BOULDER, Colo. –
What seemed impossible at one point in the season is now oh-so-possible for the University of Colorado men’s club hockey team.
After a second semester turnaround both on and off the ice, the Buffs — who finished third in the West region of the American Collegiate Hockey Association — now have the chance to fight for a national title.
“It’s going to be a struggle,” CU head coach Ken Fikis said.
Colorado begins its adventure at nationals in Grand Rapids, Mich., Tuesday against William Paterson; games against defending national champion Davenport and Miami of Ohio follow Wednesday and Thursday.
Fikis sees parallels between this year’s team and the Colorado team of 2002-03, the only time CU has won the ACHA Division II championship.
“The kids didn’t realize what was happening,” Fikis said of the 2003 championships. “They didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to win, they didn’t realize that everybody had counted them out.”
While the Buffaloes don’t go into the tournament horribly overmatched, they are in what could be considered the “group of death.” Miami of Ohio, like CU, finished the regular season ranked third in its region; William Paterson was second in the northeast, and Davenport was first in the central — with just four losses all season long.
“It’s always fun getting Davenport in your group,” senior defenseman and team captain Daniel Coloccia said. “Hopefully, to make one last run it’d be sweet to beat those guys out.”
Junior forward Max Myers agreed.
“Everybody’s counting us out of it because Davenport’s No. 1, but I’d rather play them early on,” Myers said.
CU has played the defending champion Panthers earlier in the season, losing 4-2 in a close game. Fikis thinks there may be a chance for an upset.
“They’re going to be way overconfident, and that might work out to our advantage,” Fikis said. “I really think we have a chance. It’s going to be a battle, but it can happen.”
For it to happen, though, CU’s hot second-semester play is going to have to continue — and the key to that is the play of the Buffs’ defensemen.
“We picked up another defenseman second semester, and we moved a forward back to defense, which was also a huge help,” Coloccia said. “With those two moves and getting set lines on the back end, it really helped us jell as a unit.”
Fikis has been incredibly happy with the work his defense has put in.
“Our defensemen have really, really stepped it up,” Fikis said. “At regionals, we had three goals scored on us. Our starting goalie gave up one goal (from open play) in five periods.”
The regionals performance for CU included a 3-0 shutout win over Denver, which was sophomore goalie Kevin Litinsky’s third shutout of the season.
The strong play in the second semester is also indicative of the team’s coming together on and off the ice. A group that Fikis said would need to change its attitude after a rough fall term has done so, and is now reaping the rewards. The team’s captains even got the entire team to attend an optional practice last Friday — save for one person, who had work commitments.
“We realized that we can’t be messing around, we’re not going to achieve our goal of winning a championship if we didn’t get it going,” Myers said.
Fikis thinks that if the team can stay energetic and enthusiastic for the games in Michigan, they might be able to surprise people.
“Sometimes character and hard work will beat talent,” Fikis said. “1980, the ‘Miracle on Ice,’ proved you don’t have to be the best sometimes.”