Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wildcats Crush Tigers in Battle of the Felines

On Friday night, New Hampshire had to gut it out and hold off a furious late charge by the Tigers to secure a 4-3 win. On Saturday, the Wildcats had no such trouble. After staking themselves to a 2-1 lead in the first period, UNH basically continued to dominate the rest of the game, eventually taking the game 7-2. It's tough to pin down exactly what went wrong for the Tigers, because just about every aspect of the game for CC was terrible. A lack of finishing, both on plays and on checks; stupid penalties; screwy line pairings; bad goaltending - all these things contributed to the Tigers pathetic performance on Saturday night.

For starters, what is going on with this roster? Kris Fredheim and Billy Sweatt are clearly our top recruits - why aren't they playing?* Fredheim was scratched on Friday, with Sweatt sitting out on Saturday (after notching two assists on Friday). Where is the logic here? Is it really so important to keep the "frosh line" of DeBoer, McMillan, and Quilico/Testwuide out there? Moreover, what is captain Brandon Straub doing sitting out the night after a one goal loss? We've seen in the past that Scott Owens likes to tinker with lines, but I would like to hear some explanation for these pairings. For Saturday's game, the Tigers should have had their best and most experienced out there. Is there really any doubt that a line of DeBoer, Quilico, and McMillan is going to get shut down by a larger and more experienced New Hampshire team? Two of these guys were playing high school hockey last year. It's time to play the guys that perform and sit the ones that don't. If it were up to me, we'd see lines like this:

McCulloch - Rau - Patrosso
Sweatt - Polich - Kilpatrick
Cox - Thauwald - Brannigan

We're left with Testwuide, McMillan, DeBoer, Quilico, and eventually Vlassopoulos and Overman. Work these guys into games, but don't sit impact players to keep their lines together.

Another thing that I think Scott Owens must address is the stupid penalties that the Tigers take. This problem has to be solved if we want to have any success in WCHA play. Saturday night was not necessarily so bad, but Friday night was vintage boneheaded hockey from the Tigers. First we're stuck killing a five minute major penalty early on in the game (always good to keep the team rested), then we have our captains punching players in the face and dropping opposing players during faceoffs. This is not good; it's the same type of garbage that lost games for CC last year and will surely result in more losses this year. One more note - if the strange scratches on Saturday night had anything to do with dumb penalties the night before, then I have to agree with them. I didn't see Billy Sweatt take any stupid penalties, but Straub trying to go Jackie Chan on a UNH guy right in front of the ref was not my idea of smart hockey. These guys have to be punished for hurting the team. New Hampshire's power play struggled this weekend, Minnesota's and Denver's will not - so it's time to nip this problem in the butt before it costs us more than two out of conference games (which is going to hurt come selection time anyhow).

Moving on - Now I've been a Drew O'Connell advocate for a long time. He came in as a highly touted goalie and although he struggled a bit his freshman year, he seems to be gaining confidence and poise out there this season. After the game Friday night, I was pretty much expecting to see O'Connell in there on Saturday... and he was - only problem? He didn't come in until halfway through the game, when Matt Zaba had already allowed five goals on 21 shots. Matt Zaba is a solid goalie with a lot of WCHA experience, but he has not been playing up to his potential. Is it time to try out O'Connell more and see if he can be that goalie? I really think that Scott Owens has to consider giving O'Connell more time, perhaps going with a two goalie rotation like Denver uses. A 76% save percentage ain't gonna cut it next weekend in Minnesota against one of the more offensively talented teams we'll see this year.

Another issue with the Tigers is that they tend to be a walking disaster in the third period of games. Ever since the epic comeback win over Michigan in the NCAAs two years ago, I'm not sure that I can even remember one more real comeback win by the Tigers. More often it's other teams coming back to win as CC fades in the third period. We saw this on Friday, as the Tigers gave themselves a nice 2-0 lead before allowing four straight UNH goals in the second and third periods. Last year I attributed this phenomenon to lack of size and lack of physical play. When we played bigger teams (like Cornell for example) they would tend to tire us out by wearing us down with physical play. Now overall this year's Tiger team is bigger than last year's, but still we see them falling apart late in games. I don't know if this is a mental problem, a coaching problem, or what, but one thing I'd like to see to combat this issue is for CC to play more physical and actually finish checks. Don't let the defenseman skate in behind their own net and clear the puck out without getting a body on them. Start wearing down the other team and maybe they won't be skating circles around us in the third period.

