The scene outside Colorado College’s borrowed locker room at Magness Arena was grim.
Perspective would come later. The Tigers, picked almost unanimously to finish last in the conference, took the second-biggest jump in points. They had the most regular-season wins and goals in 5 years, two Hobey Baker finalists, and a slew of conference honors and personal bests.
But it all amounted to the same thing.
“We took a nice step, but we’re in the same position as last year - knocked out of the (NCHC) quarterfinals,” co-captain Mason Bergh said. “Not satisfied at all. Just have to build off that and start working for next year.”
Colorado College blanked Denver 2-0 Friday night, sparking the belief that they could advance past the first round of the NCHC playoffs for the first time. But Saturday night’s game was a heartbreaker, and Sunday’s, a collapse.
While the Pioneers eye next week, the Tigers will look ahead to next year. And there’s reason for optimism.
Colorado College carried no seniors this year, one of two programs in the country to do so. It will lose no one to graduation, and add Florida Panthers prospect Chris Wilkie, who transferred from North Dakota and sat out the season. He has two years of eligibility left.
There’s an intriguing class coming in. Grant Cruikshank out of the BCHL, Erik Middendorf of the National Team Development Program, Springs native and Colorado Rampage product Ty Pochipinski, Ben Copeland and Bryan Yoon have all given at least verbal commitments.
Goaltender Alex Leclerc will be a junior, with a backup in Alec Calvaruso who showed he can handle the role.
“He’s a tremendous goalie,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said of Leclerc. “Wow, what a player they have for another two years.”
Coming off a breakout year, leading scorer Nick Halloran will also be a junior. The Tigers’ top line made up nearly half of the team’s scoring at points, and more balance wouldn’t go amiss.
“We’ve made some major improvements and we’ve got to take that and build for next year and not be satisfied with what we’ve done,” coach Mike Haviland said. “We’ll reevaluate everything and be in better shape.”
That likely applies literally and figuratively. Haviland’s staff altered the team’s offseason training regimen and were pleased with the results. And for the Tigers to win a future Game 3 – though injuries certainly played a part – they’ll need a more energetic showing than the one Sunday.
“We know now that we’re getting closer, that it’s time to take that next step,” Haviland said.