No. 1 With a Bullet: Colorado College Limps Home ... With Hope
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
Call it league parity. Call it underdog performances. Call it a shift in momentum.
Call it whatever you want, the fact remains that with a 4-2 loss to North Dakota in the consolation game of the WCHA Final Five tournament, Colorado College is in a funk.
Just how big that funk may be, concerns head coach Scott Owens.
"Of course this weekend concerns me," said Owens. "I know that we're going home [to Colorado Springs] and all that stuff, but we really didn't put together 50 good minutes in either game this weekend and we haven't done that in a long time."
By "going home," Owens didn't mean to play golf. He means, to host the NCAA West Regional. All season, CC has motivated itself with that knowledge, and not wanting to be left out of the NCAAs, like it was last time it hosted a regional. So CC stormed to the WCHA regular-season title, and was primed to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAAs.
Then it stubbed its toe, hard.
CC still is heading home to host a regional, and will be playing for a very real chance of reaching the Frozen Four, also in its home state. It still lines up perfectly.
Except that somehow, CC, which has still never won a WCHA tournament championship, goes home with a bad taste in its collective mouth.
Will it be motivation again, or a prelude to more bitterness?
While Owens was quick to credit North Dakota's play, namely that of Warroad, Minn., hero T.J. Oshie, in all fairness, there is more to the story behind the Tigers' recent hiccups.
First, Colorado College's semifinal game against Minnesota was more or less an away game. True, great teams push through hostile crowds, but with 17,000 screaming Gopher fans, there must have been at least some residual effect.
Next, the sheet of ice at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., is in sharp contrast to the team's home sheet in Colorado Springs, Colo. Owens elaborated candidly the differences.
"I said it last night; we're pretty good on a big sheet," Owens said. "I mean it's an honest 100-by-200 foot building with altitude and it's a tough place to play. Not only are we good in our building, but it's a tough place for other teams to play."
Lastly, the Tigers were simply a product of the emerging trend of the 2008 Final Five: in each contest, the lower seed going into the game has emerged the victor. Today it was the second-seeded Fighting Sioux who rode the coattails of a 3-for-7 powerplay performance — with goals coming from the sticks of T.J. Oshie, Chris VandeVelde and Chay Genoway — that put away the top seeded Tigers. Also instrumental in the North Dakota victory was the season-long consistent play of goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, who turned aside 31 of 33 shots to earn his 25th win of the season.
With the loss, Colorado College will almost certainly forfeit what many considered a lock on a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament coming into the weekend. North Dakota now finds itself with a No. 1 seed, but with an asterisk.
Per the Pairwise, the NCAA's chief bracket-making statistical system, and other factors such as team proximity and prospective attendance, North Dakota and Colorado College may find themselves in a rematch next week because Colorado Springs is closer to Grand Forks, N.D., than Worcester, Mass., the team's other prospective regional.
For Colorado College, which is 18-2 at home this season, that's fine by them.
"I think we're a little disappointed by this weekend, but we're coming back to our home building and that's going to help out a lot," said Colorado College forward Chad Rau, who scored one of the Tigers' two goals on a breakaway midway through the first period. "We're all pretty comfortable playing there and we've had some success. I just think we'll all be glad to get back to our home turn and start getting ready for next weekend."
For North Dakota, being in the NCAA tournament is the team's only concern.
"We're not really worried what regional we get put in," North Dakota forward Chris VandeVelde said, who had a goal and an assist on the afternoon. "I mean we'll go where we are told to go and we'll play whoever we are told we play."
Thus, with another year in which Colorado College failed to claim its white whale, the coveted Broadmoor Cup, Owens remained optimistic about his team's chances in the upcoming weekend.
"We come out of this weekend with really only our dignity bruised," Owens said. "Now we go home and get ourselves squared away for Friday night's game."