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Bulldogs welcome rising Colorado College program to Duluth to open NCHC play

Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland talks to reporters during NCHC Media Day at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

DULUTH  — Colorado College coach Mike Haviland has mixed feelings about getting swept at home last week by second-ranked St. Cloud State.

A year ago, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference champion Huskies pounded the Tigers 6-1 and 5-1 in St. Cloud in their lone series. This year, the Tigers led the Huskies both nights early in the third period. Yet, Haviland’s team lost both nights getting outscored by a combined 6-1 in the third to lose 5-3 and 2-1.

“You’re encouraged that you know what we can do,” Haviland said. “But really disappointed we let it slip away.”

The Tigers will get another crack at the Huskies in mid-February, but before then, they’ll measure themselves against another top opponent in No.1 ranked University of Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs, picked in the preseason to win the NCHC, host the Tigers at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena.

UMD (6-1-1 overall, 0-0 NCHC) will also visit Colorado Springs Feb. 1-2, which is the weekend before CC (4-3-1, 0-2) travels to St. Cloud State. While this week and last are good barometers of where the Tigers stand compared to the NCHC’s elite, Haviland said he’ll learn the most about where his program is at after facing the Bulldogs and Huskies during the first two weeks of February.

“Right now you’re looking to see where are you at playing the teams that are picked to finish one and two in my mind. Where are you at?” Haviland said. “It’s a measuring stick this early on, but I think February when you are fighting for playoff positions and you’re trying to gear up for playoffs is when you want your team playing the best.

“I look at UMD last year. They were up and down in the first half and in the second half unbeatable.”

The Tigers are now in their fifth season under Haviland, who took over the program in 2014-15 after Scott Owens led the Tigers to just seven wins in his final season of ‘13-14, including six in the first season of NCHC play. It took Haviland until his third season in Springs to get over seven wins — he had eight in ‘16-17 — and last year he finally got the program its most wins ever in NCHC play — eight.

The ’17-18 season was the Tiger’s best season in the Haviland and NCHC era, going 15-17-5 overall and 8-12-4 in conference play. The program also posted its best nonconference record in the Haviland/NCHC era, going 7-5-1.

Despite the third period setbacks a week ago to start conference play, the momentum from ‘17-18 has carried over into ‘18-19 for the Tigers, who went 4-1-1 in nonconference play in October.

The key to Colorado College’s positive start this year is an expansion of its depth, specifically at forward. No longer are the Tigers just a one-line team that relies on senior forwards Trey Bradley and Mason Bergh and junior forward Nick Halloran to score. Those three are still putting up points, but they only have six of the team’s 31 goals thus far after eight games.

“Their line is one of the best in the country, but they’ve got more than that,” said Scott Sandelin, whose Bulldogs swept the lone series against the Tigers last year, winning a wild 6-5 game on Friday, followed by a 5-1 thumping on Saturday in Colorado Springs. “They are getting a lot of secondary scoring away from that line that’s giving them a lot of balance. Those guys are starting to heat up.

“They’ve got other weapons, so defensively it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Halloran, a first-team All-NCHC and second-team All-American last year, and Bradley each have three goals this year, but so does junior forward Chris Wilkie, despite missing last week’s series with SCSU. Westin Michaud, a senior forward out of Cloquet, is second on the team in scoring with four goals while junior forward Alex Berardinelli leads the team with five.

Wilkie, Michaud and Berardinelli all play on separate lines, meaning a strong defensive team like the Bulldogs can’t just focus on shutting down the Tigers top line. They have four lines to contend with this season.

“We have more pace in our game, we got more skill, we’re scoring more goals and I think we’re deeper,” Haviland said. “It takes awhile to build that and get that. That’s what gives us the belief that you can win games instead of going in and saying we have to play a perfect game against a team. I don’t think we’re in that stage anymore.”

COLORADO COLLEGE (4-3-1) AT NO. 1 UMD (6-1-1)

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday/Saturday

Where: Amsoil Arena

TV: My9

Internet: nchc.tv (video)

Fast facts: The Bulldogs are 11-1-3 in their last 15 games against the Tigers and have more wins (99) over CC than any other opponent in the program’s 75-year history. That lone loss was 2-1 on Jan. 7, 2017.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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