That's about all I have to say about CC's weekend - if you want to leave your thoughts, feel free to do so in the comments section. Let's hope we can turn it around and prove something next weekend at Mariucci.

Since the polls are coming out tomorrow, and I'm usually bitching about and disagreeing with those polls, I thought I'd put together my own little top ten list based on the season thus far. Feel free to comment on this as well since I'd like to see what others think.

So without further ado, CC Hockey Blog's National Top Ten:

1. Maine - Off to an incredible start with a road win at Minnesota and road sweep at everyone's preseason favorite; North Dakota. Everything seems to be clicking for the Black Bears, and while Wisconsin and St. Cloud State fans might hate me for saying it, they may have the best goaltender in the country. If that's not enough to get Maine fans excited, freshman Teddy Purcell has put up seven points in his first five games.

2. Wisconsin - The defending champs are off to a decent start, with their only loss being in overtime against a very strong North Dakota team. Brian Elliott is playing well in net and the team seems solid all around, although not quite as dominant as last year's squad.

3. Minnesota - Got off to a rocky start with the loss to Maine, but the Golden Gophers nonetheless are overflowing with talent. With three first round draft picks among their freshman, the Gophers should look forward to improving as the young'uns get more accustomed to the college game.

4. North Dakota - The Sioux have had a somewhat disappointing start to a very promising season. Like Minnesota, they are teeming with talent, yet the Sioux are off to just a 3-3 start. Their wins came against Wisconsin and Quinnipiac, before dropping their last two games to Maine (at home). If that's not enough, they may have also lost star forward Jonathan Toews as well. The #3 NHL draft pick was taken out of Friday's game with an injury and wasn't back for the second.

5. Miami - It was tough to decide between Miami and Michigan for this spot in the top ten, so I gave it to Miami based on the fact that both teams have identical records, but the Redhawks managed to split with the Wolverines at Yost.

6. Michigan - The CCHA has been so pathetic the last few years that I'm hesitant to rank two of their teams this high, but Michigan seems pretty solid. Their only loss came at the hands of last year's regular season CCHA champ, Miami. If they perform to their potential, the Wolverines could be a scary team down the stretch.

7. New Hampshire - This is almost the ballsiest pick of the bunch, as UNH has played only two real games so far. Like CC, the Wildcats started the season with a disheartening exhibition loss. The next week, they came back and crushed the US Under-18 team. We all know what happened this weekend.

8. Boston College - The Eagles have been an early season favorite up until their inexplicable 7-1 loss at the hands of Notre Dame. If they can forget about that loss and take care of business down the stretch, they'll be a top team. If the loss to the Irish is any indication of things to come, though, it could be an ugly year in Chestnut Hill.

9. Michigan Tech - Yeah, yeah, laugh it up (Tech did get only one vote in the most recent USCHO poll), but the Huskies are off to a hot start this year. Tech is coming off a road sweep of Vermont, who had been doing well (USCHO #10). They started things off with a split with Northern Michigan, a team that tied Wisconsin early on and recently beat Nebraska, Omaha. Could this be a long awaited up year for the boys in Houghton?

10. Boston University - The Terriers were expected to be a top ten team this year, and have gotten off to a nice 2-0-1 record. The problem is that BU has not really beaten any quality teams yet. They started the season with a 4-4 tie against Rensselaer before cruising to easy wins over Northeastern and Merrimack; not exactly national powerhouses.

* Edit - Bill Sweatt has been diagnosed with mono and this is the reason for his absence on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mixed Results At Nye Classic

After blowing a chance to pick up an important PWR win on Friday, CC came back and dominated on Satuday night to go 1-0-1 on the weekend. The junior class was at it again, with Scott McCulloch and Jimmy Kilpatrick scoring CC's goals on Friday, and Jack Hillen and Derek Patrosso finding the back of the net on Saturday. Brian Connelly also showcased his offensive talent with three assists on the weekend.

The failure to get a win against Nebraska-Omaha is not the end of the world, but it could come back to haunt the Tigers at tournament selection time if both teams end up being Teams Under Consideration. The last few years, out of conference wins have paid huge dividends to CC at tournament time, and the Tigers will likely need some OOC wins further down the road if they want to play in the postseason this year.

