Controlling Michigan Tech’s unique power play, which resembles a diamond formation when it’s in place, may be the key to No. 19 Colorado College winning a weekend home series that it can’t afford to lose, considering its rapidly fading NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Huskies (14-16-4, 11-11-4 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) convert at 20.1 percent on the power play, with a first unit in Ryan Furne, David Johnstone, Brett Olson, Blake Pietila and Steven Seigo that has combined for 121 points, including 20 goals with the man advantage. Of the 100 goals Michigan Tech has tallied, 30 are on the power play, and CC (16-14-2, 13-12-1) ranks ninth-worst nationally in penalty killing at 77.1 percent.
Johnstone lines up on the half wall, with Seigo the lone man at the point, Pietila between the circles, Olson in front of the net and Furne in the right circle. Usually, Johnstone will tap the puck to Seigo, who rolls to the middle of the blue line to form the diamond, then Seigo will shoot through traffic, relying on Olson to clear out defenders for rebound tries. Sometimes, Johnstone will pass to Pietila as he moves into the slot. Or he’ll set up a one-timer for Furne, who owns probably the strongest shot among Huskies on the power play.
No doubt, CC’s objective is to mimic the success of No. 14 North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha, who held Michigan Tech scoreless on 14 power-play chances last month in back-to-back series. This week in practice, CC assistant Joe Bonnett stressed the importance of getting bodies in the way of Furne, as well as collapsing on Olson, and the Tigers haven’t dialed back their aggressiveness in fighting for loose pucks and claiming corner battles.
The distinct setup by Michigan Tech “causes a little bit of a different rotation,” CC coach Scott Owens said, adding the Huskies are “sneaky good defensively. They play a little bit better defensively than you think. They have been getting good goaltending. And they have spread out their scoring. … They kind of believe in themselves right now.”
Other points of emphasis for CC? Increase backside pressure to cut off Michigan Tech’s strong rushes, establish a presence on the blue line and revitalize its transition game. “We would like to win Friday night, then string together a couple wins, so we can get a little confidence,” said Owens, whose team stands 21st in the PairWise rankings used to decide the 16 NCAA Tournament qualifiers, requiring one victory in the season-ending series to clinch home ice for the March 9-11 best-of-three first round of the WCHA playoffs. He noted, “It’s late in the year. But we have a big opportunity in front of us this weekend.”
Contact Brian Gomez: 719-636-0256 or email@example.com. Facebook: Brian Gomez. Twitter: @gazettehockey. Google+: Brian Gomez. YouTube: Colorado College Hockey, Covered by The Gazette. For the CC homepage, visit www.gazette.com/sections/sports/cchockey. For the CC blog, visit http://cchockey.freedomblogging.com.