Someone in the Colorado College locker room — accounts vary as to whom — made a recent discovery.
Last year’s eventual national champion, Minnesota-Duluth, was in roughly the same spot. The Bulldogs sat seventh in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference on Jan. 12, hovering around .500. They gained ground in the New Year, with two four-game win streaks on either end of a brief swoon.
The Bulldogs finished third in the conference and were swept in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. They were the last team into the NCAA Tournament, by the thinnest of margins — .0001 RPI points.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“We don’t want guys to get discouraged,” Colorado College senior Trevor Gooch said last week. “Anyone can go on a run in our conference, but you don’t get a night off.”
Sixth-place Colorado College helped its case with a sweep at Miami, but the third-ranked Bulldogs (16-6-2, 9-4-1 NCHC) are in town this weekend and not looking to further anyone else’s underdog story.
CC senior Westin Michaud went behind enemy lines, seeking advice from last year’s UMD captain Karson Kuhlman, his high school teammate and friend. Kuhlman signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins shortly after the Bulldogs won the title.
“Talked to him a little bit about how they turned it around,” Michaud said. “You have to focus on yourself and your group every single day. Have to set goals and standards. I think we’ve drawn upon that."
The bit of standings perspective encouraged the Tigers in January.
“There are more and more people staying after practice and watching more video,” Michaud said. “It’s been productive.
"You never know what's gonna happen."
The Tigers (10-12-3, 4-7-2 NCHC) are home for the first time since Dec. 8, as their only home game of January against Denver was postponed.
They’re up against the second-stingiest team in the country, which has allowed just 44 goals this season. UMD’s penalty kill is top-ranked (91.3 percent) and junior goaltender Hunter Shepherd’s 1.72 goals-against mark is second in the nation.
Colorado College, meanwhile, is encouraged by a second straight conference win in which it came from behind and the blue line got in on the scoring — all of the scoring — for the first time in months.
“It’s been something, a mindset, and maybe we get over that hump now,” coach Mike Haviland said.
Air Force at Bentley
Second-place Air Force (13-9-4, 11-6-3 Atlantic Hockey Conference) is back on the East Coast for a two-game series against sixth-place Bentley (10-11-3, 9-7-2).
Last week: Kyle Haak sealed both games with an empty-netter and Air Force swept Robert Morris at home. Bentley’s seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) is tied for longest in the country.
FYI: Air Force’s penalty kill (88.8 percent) slipped a spot to third in the nation.
Leaders: Air Force, Matt Koch (2 goals, 19 assists), Billy Christopoulos (.923 save percentage, 2.10 goals against); Bentley, Luke Santerno (8 goals, 18 assists), Aidan Pelino (.899 save percentage, 2.74 GAA).