Regardless of the shootout loss on Friday, there are bright spots for the Tigers. Newcomers Brian McMillin, Addison DeBoer, Brian Connelly, Billy Sweatt, and Nate Prosser all had points over the weekend. Drew O'Connell kept up his stellar play in net with an 18-save shutout on Satuday night. And veteran seniors Brandon Polich and Braydon Cox both scored goals on Saturday. CC thus far has demonstrated a much more balanced attack, with most everybody contributing on offense.

The offense is going to have to keep rolling, as the Tigers take on #12 New Hampshire in a two game series this weekend at the World Arena in their first true test of the season.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tigers Crush Huntsville, Move to 2-0

After the close contest between CC and Air Force on Friday, many Tiger fans were probably feeling a little apprehensive about the upcoming season. Saturday, though gave CC fans reason to be hopeful, as the Tigers dominated all aspects of play and throttled the Chargers 8-1.

Everything seemed to click Saturday as Scott McCulloch took after Jimmy Kilpatrick the night before and stepped up to a new offensive role. His four goals, along with tallies from the Sweatt brothers, Jake Gannon and Scott Thauwald, powered the Tigers, who also received stellar play in net from sophomore goalie Drew O'Connell. Although the results are great for a young Tiger team just a week into the season, CC should get their first true test when they play Nebraska-Omaha this weekend at the Nye Classic in Anchorage.

Here are some of my thoughts from the weekend, and the Alabama-Huntsville game in particular:

* Loved to see Drew O'Connell getting a start on Satuday, and was even happier about the way he played. He seemed confident and poised in net, and probably should have had a shutout.

* The forwards from the junior class had an excellent weekend. Great to see Jimmy Kilpatrick and Scott McCulloch stepping up the production already. Also, all these guys (Kilpatrick, McCulloch, Derek Patrosso, James Brannigan) seemed to be playing physical in the offensive zone and tiring out the Chargers defense. Every junior (including defenseman Jack Hillen) recorded a point on Saturday night. Every one but Brannigan and Patrosso actually had two or more.

* Billy Sweatt - Man, this kid can fly. Great to see him get his first goal as a Tiger - he's going to be the real deal.

* This Tigers defense is solid - Kris Fredheim in particular looks like he's in control out there.

* Saw some freshman mistakes from some of the young guys. Connelly, DeBoer, Testwuide and McMillan all looked solid but still have some adjusting to do to the college game.

* Mike Testwuide and Billy Sweatt bring some needed size to the offense.

* Congrats to Jake Gannon - first college goal.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

CC Holds On Against Air Force

If you needed any proof that hockey is a game of inches, take a look at last night. Air Force's last second, tying goal should have resulted in elation for the 3rd largest hockey crowd in AFA school history. The game ended in heartbreak for Falcons fans however, as the goal was waved off due to a high stick, and CC went on to win yet again, 2-1.

Jimmy Kilpatrick stepped up to his new offensive role, scoring two goals for the Tigers, and Chad Rau tallied an assist. Matt Zaba was solid in net, making 25 saves on 26 shots.

The Tigers take on the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville tonight in their home opener at the World Arena.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Season Preview '06

With just hours until Colorado College faces off against Air Force in their season opener, I thought we should take a look at what to expect this season. The loss of a stellar senior class has generally left CC fans with lower expectations than in the past few years, but the Tigers surely have the talent to surprise this year. For this post I thought I'd take a look at how each aspect of the team might shape up. I'll try to provide some more analysis after the games this weekend.


The Tigers lost a majority of last season's top notch offensive corps, leaving many questions about how CC will go about replacing the scoring. Three things are obvious to me - if CC is to be strong offensively this year...

1. Chad Rau has to continue getting better and develop into an elite player.

2. Billy Sweatt must make a smooth transition to the college game.

3. The supporting cast, particularly this year's juniors, must step up and get more involved in the scoring.

I'm not particularly worried about #1. Chad Rau is a potential All-WCHA player who I think could score 50+ points this year. Things get murky as we delve deeper though. Billy Sweatt, one of the most highly touted freshmen in the country, will almost certainly become an elite college hockey player - but can he make an impact this season? I'd be satisfied if Sweatt could imitate Rau's freshman year and put up around 30 points. Anything beyond that is gravy, but don't be surprised if you see Billy Sweatt among the top point scorers in the WCHA this season. As for #3... for the past two years CC has had a number of capable offensive players who have been overshadowed by the Sertich and Sterling show. Look in particular at this year's junior class, with Derek Patrosso, Jimmy Kilpatrick, James Brannigan, and Scott McCulloch. Any one of these players has the potential to score 25+ points in a season. Look for Kilpatrick and McCulloch to have an increased role in the offense. Both of these guys should see significant time on the power play.

