Tigers show some bite, but lose late lead in tie, shootout loss vs. WMU

CruickshankCCH_Miami111618_030_webThe Colorado College team fans and coach Mike Haviland wanted eventually showed up on Saturday.

But the margin between victory and defeat in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference remains thin for the Tigers, who lost their first and only lead of the game in the closing seconds of regulation to fall into a 4-4 tie to visiting Western Michigan.

“This is what you get in this conference,” Haviland said. “You have to understand you have to play right to the very end. You’re (23.9) seconds away from going 1-1 and getting your three points. It’s a learning curve.”

Shootout scores by Ethen Frank and Josh Passolt to one by Grant Cruikshank gave WMU the extra NCHC standings point and five out of a possible six road points.

It was a good weekend for the Broncos, but it was a much harder-earned two points on Saturday. CC battled back from down 2-0 and 3-1 to pull ahead on Bailey Conger’s second power-play goal of the night late in the second period.

It wasn’t quite enough against a solid WMU team. But that pushback by CC gave Haviland reason to be both pleased and disappointed after garnering a single standings point.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We were down 2-0 and getting very badly outplayed early on but we found a way to battle back and go ahead there. It was a wild hockey game but I am happy with how we came back after (Friday) night, for sure.”

WMU routed CC with four goals in the third period Friday to pull away for a 6-3 win that didn’t seem that close late.

But Saturday was different. The Tigers battled back again and again only to see Western Michigan force OT with an extra-attacker goal with 23.9 seconds left in regulation.

Ronnie Attard’s blast from the left faceoff circle blew past CC freshman goalie Matt Vernon (1-1-1, 43 saves), who had stood up well for almost the entire third period.

The Tigers dumped and chased the puck to set up a forecheck that made the Broncos turn and then work the puck forward the full 200 feet. It almost worked, but an icing call off a missed empty-net attempt put the puck in the CC zone to set up Attard’s chance.

“I wish we could have put it in and gone up 5-3.” Haviland said. “I don’t know how it didn’t.”

“Nightmares for sure,” Bailey Conger said, referring to that miss and a couple earlier.

CC fell short of a series split and three standings points — a two-point swing that could prove telling by season’s end. But in November, Haviland was pleased to see the Tigers respond.

”It shows the fight is there,” Haviland said. “We had a long meeting Saturday morning and they had a chat amongst themselves too. We weathered the storm and kept at it.”

The hosts went ahead of Western Michigan when Conger one-timed a pass from Alex Berardinelli for his second power-play goal of the night to pull CC ahead 4-3, reversing deficits of 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 during the second. Conger’s goal, his fourth this season, put CC ahead with 54 seconds left in the middle period.

But the Tigers could not get any cushion against Brandon Bussi (30 saves), setting up Attard’s late heroics. It spoiled a strong performance by Vernon, who made a combined 21 saves in the third period and overtime.

“Unfortunate for sure,” Conger said. “We are proud of our guts in the first period there but we are not proud about blowing another lead. We need to tighten that up. It will be a focus this week.”

Vernon’s play helped CC bounce back from a miserable start to the first period that saw WMU go ahead 2-0. It was that response that Haviland hopes gives the Tigers (2-3-1, 0-1-1 NCHC) something to build on heading into a bye weekend.

“You move forward and take the positives from it,” Haviland said. “You get a weekend off and then it’s off to St. Cloud (State).”

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

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