November 18, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Colorado College Reveling Underdog Role

by Joshua Berhow/CHN Writer

Freshman Joe Howe has been strong in net, coming in to replace Richard Bachman, who left early for a pro deal. (photo: Casey B. Gibson)

Freshman Joe Howe has been strong in net, coming in to replace Richard Bachman, who left early for a pro deal. (photo: Casey B. Gibson)

Joe Howe may not be the next Richard Bachman, but he’s certainly held his own in replacing the Colorado College stalwart so far.

Bachman was just one of many key losses the Tigers were dealt with entering the season. The Tigers lost Eric Walsky and Chad Rau to graduation and then lost Brian Connelly and Bachman to pro contracts. For the first time in a while the Tigers were picked to finish in the bottom half of the WCHA in preseason polls — seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches, respectively.

“It’s very motivating,” said Tigers captain Mike Testwuide. “Every year since I’ve been here we’ve been picked in the top and this year we have a little underdog mentality.”

The Tigers were supposed to have a down-year, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case so far.

“We thought we had the makings of a decent team,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “Obviously the goaltending was the key ingredient for us and Joe Howe has stepped up wonderfully.”

Howe has been the key factor to seventh-ranked Colorado College’s early success, leading them to a 7-2-1 overall record and 6-1-1 WCHA record. Through nine games, the freshman is 7-1-1 with a 2.08 goals against average and .934 save percentage. Bachman was 8-1 with a 1.55 goals against average and .949 save percentage in his first nine games two years ago as a freshman.

The Plymouth, Minn., native is coming off his best weekend in a Tigers sweater, as he led the Tigers to a road sweep against Minnesota State in Mankato. Howe earned his first collegiate shutout Friday in a 1-0 overtime win and allowed two goals in a 3-2 win Saturday. He finished the weekend with 59 saves.

“He’s playing unbelievable right now,” said Tigers defenseman Nate Prosser. “He’s making huge saves when we need him to.”

Added Owens: “He’s playing like an upperclassman and not like a true freshman.”

Howe did a little bit of everything in Saturday’s victory. He stopped Minnesota State’s Zach Harrison on a penalty shot with a poke check at the top of the crease to preserve a 3-1 Tigers lead in the third period. He stopped a handful of quality-scoring opportunities from the Mavericks — many coming in the third period. He showed his quickness, moving from post-to-post on one occasion to stop a couple of Mavericks shots, and he even skated out halfway to the blue line near the boards to play the puck and successfully escape from harm.

“He was the difference [Saturday], no question,” said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting. “He was money.”

Howe hasn’t been the only freshman to make an impact for the Tigers, though. Rylan Schwartz has four goals and is second on the team with 12 points, and William Rapuzzi has chipped in with four goals and six points.

Schwartz had the game-winner Friday against the Mavericks.

“Joe and Rylan have put up big numbers for us but there have been other freshmen like Rapuzzi and Doug Leaverton,” Owens said. “We’re getting a lot of guys who are contributing and stepping up.”

Offensively, the Tigers have made their biggest dent on special teams. They lead the WCHA with a 31.7 percent conversion rate on the power play and own a league-best special-teams net of plus-14.

Even more important for the Tigers is their play away from World Arena, as they’re off to a 3-0-1 record on the road, something Owens says is even more crucial with such a young team.

Before the Tigers get another chance to add to their impressive road record they’ll play host in World Arena the next two weekends. This weekend they give the WCHA a break — as they step outside the conference to host Robert Morris — and see if they can continue their torrid start to the season.

“We’re a good team,” Owens said. “Not an unbelievable team but a good team.”

Either an unbelievable team or just a good one, the rest of the WCHA will figure out exactly which one the Tigers are come March.

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