Mindful of their legacy, CC seniors lead Tigers into program’s first NCHC semifinal

cc__m_bergh-1019Statistics can be a good measure of the affect a senior class has on a program.

And Colorado College’s seniors have made their mark on the stats sheet. They have recorded an impressive 131 of the team’s 307 points this season, which is tied for second-most in Division 1 with Friday league semifinal foe St. Cloud State.

But their imprint on the program goes much deeper, starting with their early trial by fire as freshmen called on to rebuild a program in arguably the toughest league in men’s college hockey.

Now, they reap the opportunity from four years of hard work when they take on the top-ranked Huskies in the opening semifinal (3:05 p.m. Mountain Friday) at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff in Saint Paul, Minn.

“We came in as freshmen kind of wide-eyed and were thrown into it,” senior co-captain Mason Bergh said during a media conference. “The legacy portion has been big for us. We want to leave this program better than we found it. That should be anyone’s goal in college hockey. We’ve had opportunities in the past, and we haven’t gotten it done. To win those trophies against Denver and Air Force was very big for the program and fun for our seniors. But this is one of our biggest goals, to get to the Frozen Faceoff in our time here. Now, with one game deciding your season, anything can happen.”

Much has been made of the Tigers’ 0-3-1 record against the Huskies (29-4-3), especially since CC led late in all four games only to see the lead slip away against the Huskies’ depth and offensive firepower, that includes Hobey Baker Top Ten finalists Patrick Newell (NCHC-best 43 points, 24 assists) and Jimmy Schuldt (33, 23 assists).

In addition, the loaded Huskies have Blake Lizotte has 37 points (14 goals) while goalie David Hrenak is 22-3-2 (2.20 goals against, .902 saves percentage).

But coming that close gives the 17-18-4 Tigers confidence that they can flip the script.

“You’re talking about the best team in the country and they have been most of the year,” Haviland said. “And they deserve it. We have played well against them. That is good for us and our confidence level. We have learned in the last month here with tough games against Denver and Western (Michigan) the details you have follow to close teams out. We are a different team from even a couple weeks ago.”

“We know we didn’t play the full 60 minutes in those losses so we have learned from that,” junior goalie Alex Leclerc said in a radio interview.

“It’s a big goal of ours to get here for the first time (since the NCHC formed), but nobody in that locker room thinks this is as far as we can go,” Bergh said. “There’s a belief in that locker room that there isn’t outside of it. We can play with anybody. We can play with (St. Cloud State).”

Losing two of their best players – forwards Nick Halloran and Chris Wilkie – to injury forced the Tigers to reaffirm their commitment to defense. It has been rewarded with this playoff run that has seen CC lock things down defensively behind the superior play of Leclerc (D1-best, 1095 saves), and pounce on their opportunities in transition.

“Clarky gives you a chance to win every night,” Haviland said. “When you get into win-or-go-home scenarios, a goaltender can win you games. We will make mistakes. Clarky is there to make those saves. He has been outstanding.”

That has shown with the best penalty kill in the nation (95.2 percent) since Feb. 8, a span of 12 games (6-5-1). All season, the Tigers have been very good when playing well defensively, allowing 24 goals in 17 wins and conversely, 79 in the other 22 contests.

Some of the Tigers have responded with career-high points production in their senior seasons — Trey Bradley (32 points, 14 goals) and Westin Michaud (28, 11 goals). Bergh has bounced back from a slow start to his senior season to record 26 points (19 assists).

“When you go through the week-to-week grind of the NCHC, you learn very quickly how hard it is to win,” Haviland said. “Then you have a large group of seniors, they can teach the younger players what it takes to be successful. Our seniors has done a great job of that.”

“These guys went through some lean years their first couple of seasons,” Haviland said. “They really stuck with it and set the standards for what we want to be as a program. I couldn’t be more proud of all of our seniors for what we have accomplished and what we have left to accomplish.”

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About paisleyhockey
I am a freelance writer specializing in sports with about 25 years of professional experience.

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