If you follow the Colorado Buffaloes men’s Division I club hockey team, you’ll know that this season has been a bit of a disappointment.
Last season, the Buffs hockey team finished the season with a 24-9-1 record, ending the year as the No. 9 ranked team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The team reached the national quarterfinal, as one of the final eight teams left standing, before falling to Minot State in a 2-1 nail-biter.
After the solid season the men’s team had last year, the club appeared poised — and expected — to make another deep run in the national tournament this season. Before the year officially began, the team was ranked No. 8 in the nation for the ACHA’s Division I.
Now a little over two-thirds of the way through the season, it appears the team’s hope of winning a national championship this season has been put on ice.
After stumbling out of the gate with a 3-7-2 record in the first dozen games of the season, it was clear that this year’s Buffs team wasn’t going to be quite the same as last year’s. By mid-November, the team had already matched their number of losses from last season. Part of the struggle for this year’s team is the amount of turnover the team had from last season to this one.
“We graduated or lost 15 guys last year (to this year), between seniors and then guys that had just decided not to play anymore,” senior defenseman Matt Adams said. “It was a lot of new faces and we went through a bit of a rough patch the first stretch of the season; we played a lot of good competition.”
With a team that consists of a little over 30 players, losing 15 guys — almost half the team over the course of a season makes for a difficult transition, one that has required lots of adjustment for the club.
“I think the beginning was kind of a shock to a lot of us returners after the season we had last year,” senior forward Chris Doyle said. “With a bunch of new guys, we knew it wasn’t going to be the same team and the same start (we had) last year, so I think we were kind of just focused on trying to get our right mindset and start cleaning up the little things and then start focusing on the bigger picture.”
After that 3-7-2 start, it appears the Buffs have gotten into that right mindset that Doyle was referring to. In their last 10 games, Colorado has gone 7-3 and are currently riding a five-game winning streak, which includes a pair of wins against Rocky-Mountain rival Colorado State University.
“By the end of the semester we kind of hit our stride,” Adams said. “[We] left for winter break with two wins against CSU, which obviously is a big weekend … Coming off (winter) break, we had that kind of behind our backs, we had a little confidence … We look like a different team this semester. I’m excited.”
Adams’ fellow senior teammate shared the same sentiment.
“The start of this semester and the end of last semester kind of shows us turning a corner,” Doyle said. “And if we can keep doing that I think it’ll be just fine; everything will work out.”
For everything to work out the way the team hopes it will, there’s one glaring issue the team must resolve to end the season successfully. The Buffs’ biggest problem so far this season has been the road. Colorado holds a 1-7 record away from Boulder this season.
“They’re tough and I think our record shows it,” Adams said. “We have a lot of guys that have come from high school and probably haven’t ever (traveled), or come from junior programs that probably haven’t traveled those long weekends that are just non-stop, staying at hotels, busing from town to town.”
With seven of the team’s final 10 games being played away, Adams, Doyle and the rest of the hockey team will need to solve the road riddle.
“I think the travel part is hard,” Doyle said. “But also a lot of the teams we’ve played have a lot of really good fans and I think they feed really well off their fans. With our young guys, if they get a little intimidated at first, the (opposing) fans jump all over them and the team feeds off of it … That’s something we want to try to silence these next seven games or so on the road.”
Silencing the crowd — and the doubters — is what the hockey team looks to do as it enters the final stretch of the season. While the hope of reaching the national tournament in Frisco, Texas, hasn’t completely faded away, the team still has plenty to play for. Most notably, its five seniors.
“As of now, we have five seniors, so a big thing is playing for Frisco,” Adams, one of the team’s five seniors, said. “(Our) coach, since coming back from break, has been all over us, ‘play for Frisco, play for Frisco.’ We kind of control our own destiny. Right now, we’re not in the position we want to be going. Currently, we won’t make the national tournament and that’s kind of a big goal for us is to always make nationals. So we just want to show up to the rink and control if we go to Frisco in March or not. We’re just making sure everybody shows up everyday and does their job.”
If the last handful of games is any indication, this team appears to be hitting its stride, and not a moment too soon. They’ll look to finish the campaign strong for the chance to compete for national glory in Frisco, Texas, as coach Eric Ballard hopes to see.
“If we play (how we’ve been playing), I think every team in the country will be put on alert and have a hard time beating us,” Doyle said. “If we just play the way we know how to play — and we did play — I think everything will just sort itself out and we’ll just build off that and get better and better, here or on the road, it won’t matter.”
The Buffs will return home on Feb. 15 to take on Colorado State in what will be the team’s “senior night” game.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Scott MacDonald at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.