Tigers' Stars Flame Out
Colorado College Had It All Lined Up, But Stumbled When It All Mattered Most
by Mike Donovan/CHN Reporter
The Colorado College Tigers had played more than 2440 minutes this season entering the second period of Friday night's NCAA West Regional. And it took just 20 minutes for their entire season to unravel.
Perhaps you could say the warning signs were there a week ago, when CC lost two games in St. Paul and lost its No. 1 seed. But, although there was certainly a bitter taste in the Tigers' mouths, the stars were still aligned — as they were all year — for them to reach the Frozen Four, hosting the West Regional.
But after a chippy and penalty-filled first period, Colorado College came out flat as the defending champs Michigan State scored three goals in the period including two in the final two minutes. The hometown Tigers were unable to overcome the deficit, losing the game 3-1.
"That goal was a killer to go 3-0 to (goalie Jeff Lerg) and Michigan State, it takes the breath right out of you," CC coach Scott Owens said. "We threw everything at him in the third period and he held up."
Despite the second period onslaught, the Tigers did have their chances. They ended up firing more than 40 shots on the Spartans net.
However, Lerg, a Hobey Baker Award finalist with an ever-increasing reputation for big-game heroics, was able to consistently shut down CC's scorers with an array of kick and stick saves. He finished the game with 40 saves.
"Lerg played up to his accomplishments in terms of a big game," Owens said.
CC captain Scott Thauwald was impressed with Lerg's performance.
"We knew he was an unbelievable goalie coming in. We did have 42 shots. He's just a great goalie," Thauwald said. "We just wanted to keep shooting the puck. Lerg sat on his head. Goalies are what wins playoff hockey."
CC defenseman Jack Hillen was happy with his team's shot selection despite Lerg's gaudy numbers.
"Jeff played a hell of hockey game. I don't regret any of the shots we took. I felt like we did everything possible," the WCHA defensive player of the year said.
The game started off with both teams constantly hitting and battling it out with little offense. That was in stark contrast to the second period when both teams were putting pressure on the net. The Spartans, however, made more of their opportunities.
Derek Patrosso was able to score a goal from a faceoff with eight minutes remaining in the game. The goal seemed to energize a lifeless World Arena crowd that had appeared shell-shocked by the Spartans second period onslaught. But in the end, it was too little too late.
The lost left the Tigers, who played tremendous all season long and had those stars aligned, completely stung.
"My feelings aren't very good, we worked all year to get ourselves to in this position," Owens said. "The things that I thought would hurt us, hurt us. It was Lerg, the power play and the experience from the NCAAs last year. I'm proud of our year, I'm proud of our guys. State didn't look beautiful at times. They played well and negated a lot of great opportunities."
It was a disappointing end to the season for the host. The loss was the third consecutive for the Tigers overall, and they are without a win in their last three NCAA games.
Despite winning the sixth-most games in school history, this Tigers team will be remembered as one that got outclassed on its home ice.
"I'll remember this season. Seniors can go either way," Owens said. "They can have great years or it can be overbearable. Four years is a long time but I enjoyed seeing every day. The seniors played well and I'm proud of that. I'll miss them as people and I'll miss them as players. They've done a lot for the program."
Hillen said he will never forget the camaraderie of this year's seniors.
"I played with some incredible hockey players," an emotional Hillen said. "I'll never forget the players I played with. I'll never sit in that locker room again. I'll never have those friendships again."
And so it's back to the drawing board for CC.
"It is very difficult to look forward to next year at this time. I'm heartbroken the kids won't advance," Owens said.