In addition to these veterans, the Tigers have an extremely talented freshman class that has the potential to put up solid numbers. Billy Sweatt is a given, having been ranked as the #4 incoming forward by Inside College Hockey, and #2 incoming forward by Chris Heisenburg and the Western College Hockey Blog. But don't forget about some of the other new players we'll be seeing this weekend. Dan Quilico (5'9"/170) put up 46 points in 62 games last season for Trail of the BCHL. Matt Overman (5'10"/165) put up gaudy numbers in high school before spending a season on the injured reserve for Sioux Falls of the USHL. Mike Testwuide (6'3"/205), brother of Denver defenseman J.P. Testwuide, scored 31 points last year for Waterloo of the USHL. Also, Addison DeBoer and Brian McMillin, both coming straight from high school, have the potential to put up numbers if they can smoothly transition to the new challenges of the college game.

Also important to note is that the Tigers should get a nice boost from the return of Andreas Vlassopoulos and Scott Thauwald, both of whom spent nearly all of last season injured. If both are fully recovered, they could make a big difference on offense.

Scott Owens loves to tinker with the lines, so I don't want to try and guess what combinations he might use, although once the season gets going I could certainly see some possible line combos emerging. Chad Rau and Billy Sweatt could team up to put up fantastic numbers. Larger players like Mike Testwuide and Scott McCulloch could play together and bring a more physical presence to the offensive zone. Owens should have plenty of options, with enough forwards to roll five lines if desired. One of the more interesting things to watch for will be DeBoer's and McMillin's transition to the college game - if they can make the jump smoothly, CC will be very deep on offense.


CC's defense this year should be very, very strong. In addition to returning players Lee Sweatt, Jack Hillen, Brandon Straub, Jake Gannon, and Cody Lampl, the Tigers have picked up some top tier defenders in Kris Fredheim, Brian Connelly, and Nate Prosser. Fredheim (6'2"/183) was the most sought after of the bunch; a 2005 NHL draft pick (sixth round), he scored 46 points in 63 games last year for Notre Dame of the SJHL, and was named defenseman of the year. Brian Connelly (5'11"/175) spent last season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, scoring 28 points in 59 games. Nate Prosser (6'2"/203), another highly ranked recruit, had 35 points in 72 games last year for Sioux Falls, and was a second team all-star.

I would envision defensive pairings looking something like this:

Sweatt / Fredheim
Hillen / Connelly
Straub / Prosser
Gannon / Lampl

These combinations would at least initially give the new players a chance to play with a veteran blueliner.


Matt Zaba may be the player most important to CC's hopes this year. If he can reach his potential and become a gamechanging goalie, watch out. If he plays like he did last year - meh. If he goes downhill at all, it's time to give O'Connell some looks. In my opinion, Zaba has all the potential to be an All-WCHA goalie - he just needs to put it all together. You can pretty much count on him to make the saves that he should make, but unlike two years ago with Curtis McElhinney, don't expect Zaba to be stealing games for the Tigers. If CC starts out strong and keeps it going, I'd trust Zaba with the starting job. If the Tigers stumble early and post season aspirations are looking like a longshot, I think Scott Owens should give serious thought to giving Drew O'Connell some playing time. One good situation, if CC's season was looking lost, would be to go with a two man rotation of Zaba and O'Connell. Why, you ask? Because O'Connell is a sophomore this year and our two other goalies (Zaba and Kawano) are on the way out. If this season is a bust, at least get ready for next. In addition, I'd feel like O'Connell would be getting a bum deal if he had to compete for the starting job with top recruit Richard Bachman next year, having played in hardly any games over the past two seasons. Give the kid a chance, I say. I don't want to leave Chris Kawano out of the discussion either. He played quite a bit at the end of last season and had some very impressive games. While I think Kawano would currently be considered #2 in the pecking order after Zaba, since he graduates at the end of the year, I'd rather see O'Connell get the playing time. Nevertheless I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him start a game or two here and there.