KALAMAZOO, Mich. — St. Paul, here they come.
Colorado College beat Western Michigan 3-2 Monday in Game 3 of the NCHC quarterfinals and is headed to the Frozen Faceoff for the first time in the league’s six-year history.
Their season - and for eight of them, their careers - down to 20 minutes of hockey, the Tigers were not fooling around coming out of the final break. They bore down for several minutes and were rewarded.
Alex Berardinelli started the season hot but hadn’t found the back of the net in 14 games. He was left alone at the top of the right circle, and when Ben Copeland found him, he sent it home.
Trevor Gooch, who had drawn the rowdy student section’s special attention throughout the series, added what wound up being the game-winner two minutes later when he redirected a Bryan Yoon pass past goaltender Trevor Gorsuch.
Gooch and Berardinelli are road roommates. Gooch hadn’t scored in nine.
“We said before the game, ‘If you get one, I’ll get one,’” Gooch said. “That ended up working out pretty well for us.
Alex Leclerc made 32 saves.
The Tigers will face No. 1 St. Cloud State, which clinched a second consecutive Penrose Cup with four games to play, on Friday in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals.
On two straight plays late in the first period, Western Michigan made contact with Leclerc. The Tigers were doubly lucky as their retaliatory shoving went unpenalized and their protests were heard with a goaltender interference penalty to Sunday’s two-goal hero Dawson DiPietro.
The Tigers couldn’t put a pass on tape for all the beer in Kalamazoo during the first half of the power play. Westin Michaud looked like he was going to curl around the net, but stuffed the puck past Gorsuch with 3:13 left in the first.
“What a play,” CC coach Mike Haviland said.
With just over a minute left in the second period, WMU’s Josh Passolt wrapped it around and the puck bounced out to Austin Rueschhoff, who tied the game.
Leclerc said there were no memorable rallying cries during the break - just reminders.
“We were in that situation before, and we knew we’ve just got to keep playing a simple road game,” Leclerc said. “Concentrate on doing the small things that, down the line, that don’t make a difference. That’s exactly what we did. We battled, we skated.”
Last season, Colorado College won Game 1 against host Denver in the NCHC quarterfinals, but dropped the next two. That wasn’t going to happen again. Rueschhoff scored again when the Broncos pulled Gorsuch, but that was it.
“It was an unbelievable hockey game. It really was for both teams,” Haviland said.
Sixth-seeded Colorado College’s penalty kill kept third-seeded Western Michigan off the sheet throughout the series. The Broncos were 0-for-9. The second-most penalized team in conference play surrendered two goals to the least-penalized Tigers.
No. 14 Western Michigan, which reached a ranking of eighth this season, saw its season end. CC, which was never ranked, is the only visiting team in the NCHC quarterfinals that wasn’t swept.
Denver, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State - which the Tigers led in all four games, none of which were wins, during the regular season - make up the rest of the field in St. Paul.
Pikes Peak Trophy. Gold Pan. Getting to Minnesota. Slowly but surely, the long list of goals is being checked off.
“Emotions are high right now. We’re going to try and ride it as long as we can,” Gooch said.