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Competing in a rival town always poses a challenge. Competing for a national championship in a rival town inevitably adds to the test.
The CU men’s varsity ice hockey team will pack its bags for a trip to Fort Collins to contend in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Championship Tournament on March 7-10.
Center Jimmy Knowlton said the team has found a way to use the location of the tournament to its benefit.
“They have a bigger ice surface and we are a fast team, so we should be able to use that to our advantage,” said Knowlton, a junior economics major. “We always seem to play well in Fort Collins, so hopefully that has a good impact.”
After a season that Head Coach Jeff Eaton described as “up and down” and “lacking consistency,” the Buffs’ overall record of 26-6-4 landed them a third place spot in the West going into Nationals.
“Struggling to mentally prepare was our biggest downfall throughout the season,” Eaton said. “We have the skill and we are a strong team, but guys decided not to show up mentally for some games, and it hurt us. It is real simple: we are one of the best teams in the nation when we come prepared to play.”
CU took some time off following the regional tournament in Logan, Utah, where the team defeated both Utah State University and Brigham Young University.
“The week off helped everyone heal up and regain their focus,” Captain Matt Ridens said. “I expect the rest of our practices to have a very high tempo and be very productive.”
In preparation for Nationals, the skaters will be on the ice every day until their departure.
“Having a good week of practice is the biggest thing before going into Nationals to make sure things are clicking, to get lines going and to shoot pucks at the goalies,” junior defenseman P.J. Bevan said.
The team will face both new and familiar competition throughout the tournament, including Central leader and tournament favorite Davenport University.
CU kicks off the national championship against Wagner College on March 7. The Buffs beat Wagner 4-2 in Boulder on Jan. 13.
“Wagner is a great team that is big and physical,” Bevan said. “They were one of the best teams we played all year, and if that was not the best game of the year for us, it was definitely one of the best.”
The Buffs conclude the preliminary portion of the tournament against New York University. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this season.
Eaton said the rest of the competition scheduled to contend does not get any easier.
“I wish we could play against that type of competition every weekend because it would make everyone on our team better,” Eaton said.
Each team is guaranteed to play three games. The results of those games will determine which team from each pool advances on to the semifinal round. The two winning teams from the semifinal round will then compete for the national championship title.
“We are going into the tournament with the mindset that we have to do whatever it takes to win all three games in order to advance,” Ridens said. “If you lose a game, so much is left to chance and the other team’s outcomes that there are no guarantees.”
The Buffs hope to rely on strong goal-tending and capitalizing on man-advantages.
“With so many talented teams coming into this tournament, the two most crucial parts of your game have to be goal-tending and special teams,” Ridens said. “If we have consistent goaltending and score on a high percentage of our power plays then we will be successful.”
Tickets for the tournament are available through the Northern Colorado Sports Commission.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Corey Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.