Friday, January 30, 2009

Tigers Look to Solve Struggles

It's rough watching our Tigers plod through this season after one of the best year's in school history last season. The Tigers have seemed out-of-sync all season which was all to obvious in the first week against Alabama-Huntsville. There was a good article Wednesday about the Tigers' struggles and how losing Jack Hillen has really hurt the team. He had 31 assists and created countless scoring chances with his blue-line blasts. I think we are seeing now just how big a presence he had in setting up offensive chances, regardless of stats. Let's hope Owens can get the team back in a groove this weekend as the Tigers get some rest and regroup for the final months of the season.

Why is the magic gone?

This season was supposed to be a continuation for Colorado College.

The Tigers returned 76 percent of its goal scoring and goaltender Richard Bachman, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Player of the Year, from a team that won the regular-season title. They were picked to repeat in the WCHA.

CC is unranked and barely above .500 in the WCHA at 9-8-3, 13-9-6 overall. Nobody saw this drop coming.

"I think that's been the most frustrating is it's not that much different from last year's team," CC coach Scott Owens said.

So what has happened? Most answers are vague, referring to intangibles like chemistry and consistency.

"It's just we're not all on the same page, we're not clicking," senior defenseman and captain Jake Gannon said. "We've got to start working together better."

There are some tangible reasons CC has had a disappointing season.

Defenseman Jack Hillen's graduation was probably underestimated. He had a heavy slap shot from the blue line, which helped on the power play and to generate offensive chances. He had six goals and 31 assists last year. His production hasn't been replaced.

"He could log a lot of minutes and gave us a strong presence on the blue line," Owens said.

Also, Bachman hasn't had an All-American season. He can't be blamed for everything - he gave up four first-period goals in Saturday's embarrassing 6-1 loss to St. Cloud State, but two were deflected off CC players. However, he isn't dominating like last year.

Last year he saved 93.1 percent of shots he saw and had a 1.85 goals-against average.

This year he has a 91.4 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average.

"I feel healthy, I've just got to work on a few things," Bachman said. "I definitely feel confident and that I can get on a run here."

Injuries have hurt the Tigers. Defensemen Jake Gannon and Kris Fredheim and forwards Matt Overman, Nick Dineen, Scott McCulloch, Andreas Vlassopoulos and Tim Hall, and backup goaltender Drew O'Connell have missed time because of injuries.

CC had a strange schedule in which it played 22 games before its first weekend off, the most in college hockey. There's no way to tell if that contributed to the rash of injuries, but last year's balanced schedule was more beneficial.

"I think that helped us stay fresh," Owens said.

And chemistry issues have plagued CC. After CC's offense started slowly, players might have started pressing. Forwards Bill Sweatt and Eric Walsky appear to be trying to do too much at times. CC is scoring just 2.68 goals per game, which is ninth in the WCHA.

Whatever the Tigers' problems are, they don't have long to fix them with eight league games left after a weekend off.

"I think it's a matter of everybody getting on the same page and buying into what we're doing," Gannon said. "Once we do that, I think it's going to come along for us."

• • •

This season vs. last season

Last season (‘07-'08) is listed first in each category, then this season (‘08-'09)

Goals per game

Goals against per game

Assists per game

Power play percentage

Penalties per game

Record, winning percentage
28-12-1 .695
13-9-6 .571