DENVER • This is not one of Scott Owens’ finest Colorado College hockey teams. This edition of the Tigers lacks elite talent. This team waited the entire season to display its full potential.
But this is one of the finest moments of Owens’ 14-season CC coaching career. His Tigers rose from the dead to defeat the University of Denver, 4-3, in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
The Tigers advance to the WCHA’s Final Five this week in St. Paul, Minn. They have absolutely nothing to lose. They exceeded expectations Sunday at a quiet Magness Arena. As the game ended, DU and CC players departed the ice to the impassioned cheers of several hundred Tigers fans.
“It’s not as talented a team as we’ve had in the past,” Owens said, “but we played as a team and come together as a team. We don’t have a lot of stars, we don’t have a lot of top end, but we have a pretty good team concept.”
CC could have wilted. DU jumped to a 2-0 lead. The Tigers were weary, drained by three straight nights of intense, brutish hockey.
But a sensational second period changed the game, and the season, for the Tigers. Three goals pushed CC to an improbable lead. The third goal, a shorthanded effort by Rylan Schwartz, was a thing of beauty. CC’s bench erupted in joy, and even Owens, an often calm type, showed a burst of emotion.
Schwartz was on the ice two seasons ago when the Tigers, then flying high, upset defending champ Boston College in the NCAA Tournament.
Sunday’s win, he said, might have been sweeter.
“After all the things we’ve been through this season, this one might have topped that one,” Schwartz said. “Tonight’s just a big one for us.”
Schwartz’s goal was the highlight of the night. For the next decade or so, CC fans will talk with extreme vagueness about the game-winner. That’s because it was an own goal by DU goaltender Juho Olkinoura.
Still, I have the feeling the Tigers would have found a way to win. They had erased a 2-0 deficit, and they had refused to surrender this season when they had seemed on their way to the bottom of college hockey.
There were times this season when the Tigers were lifeless. They wandered around the Midwest dropping games, and when they returned home to World Arena they found ways to lose there, too.
Owens refused to panic. He kept insisting his team would find its way, kept saying better nights were ahead.
On Sunday in a strangely vacant arena, Owens was finally proven correct. This edition of the Tigers was never destined for big things.
But these Tigers always will have this surprising victory. They skated into the home of their archrival and escaped with an upset.
A few minutes after the game, a procession of Tigers walked down the hallway to their locker room. They were howling with joy, and with good reason.
Give Owens this night. This is not a mighty team. This was a mighty accomplishment.
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