Team of the Week: Colorado College
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
With a pair of victories on the road at Wisconsin, Colorado College separated itself from idle Denver to move into sole possession of first place in the WCHA standings. And for their efforts, the Tigers — winners of 13 of their first 16 league games — are the CHN Team of the Week.
"Two wins for us was huge," said CC coach Scott Owens. "It was the tail end of a nine-game stretch that we were away from the World Arena. To be able to start the second half of the year in league play and pick up four crucial points is huge for us, especially considering that 11 of our last 16 games are in the World Arena."
Still, Owens' squad knows better than to be too comfortable with a promising first half to the season, even with all those home games left. Exactly one year ago, the Tigers had just one fewer win than they do this season. But a collapse down the stretch saw CC win only two of its final 11 games and miss the NCAA tournament entirely.
Said Owens, "Last year, the second half of the year did not go well for us for a number of reasons. Part of it was that we lost our conditioning during our three-week break, and we never really regained it. This year, our fitness level is much better. And I think our key guys are a year older. That will help us, as well as playing at home a lot [for the rest of the season]."
The remainder of CC's schedule includes a pair of games at Michigan Tech, a pair against another first-place team in Clarkson, a series against St. Cloud (who defeated the Tigers in their final game before the break), and what's sure to be a highly anticipated final weekend pair against archrival Denver.
And they must survive the remainder of the regular season shorthanded because, despite their successes, the Tigers have not been immune to the constant controversy in college hockey this season.
Of his multiple suspended upperclassmen, Owens said, "Up until this point, we've been able to get through everything fine. It affects us a little bit because we're missing two 21-year old players, which hurts our depth a little bit."
So, to say the Tigers have a lot on their plates would be an overstatement. However, this season, it's an understatement as well.
With last year's stretch run disappointment in mind, the Tigers are making sure they don't run into the same conditioning problems by managing their eating habits.
Explained Owens, "We've hired a nutritionist, Dave Ellis, as a consultant. He consults several professional sports teams, and he just happens to be based out of Colorado Springs. He's helped us with our meal selections and getting the proper dispersement of fruits and vegetables, and proteins and carbs. He's kind of reeducated our team in terms of the proper portions and combinations. And it's been very beneficial for our team.
"Again, we felt that one of our problems last year was that our body fat went up so much the second half of the season. So it's just been an ongoing educational program helping organize the preparation of our players, whether we're in Colorado Springs or on the road. It's given everybody more energy."
Owens also noted that the team has cut desserts by 80 percent, and all the players are on board too, sometimes unquestioningly.
"He's brought in some new vegetables," team captain Scott Thauwald told the Colorado Springs Gazette last month. "They're different than the traditional broccoli and string beans. I don't even know what they are, to be honest.
"It looked like a carrot. It was asparagus, but it wasn't. I don't even know."
While the Tigers are in control of what they're eating for now, there are two events that may whet their appetite at season's end: the NCAA West Regional to be held in Colorado Springs, with CC as the host, and the Frozen Four, to be held in Denver's Pepsi Center.
"I think [the Regional] has been a driving force as much as anything. We want to make sure we get to be in a Regional when we're hosting it. And of course, it just so happens that the Frozen Four is in Denver. I'd be lying if I said that both the Regional and the Frozen Four haven't been in the back of our minds as goals."
To get there, the Tigers will rely heavily on junior forward Chad Rau, sixth in the nation in goals, and freshman netminder Richard Bachman, third in the nation in goals-against average and second in save percentage.
Owens had a feeling that both would have strong campaigns this season.
"Instead of bulking up and getting bigger, [Rau] got a little bit leaner [over the summer]. It's really helped his quickness. And then he got off to a good start. The fact that he was going to be a year older and the fact that he was working on his quickness — we felt it would bode well for him this year."
Continued Owens, "And Bachman came in as an older freshman, and we've seen what he's done in the USHL and then prep school at Cushing. We saw in practice [before the season] that he was poised, did a nice job controlling rebounds, and just went about his business in a very even keel way."
This weekend, CC, with Bachman in net, will return to Colorado Springs for the beginning of a steady diet of WCHA teams the rest of the season. Their slate begins with a pair of games against Alaska-Anchorage, and of course, the Tigers hope to stay conditioned the rest of the way with their steady meal regimen.
Fittingly, it appears to be making them as hungry as ever.