For this installment of Ask an Expert, I sent some questions out to (Colorado Springs)Gazette hockey writer Kate Crandall about Colorado College's team this year. Crandall also has a blog for all the info that doesn't make it into the paper.
WCH: The big question everyone wants to know is who will replace Matt Zaba in goal. Do you think Colorado College will rotate goalies throughout the season, or do you see one of the goalies emerging as the go-to-guy?
KC:Ideally, I think Coach Owens would like to go with one goalie but realistically, I don't see it happening until late in the season when the Tigers will ride the hot hand. Even when Matt Zaba assumed starting duties as a junior, there were some questions about his ability to play night after night. Those were answered as a senior, but it took him his entire junior season to get there, with backups providing spot duty.
Owens readily admits that he would have liked to play Drew O'Connell more last season but CC ended up "overachieving" in the first half, he said. That prompted Owens to play Zaba more than he planned because he wanted to give the Tigers a chance at the post-season. I see O'Connell and freshman Richard Bachman splitting series until one of them emerges as the starter in February to give the team some stability in the playoffs. That could change if O'Connell's confidence improves or if Bachman matures quickly. In turn, the Tigers will need consistent goal-scoring and some quick maturation in their defensive corps to offset what is almost sure to be inconsistency in net.
WCH: Colorado College really struggled at the end of last season, after getting off to a great start. Have you noticed any changes to try and keep that from happening again this year?
KC:Great question and one that has really been a question since the Tigers were ousted by Cornell in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament. In discussions with CC's strength and conditioning coordinator, Mark Stephenson, he really thinks the team has the fitness to keep that from happening again this season. Several players have admitted that it wasn't so much wear and tear that caused them to sputter at the end of the season, but a lack of focus on maintaing their general well-being, including adequate rest and diet. It's tough as a college athlete to know how much to eat to replenish the calories lost without overeating. The team has addressed nutrition for the first time this season and it's an issue I'll be watching closely.
WCH: Scott McCulloch scored 14 goals in the first half of last season, but only has 13 total goals in the other two and a half years of his career. Does he have the ability to consistently score goals for the Tigers this year?
KC: See above question.
Scott McCulloch is one of the players who has really tackled this second-half issue. McCulloch trained hard this summer and returned about 10 pounds lighter, which makes quite a difference on the ice. McCulloch, who admitted he gained weight while home at Christmas last season, said he's more aware of it this year.
"For me, I usually come in in pretty good shape and I need to stay in better shape throughout the season, especially when it comes to Christmastime, I kind of lagged behind there a little bit last year and hopefully, I can do a better job of that this season."
Both McCulloch and Owens believe his first-half performance last season wasn't a fluke but avoiding the second-half slide is definitely on McCulloch's mind now, even though it's October.
"It's all about the second half this year, especially hosting the Regionals and the Frozen Four in Denver," he said. "I want to have the same start and carry it into Christmas and into the playoffs. That's my main focus right now."
WCH: How much will the Tigers miss Jimmy Kilpatrick while he's out for the first month or two of the season recovering from a hip injury?
KC: In my opinion, the Tigers will miss Jimmy Kilpatrick immensely, especially when playing their only regular-season series against Minnesota and North Dakota in the first three weeks of the season. Kilpatrick (7 g, 25 a) was a huge playmaker in key situations last season, especially on power plays and three of his seven goals were game-winners. Even though CC has depth at the forward position, it's hard to get a freshman or sophomore to learn that type of vision and gamesmanship without experience. Kilpatrick has been watching film with freshman center Tyler Johnson to try and speed up this development but simply put, it takes time. But whenever Kilpatrick does get back on the ice, it will be interesting to see how long it will take him to regain his game sense. He is the most competitive guy on the Tigers' roster, so I have to believe it won't take long.
WCH: Addison DeBoer and Brian McMillin made the jump straight from Minnesota HS hockey to playing for CC last year. How much of an improvement do you think they will make in their second year?
KC: I think Addison DeBoer and Brian McMillin are two of the most improved players on the roster. In the Calgary exhibition, McMillin received pointed praise from Owens for his confidence and playmaking on the ice. DeBoer has gained about 10 pounds of muscle and the difference is obvious in the way he finishes his checks and can really hold his own in front of the net. Unfortunately for both of them, the competition is steep with 15 healthy forwards (Kilpatrick makes 16), so DeBoer will probably be a third-line winger. McMillin, who appeared in 22 games last season, will likely occupy the fourth-line center spot.