Scott Owens rediscovered the power of television last Friday night.
Even as his Colorado College Tigers were still celebrating their biggest victory of the young hockey season, a 3-2 stunner at Wisconsin — after they trailed 2-0 in the second period — the CC head coach's cell phone began filling up with congratulatory text messages from around the country.
Because the game was picked up by FOX Sports Net's North subsidiary, it appeared on cable and satellite across much of America, including Colorado Springs. For hungry fans of college hockey, there wasn't a lot of TV competition that night.
"I was getting texts from a lot of places," Owens said this week. "It was nice to know that a lot of people were watching that one."
Too bad the series finale Saturday night didn't enjoy the same exposure, with college football flooding the airwaves. Because the Tigers came back with another sterling effort, resulting in a 1-1 tie that might begin changing a few early outlooks on the Western Collegiate Hockey Association race. Wisconsin, with plenty of returning experience and talent, had been picked third in the 10-team league, while CC — with seven freshmen in uniform for the trip to Madison — was projected eighth, as far down as the Tigers have been rated entering a season in recent memory.
"I guess we kind of rocked their world a little bit," says Owens, who certainly would know, being a Madison native himself. "The nice part was that we kept our composure for six periods [and an overtime] with a much younger team against a bunch of juniors and seniors. Plus, they were bigger."
So today the Tigers are 1-0-1 and tied for second in the league (2-1-1 overall), with nine of their next 11 games here on the World Arena ice, starting Friday and Saturday against Michigan Tech.
Owens knows better than to expect that the Tigers suddenly will become world-beaters now. But he's not thinking that series at Wisconsin was a mirage, either.
"It's encouraging," he says, "because we're working a little harder, playing more as a team, and intangibles are coming into play. That's [as] exciting as the results, to be honest. Different people are contributing, too, and that's one thing we really needed."
Indeed, eight of the Tigers have scored at least one goal over their first four games, and nine other players have at least one assist. CC also made that trip to Madison without injured senior center Andreas Vlassopoulos (he should return soon). Plus, senior captain Mike Testwuide played only one minute Friday against the Badgers before he was lost for the weekend to a mild concussion.
So the rest of the veteran Tigers like Tyler Johnson, Nate Prosser and Brian McMillin cranked it up while the newcomers showed their own spark, led by freshman goaltender Joe Howe. Filling the large vacancy remaining when All-American Richard Bachman left two years early for the pros, Howe stood up to the Badgers' onslaught the first night with 39 saves, and then got more help in the finale. The 19-year-old from Plymouth, Minn., came away with a .949 save percentage and a 1.62 goals allowed average, both among the national leaders.
"Howe was really, really good," Owens says, admitting he entered the series not knowing which of his goalies might play Saturday. CC's coaches stayed with Howe, "and now we know that he can handle playing both nights in a place like that. Obviously, goalie was our big question mark early, and we'll still play our other guys as we go along. But Joe stepped in well. Not only was he stopping pucks, but he was poised doing it."
At the same time, it wasn't like Howe had to be Superman. That's because the team as a whole was noticeably quicker than Wisconsin, and that frustrated the Badgers.
What does it mean for the Tigers in weeks and months to come?
"We're still feeling our way along," Owens says. "We'll have some games, even some periods, as a young team that won't work out the way we think they will — good or bad. Some nights we're just going to look young, but when you play well in adversity, you learn much more about a team. And we do like what we have."
That doesn't sound like a coach expecting to finish eighth.