As the regular season comes to a close, the Colorado College Tigers find themselves facing off against a familiar foe in the best of three first-round series, the second seed Denver University Pioneers. After winning once and losing once in their final regular season matchup against Western Michigan, the Tigers occupy seventh place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The Friday matchup against the Western Michigan University Broncos is the matchup the Tigers will likely look more fondly upon when reviewing the past weekend’s games. The score was 1–1, as junior Cole McCaskill scored the game-winning goal with fewer than three minutes remaining in the game. McCaskill’s goal was the second of his season, and it was his second career game-winner. The first Tiger goal was scored by junior Mason Bergh, who tied the game with his sixteenth strike of the season with just fewer than 10 minutes to go. Junior Trey Bradley and sophomore Nick Halloran both made key passes leading up to Bergh’s goal, and Halloran also assisted on the game-winner. Sophomore goalie Alex Leclerc was solid in net, making 33 saves, 16 of which came in the fateful third period.
Although the first period was tough for the Tigers, as the Broncos struck with 8:13 remaining in the first frame, they were able to stay fierce and finish with a win. Neither team could capitalize on their power play opportunities: the Tigers were blanked on their four chances, and the Broncos were empty on both of theirs.
The Tigers played more cleanly on Friday, with three penalties resulting in six minutes of power plays, while the Broncos committed five, for 10 minutes. The faceoff count favored the Broncos, 43–32.
The victory tied the Tigers at fourth in the NCHC, along with University of Nebraska Omaha and University of North Dakota, but the deciding game was still to come.
The Tigers were thrashed 8–2 on Saturday by the Broncos, eliminating the Tigers’ chances for home ice during the playoffs. Western Michigan scored six of their goals during a nine-minute span in the second period.
CC struck first, right as the game started; as first-year Christiano Versich netted his sixth goal of the season 1:43 into the game. The lead didn’t last long, as the Broncos responded twice before the period was over. After a Tiger goal scored by Bradley early in the second, the Broncos went on a tear, scoring all of the rest of their goals before the second period ended.
LeClerc was pulled for first-year Alec Cavalruso after the fifth Bronco goal. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a huge difference, as the Broncos still netted another goal.
Despite the poor result, the Tigers are playing some of their best hockey in years.
The Tigers’ 14 overall wins and eight league victories are the most in one season since the 2012-13 campaign, when they were 18–19–5 overall and 11–13–4 in the WCHA. This is their best result since joining the NCHC in the 2013-2014 season.
The Tigers will just have to move on from the big loss, and their sights are directly aimed at DU. LeClerc spoke on the team’s mentality entering the playoffs. “We are moving forward, and now it’s playoff hockey; losing is not an option,” he said. “As a group, we did not come ready to compete for the entire 60 minutes on Saturday, and we suffered the consequences.” He went on to describe the effect of the earlier matchups against Denver going into this playoff weekend. “Our games played versus DU this year helps us in terms of what to expect and which small adjustments to work on to make sure we are ready to compete for threestraight nights.”
This weekend, the Tigers look to add two more wins to their 1–2–1 record against the Pioneers.