Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Season Preview '06

With just hours until Colorado College faces off against Air Force in their season opener, I thought we should take a look at what to expect this season. The loss of a stellar senior class has generally left CC fans with lower expectations than in the past few years, but the Tigers surely have the talent to surprise this year. For this post I thought I'd take a look at how each aspect of the team might shape up. I'll try to provide some more analysis after the games this weekend.


The Tigers lost a majority of last season's top notch offensive corps, leaving many questions about how CC will go about replacing the scoring. Three things are obvious to me - if CC is to be strong offensively this year...

1. Chad Rau has to continue getting better and develop into an elite player.

2. Billy Sweatt must make a smooth transition to the college game.

3. The supporting cast, particularly this year's juniors, must step up and get more involved in the scoring.

I'm not particularly worried about #1. Chad Rau is a potential All-WCHA player who I think could score 50+ points this year. Things get murky as we delve deeper though. Billy Sweatt, one of the most highly touted freshmen in the country, will almost certainly become an elite college hockey player - but can he make an impact this season? I'd be satisfied if Sweatt could imitate Rau's freshman year and put up around 30 points. Anything beyond that is gravy, but don't be surprised if you see Billy Sweatt among the top point scorers in the WCHA this season. As for #3... for the past two years CC has had a number of capable offensive players who have been overshadowed by the Sertich and Sterling show. Look in particular at this year's junior class, with Derek Patrosso, Jimmy Kilpatrick, James Brannigan, and Scott McCulloch. Any one of these players has the potential to score 25+ points in a season. Look for Kilpatrick and McCulloch to have an increased role in the offense. Both of these guys should see significant time on the power play.

In addition to these veterans, the Tigers have an extremely talented freshman class that has the potential to put up solid numbers. Billy Sweatt is a given, having been ranked as the #4 incoming forward by Inside College Hockey, and #2 incoming forward by Chris Heisenburg and the Western College Hockey Blog. But don't forget about some of the other new players we'll be seeing this weekend. Dan Quilico (5'9"/170) put up 46 points in 62 games last season for Trail of the BCHL. Matt Overman (5'10"/165) put up gaudy numbers in high school before spending a season on the injured reserve for Sioux Falls of the USHL. Mike Testwuide (6'3"/205), brother of Denver defenseman J.P. Testwuide, scored 31 points last year for Waterloo of the USHL. Also, Addison DeBoer and Brian McMillin, both coming straight from high school, have the potential to put up numbers if they can smoothly transition to the new challenges of the college game.

Also important to note is that the Tigers should get a nice boost from the return of Andreas Vlassopoulos and Scott Thauwald, both of whom spent nearly all of last season injured. If both are fully recovered, they could make a big difference on offense.

Scott Owens loves to tinker with the lines, so I don't want to try and guess what combinations he might use, although once the season gets going I could certainly see some possible line combos emerging. Chad Rau and Billy Sweatt could team up to put up fantastic numbers. Larger players like Mike Testwuide and Scott McCulloch could play together and bring a more physical presence to the offensive zone. Owens should have plenty of options, with enough forwards to roll five lines if desired. One of the more interesting things to watch for will be DeBoer's and McMillin's transition to the college game - if they can make the jump smoothly, CC will be very deep on offense.


CC's defense this year should be very, very strong. In addition to returning players Lee Sweatt, Jack Hillen, Brandon Straub, Jake Gannon, and Cody Lampl, the Tigers have picked up some top tier defenders in Kris Fredheim, Brian Connelly, and Nate Prosser. Fredheim (6'2"/183) was the most sought after of the bunch; a 2005 NHL draft pick (sixth round), he scored 46 points in 63 games last year for Notre Dame of the SJHL, and was named defenseman of the year. Brian Connelly (5'11"/175) spent last season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, scoring 28 points in 59 games. Nate Prosser (6'2"/203), another highly ranked recruit, had 35 points in 72 games last year for Sioux Falls, and was a second team all-star.

I would envision defensive pairings looking something like this:

Sweatt / Fredheim
Hillen / Connelly
Straub / Prosser
Gannon / Lampl

These combinations would at least initially give the new players a chance to play with a veteran blueliner.


Matt Zaba may be the player most important to CC's hopes this year. If he can reach his potential and become a gamechanging goalie, watch out. If he plays like he did last year - meh. If he goes downhill at all, it's time to give O'Connell some looks. In my opinion, Zaba has all the potential to be an All-WCHA goalie - he just needs to put it all together. You can pretty much count on him to make the saves that he should make, but unlike two years ago with Curtis McElhinney, don't expect Zaba to be stealing games for the Tigers. If CC starts out strong and keeps it going, I'd trust Zaba with the starting job. If the Tigers stumble early and post season aspirations are looking like a longshot, I think Scott Owens should give serious thought to giving Drew O'Connell some playing time. One good situation, if CC's season was looking lost, would be to go with a two man rotation of Zaba and O'Connell. Why, you ask? Because O'Connell is a sophomore this year and our two other goalies (Zaba and Kawano) are on the way out. If this season is a bust, at least get ready for next. In addition, I'd feel like O'Connell would be getting a bum deal if he had to compete for the starting job with top recruit Richard Bachman next year, having played in hardly any games over the past two seasons. Give the kid a chance, I say. I don't want to leave Chris Kawano out of the discussion either. He played quite a bit at the end of last season and had some very impressive games. While I think Kawano would currently be considered #2 in the pecking order after Zaba, since he graduates at the end of the year, I'd rather see O'Connell get the playing time. Nevertheless I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him start a game or two here and there.


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