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Colorado College hockey tries to use finale as fuel as playoff opponent Denver looms large

March 8, 2018 Updated: March 9, 2018 at 9:01 am
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Colorado College Tigers forward Nick Halloran (13) slides during a missed scoring attempt as the Tigers took on the Denver Pioneers at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday December 9, 2017 in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Colorado College didn’t exactly glide into the postseason, allowing a season-high eight goals through two periods to previously struggling Western Michigan in its regular-season finale. The Tigers dropped from a potential fourth seed in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs to seventh as a result of the loss.

Surprising and painful, but maybe useful.

“I think we have rallied around it a bit, saying we’re never letting that happen again,” sophomore forward Nick Halloran said.

With less than a week to go before traveling to take on Denver in the first round, there was nothing for coach Mike Haviland to do except turn it into an opportunity for growth.

“My message was basically, ‘This hasn’t happened to us all year,’” Haviland said. “Let it hurt, let it sting. We have to learn from it, but hit that reset button.

“We’re not going to let it affect us with what we’ve done this year. It’s just a little bump in the road.”

The Tigers will need every bit of mental fortitude to get past the defending national champion Pioneers, who finished the season ranked fifth in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll.

There’s a wide gap when it comes to postseason experience. The Pioneer seniors have played in 21 playoff games and made it to the NCAA Tournament every year. The Tigers, without a single senior, have four games to draw on at most, and all have been losses.

Haviland said those who have been deep in the playoffs know how to handle pressure.

“They have a lot to draw from,” he said. “A lot of our guys, they’re going to have to pull on their years in juniors. I’ve got to pull on my years of going deep in pro hockey.”

Recent history, however, has encouraged the Tigers. CC went 1-1-2 against Denver during the regular season, scoring once in double overtime and blanking the Pioneers 1-0 in two games at Magness Arena.

“In years past, going up there was a bit of a mountain to climb,” Haviland said. “That belief and that confidence is there.”

Denver has an 8-1 record in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. CC’s record is 1-8.

On Colorado College’s team website, the schedule goes through Game 3 - if necessary - of the Denver series. The Pioneers’ site goes all the way to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.

That sums up the matchup on paper, but it’s been a year of surprises. The Tigers’ mission is to worry about themselves, steal one from Denver and see what happens.

“The first round is usually the toughest round, that I’ve been involved in,” Haviland said.

Halloran, Leclerc, Haviland finalists for conference awards

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference released the finalists and nominees for 11 individual awards for the 2017-18 season Thursday.

Colorado College coach Mike Haviland is a finalist for the Herb Brooks Coach of the Year award after leading the Tigers to their best NCHC finish to date. Nick Halloran, tied for first in the conference in points, is up for Forward of the Year and the NCHC Three Stars Award, and with 14 wins and three shutouts, CC goaltender Alex Leclerc is another of the four nominees for the three stars honor.

The winners will be presented with their awards March 15 in Saint Paul, Minn., before the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

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