three unanswered third-period goals, including one by Rylan Schwartz with 24.6 seconds remaining, the Tigers will travel to St. Cloud with an emotional momentum boost. CC has a four-game undefeated streak (3-0-1) against the Huskies. St. Cloud enters the weekend after splitting two games with the Nebraska-Omaha last week. The question that remains is which CC team shows up Friday night in the first period? A slow start will be real challenging to overcome on the road.