NCHC media picks CC hockey to finish last in league
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Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland, back, talks to his players during a time out after giving up two early goals to Denver in the first period of an NCAA college hockey game in Denver on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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A Colorado College win over Denver would have inspired a tidal wave of hockey excitement. It would have made Saturday’s rematch a must-see event. It would have inspired dozens of CC fans to take the drive to the DU campus to tangle with big-city ticket scalpers.

Oh, well.

The Tigers collapsed, tumbling to a 5-1 loss that was even worse than the score. When the night started, CC retained a chance to bring The Gold Pan Trophy home for the first time since 2014.

Instead, the Tigers and their fans tumbled to a soul-crushing loss. The Pioneers ruled the nation last season. The Evil Empire of the North showed the power and the harmony required to rule again this season.

Sure, the Pioneers are easy to despise. Talking down DU is a near-requirement for a sports fan in the Springs.

But here’s the problem:

The Pioneers are even easier to admire. They’re aggressive. They’re smooth. They’re deep. They’re talented. And they’re hungry.

In the third period, with the arena emptying and the game slipping far from CC’s reach, the Pioneers kept hitting with evil intent and kept trying to cushion their lead.

CC has spent most of this season on an encouraging run of resurgence. The run ended on a quiet Friday night.

The defeat showed, again, how far the Tigers must travel to catch up with their state rivals. CC coach Mike Haviland is 1-18-2 against DU and Air Force, and his Tigers have been outscored in those battles, 87-38.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a hopeless cause. The Tigers have shown fresh fight this season, and they could show that fight again Saturday night at DU.

But it remains a long climb to reclaim respect in Colorado. The Tigers have taken several steps up the hockey ladder this season, but they remain behind Air Force and far, far behind the mighty Pioneers. It’s up this junior-dominated CC team to finish the climb next season.

Haviland gets it. He’s been pleased by the effort and results from several of this season’s games. He’s seen vast improvement. Of course, after winning only 27 of 144 games over four seasons it’s easy to show some kind of improvement.

But he wants more. He demands more. He expects more.

“We talked about how you have to earn respect,” Haviland said earlier this week. “In college hockey, you have to continue to win, and that’s when people will respect you.

“We haven’t done anything yet, so that’s kind of still the thing that’s in the back of our minds, to see if we can keep winning and get that respect from the rest of the country. That’s why I think these guys have something to prove.”

He’s right. These Tigers have so much more to prove.

Maybe they can start with the proving Saturday night at one of the toughest arenas in college hockey.

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