Coming into this season, the CSU hockey team had high expectations after finishing tenth in the nation last year.
However, their start was less than ideal.
After digging themselves into a 1-2 hole, the Rams have bounced back to win two of their last three games after returning home, including Friday night’s victory over Northern Arizona University, 4-3.
The Rams drew blood first with an unassisted goal from Todd Sowell just 6:01 into the game. It seemed as though they would run away with it just a couple minutes later when CSU captain Paul Jenkins was also able to put the puck in the back of the net.
“If we would have buried all of our chances we would have pretty much blown these guys out, but we’re having a tough time finishing our opportunities and putting the puck in the back of the net. Instead of putting teams away early we give them that extra life, only making things tougher for ourselves,” CSU coach Kelly Newton said.
Unfortunately for Newton and the Rams, they did not run away with it. Instead, they let the Ice Jacks find their way back into contention—keeping everybody in NoCo biting their nails all the way until the finish.
NAU was able to answer rather quickly nearly every time CSU thought it would pull away. The Ice Jacks trailed only one goal after the first period, 2-1, then matched every goal the Rams scored after that.
“In the back of your mind you know you have the talent to win the game, but sometimes that works the opposite when you think you don’t have to put in that extra effort. We just need to bear down and play better systems and tighter games when we have a lead and not give up opportunities for other teams to get back into it,” Newton said.
Although CSU allowed NAU to remain close, it was ultimately being short-handed that killed any hope for the Ice Jacks pull ahead.
“We took a few bad penalties and the refs missed a few bad ones as well, what can you do,” NAU coach Travis Johanson said. “We were flat footed in the first period, the second and third efforts weren’t there. Our power play wasn’t doing too good tonight, we were rushing the puck and a few bounces didn’t go our way.”
The Ice Jacks entered the NoCo Ice Center Friday wearing a better record than CSU, sitting 3-2.
After walking away from the game Friday, both teams are now .500, each with a 3-3 record; not what NAU had been hoping for, but an improvement for CSU.
“It’s a rough thing we don’t see these guys more than one game this year. It’s a good team to play against, they have a solid team and we always like playing them—it’s a good battle for us every time we play. Wish we could play them more,” Johanson said.
The Rams plan to keep the motivation acquired from their recent success rolling as the season continues into more difficult games.
“We still got the ‘W’ but there’s a lot of things we need to tighten up coming into the bigger games here,” Newton said.
CSU’s next game will be next Friday night against in-state rival, CU-Boulder, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“You keep building on the motivation. We’ve stepped it up a lot since California and are getting the wins now. Sometimes it’s that big piece of humble pie you have to eat early in the season that doesn’t go down easy but it helps you bounce back later down the road. You learn from mistakes and now we have to look forward to next Friday and hope for a great crowd to take down CU.”
Club Sports Beat Reporter Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at email@example.com.