Team of the Week: Colorado College
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
At 6-18-6, it's difficult for Colorado College coach Scott Owens to look at the 2013-14 season as a success at this point. His young Tiger club has spent most of the year learning just how difficult it is to win games at the Division I level.
While Owens knows his team hasn't figured it all out just yet, the last few weeks suggest at least a few things have improved. Specifically, Owens points to his team defense, and it showed last weekend. The Tigers swept in-state rival Denver with 3-2 and 3-1 wins. Aside from winning the annual Battle for the Gold Pan, the sweep earned CC College Hockey News' Team of the Week.
"We've improved a lot, but I've been most impressed with our team defense," Owens said. "Josh Thorimbert's been good for us, but it's an awfully young team in front of him. We defended well last weekend against Denver."
Thorimbert stopped 51 of the 54 shots he saw in the wins. However, Owens saw a young group support its talented goaltender all weekend. Earlier in the season, strong efforts from the senior netminder went unnoticed as the club struggled to generate much in front of him.
Of late, it's been a much different story for Colorado College. The Tigers have lost just two of their last eight games and have moved up the NCHC standings as a result. A bottom-half finish is still very much a reality, with that a less-than-favorable matchup in the NCHC Tournament. Still, Owens believes his team is more prepared for that challenge based on its recent success.
The wins over Denver were especially significant for the confidence of the young team. Earning a season-series victory with the Pioneers is the type of result that can buoy a disappointing year. Earlier this season, the clubs played a pair of games with Denver winning one, and the other ending in a tie. Colorado College needed two victories to win the Gold Pan.
"It was great for us to get a signature win," Owens said. "We needed to win both of those games to win the Gold Pan. To get those wins against our arch rival was important for our group. That's a good Denver team we beat, but it's get tougher every weekend in this league."
With two series left in the regular season, Owens knows now that his team is ready to play with the NCHC's best clubs. The Tigers travel to Omaha for a pair with Nebraska-Omaha before hosting St. Cloud State to end the regular season.
It's been clear at times that the Tigers weren't prepared to beat such strong competition. However, the spirit never wavered. Even as the losses piled up, Owens saw growth and commitment from his players.
"To their credit, they never worried about the losses," he said. "They were always focused on just getting better. It's a young group, and some things have just taken longer. We've always been concerned mostly with just peaking around the playoffs."
The talent in Colorado Springs is evident. Playing in such a strong league demands something more, though. The type of mental toughness required to win games only comes with experience. Lapses late in games or in otherwise pivotal moments cost CC in the first half.
"One thing about is, we just weren't timely," Owens said. "We'd play well and be in a close game. Then we'd get a late power play and wouldn't score, or we'd make a bad mistake late in a game. But those mistakes haven't happened lately, or we've been able to recover from them."
Last weekend, the Tigers were in similiar positions. Holding late leads in games against a rival. The Pioneers pushed for tying goals and tested their young opponents. Colorado College withstood those late barrages, though, and proved they aren't the same team that started the year with just two wins in its first 22 games.