For the Colorado College men’s hockey team, last weekend’s match up against North Dakota provided an opportunity to play the defending national champion at home in front of over 7,000 invested fans. Just this last year, the Tigers were beaten soundly in six games against North Dakota by a combined score of 29-10. Though North Dakota is undoubtedly not the goliath they were last season, the 2016-17 matchup gave the Tigers a chance to prove that they have improved from last year.
The Tigers have shown a proclivity for scoring the opening goal in games, and Friday night was no different. At the 9:36 mark in the first period, first-year forward Kade Kehoe scored a goal that was assisted by sophomore defenseman Ben Israel and sophomore forward Trevor Gooch, who returned to the lineup after breaking his sternum and one rib. Later in the same period, another first-year, forward Alex Berardinelli, struck for his fifth career goal at the 12:40 mark. Berardinelli fortuitously intercepted a pass at the red line and then rifled a shot past UND senior netminder Matej Tomek to give CC a 0-2 lead.
The Tigers headed into the first intermission with a 0-2 lead over one of the most respected programs in all of college hockey. But the Tigers knew that UND would not go down without a fight, and Head Coach Mike Haviland certainly would have relayed that message to his boys at intermission. Just as expected, UND came out firing, and junior forward Trevor Olson scored at the 4:34 mark in the second period.
The Tigers held their 1-2 advantage until the 14:41 mark of the third period, and then lost the lead for good at the 17:14 mark. In the end the final score read 5-2 in favor of UND, but the Tigers could smell blood in the water, they knew they just needed to finish the game in Saturday’s rematch.
Following the game, I caught up with sophomore forward Westin Michaud. “We just need to finish tomorrow night. We played good, solid hockey for the majority of this game. We just can’t take our foot off the pedal at the end next time,” said Michaud.
Saturday’s game was a very different story. First-year goaltender Alex Lerlerc made a career-high 45 saves to lead the Tigers to a 0-3 victory over the Fighting Sioux. Leclerc was named the NCHC rookie of the week as a result of his impressive performance. The win snapped a 14-game winless streak against UND in which the Tigers were 0-13-1.
Senior forward Luc Gerdes also was instrumental in the Tigers’ win, scoring a goal and tallying an assist.
Michaud said he feels that this year’s team has shown steady improvement. “This year’s team has a lot of pride. Our team knows what we are representing when we are putting on the CC jersey every day. We have taken great leaps in practices and workouts to be the team we have been this year and look forward to showing the fans, students and alumni that CC hockey is back to the program it once was,” said Michaud.
With the win, the Tigers snapped a 10-game home losing streak at the Broadmoor World Arena. Though the Tigers were outshot 45-20, they managed to keep the puck out of the net all night long thanks not only to Lerlerc, but also to a terrific penalty kill. The Tigers finished the weekend series 9-9 on their penalty kill, a feat especially impressive against UND, a team who has been potent on the power play throughout the year.
One impressive stat that has developed over this year is that Colorado College ranks fourth nationally in average total attendance at 6,363 per game. Ironically, the University of North Dakota ranks first in the category with an average attendance of 11,576, which is 2,000 over the second most attended team, Wisconsin. And you really can’t blame them, I mean what else is there to do in North Dakota.
The Tigers are off this week, gearing up for their matchups next weekend against their historical rival and #2-ranked University of Denver on Friday and Saturday.