Too little, too late for the Tigers.
A weak follow-up locked in Colorado College’s playoff seed as the Tigers fell 2-1 and split with North Dakota on a snowy Saturday at The Broadmoor World Arena.
Up 2-0 for most of the game, the Fighting Hawks threw the Tigers a lifeline with two late power plays. Goaltender Alex Leclerc stayed on the bench for the start of the latter. The puck shot out of the faceoff to CC’s Christiano Versich, and while everyone untangled themselves, Versich beat Peter Thome from between the circles.
Grant Cruikshank shoveled the puck wide of an empty net with seconds left on the clock and the Tigers fell to 13-17-4, 7-12-3 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“We need another gear, and I don’t think we’ve found that consistently enough to be sweeping teams and moving up the rankings like we need to,” Versich said.
On Tuesday, the Tigers surrendered a first-period goal to Denver that they never recovered and lost 1-0. It looked to be headed that direction again until Versich scored with 2:09 left in the game. It was his fifth of the season.
The Tigers fell to seven points behind North Dakota and are locked into sixth place, where they were picked in the NCHC preseason poll. CC has a good chance to play Denver in the first round, for the third straight season and on back-to-back weekends.
Leclerc made 34 saves.
The Fighting Hawks (16-15-2, 10-11-1 NCHC) weren’t sharp early, but jumped out to a 2-0 lead in a span of 1:08 late in the first period. North Dakota’s Cole Smith located the puck under several bodies and roofed it, and 23 seconds later the scrambling Tigers took a penalty. Matt Kiersted, left wide open at the back door, worsened their hurt.
Colorado College has outscored opponents 38-25 in the first period this season, but two slow starts in one week gave way to losses.
“That hasn’t been really an issue, but we’ll look at it for sure,” coach Mike Haviland said. “We don’t want that creeping in at this time of the year.”
The Tigers didn’t generate much offense in the second, as they were outshot 15-3 and relied heavily on Leclerc.
“We just kind of stood around ... then we decided we’re going to push, and we run out of time,” Haviland said. “You can’t wait until then to push.”
Cruikshank and Alex Berardinelli had breakaways but Thome turned them aside. Trey Bradley was flying but missed out on his second goal of the series.
The Tigers will take on Denver next weekend in the regular-season finale. The Gold Pan trophy is still in play, though CC needs a sweep.
That would require the consistency that’s eluded them.
“There’s some season left,” Versich said. “The most important part of the season is still ahead of us.”