Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Colorado College

Today, we kick off a 20-part Summer Cooler series we like to call "Know Your Enemy," a semi-detailed look at the 19 teams (and one potential matchup with Bowling Green) that the Engineers will be grappling with in the upcoming season. With a little over 17 weeks left until the puck drops in October, that means we'll have about one of these every week, with a couple of weeks where we'll have two, right before the season starts.

We'll start with the non-conference games - the teams that RPI fans will probably be less familiar with - and then get to the 11 ECAC foes. We start this week with the first opponent of the season.

Colorado College
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Founded: 1874
Conference: WCHA
National Championships: 2 (1950, 1957)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 2005
Coach: Scott Owens (12th season)
2009-10 Record: 19-17-3 (12-13-3 WCHA, 6th place)
Series: Colorado College leads, 2-0-1
First Game: January 30, 1954 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: Never
Last CC win: December 29, 2007 (Tampa, FL)
2010-11 games: October 8-9, 2010 (Colorado Springs, CO)

Top players: F Tyler Johnson, sr.; F Nick Dineen, jr.; F Rylan Schwartz, so.; F William Rapuzzi, so.; F Andrew Hamburg, so.; F Jaden Schwartz, fr.; D Ryan Lowery, sr.; D Gabe Guentzel, jr.; D Eamonn McDermott, fr.; G Joe Howe, so.

This trip will mark only the fifth time in school history that the Engineers have made the journey to Colorado Springs - they did so in 1953 (where they took third place in the Frozen Four), twice in 1954 (once to play the Tigers and once to compete in - and win - the Frozen Four), and once in January 1995 when they swept a weekend series at Air Force. So if you like omens, that's a good one - the Engineers played in the NCAA Tournament every season in which they went to the Springs.

A full weekend matchup with the Tigers has long been expected ever since Athletic Director Ken Ralph left the Institute in 2007 to take the same job at CC. The teams met in the Lightning College Classic in Florida during Ralph's first year at the helm in Colorado Springs, but the matchup had been determined well prior to his departure.

CC is home to some of the longest suffering fans in college hockey. For the last 9 years, ever since Boston College broke their 52-year streak without a national championship, the Tigers have had the mantle of "longest championship drought," a dry spell that has now overtaken BC at 53 years. After their last title in 1957, CC became something of a perennial afterthought in the nascent WCHA. Just five years after winning the national championship, the team went 0-23-0, and between 1958 and 1993, the team had no less than 30 losing seasons against only 5 where they went .500 or better. Their best season during that stretch was 1974-75, when they went 23-16-0.

The renaissance began as soon as Don Lucia, then head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks, came to Colorado Springs in 1993. That season, Lucia turned the program around from an 8-28-0 record just a year prior to a 23-11-5 record in 1993-94 and the program's first MacNaughton Cup, the trophy awarded to the WCHA regular season champions. They would suffer a humiliating defeat to Michigan Tech in the first round of the playoffs that year, but the die was cast. The Tigers would follow up with back-to-back 30-win campaigns, a three-peat as MacNaughton champions, and two trips to the NCAA tournament, the latter of which ended with an overtime loss to Michigan in the national championship game.

Lucia left in 1999 to take the helm at Minnesota, but the Tigers were an afterthought no more. Since Lucia's arrival, the Tigers have gone 17 consecutive seasons with a .500 record or better and have been a staple in the NCAA Tournament. Lucia took the team there in the last five of his six years in the Springs, and Scott Owens has been there six times in 11 seasons - in fact, last season was the first time since 1994 in which the Tigers have failed to make the NCAAs in back-to-back seasons.

Within the WCHA, the Tigers are generally being predicted to fall somewhere in the middle quartiles of the now 12-team league, roughly between 4th and 9th. They're coming off a season in which they got out of the gate much stronger than most observers expected them to, going 12-5-3 in the first three months of the season, but faltered in the 2010 segment of the schedule, 6-10-0 finish, with two of the wins coming in a home weekend against Atlantic Hockey teams. That doomed them to a road playoff series against Minnesota-Duluth, which they lost in 3 games, ending hopes for an NCAA berth.

Most pressing right now for CC is replacing the 36 goals scored by Bill Sweatt and Mike Testuwide last season. Johnson had 14 goals, while Rylan Schwartz had 6 with 22 assists on the year as the highest returning scorer for the Tigers. His highly touted brother Jaden, who should be a fairly high pick in the NHL Draft this month, should make his college debut against the Engineers.

In net, the Tigers boast one of the best young goaltenders in the nation in Joe Howe. Howe had some mighty large skates to fill after Richard Bachman left after his sophomore season, and he performed admirably, being named the top freshman goaltender in the nation by both CHN and INCH.

There will be a number of factors working against the Engineers. First, it's Colorado, and with that comes the altitude. Second, the Tigers' home arena, Colorado Springs World Arena, is an Olympic-sized ice surface, which the Engineers have struggled with historically. They had an 0-1-2 record last season on the larger ice, and RPI is winless on Olympic ice since beating Michigan Tech 4-3 in Anchorage, AK on October 15, 2005 - but since MTU plays on an NHL sized rink themselves, you have to go back to November 2, 2002 to find the last time RPI beat an team with Olympic ice on the larger sheet, when they knocked off St. Cloud State at the National Hockey Center. Third, our understanding is that the opening weekend of the season is also homecoming at CC, so expect the building to be filled with some 5,000 CC partisans. Finally, the Engineers are 1-4 against the WCHA in the Seth Appert era - with the one coming in his second game behind the bench, at Denver. It's a tough league - a mid-table team in the WCHA will usually be a tough opponent for even the very best of the ECAC.

So no matter how you slice it, the first two games that count in the upcoming season will be tough. The Tigers represent an excellent opportunity in the first weekend of the season for a physical and mental challenge that will serve RPI well as the season develops. If nothing else, the season will certainly be starting off with a bang.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, that altitude thing is overrated. The best way to prepare for a game at 1.2-milehigh is to get the team together for a kegger the night before.

    Seriously...great work on this. I'll be watching for future editions, just out of appreciation for the effort you obviously put into it. Well done!

    ReplyDelete