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Cougars stay hot on the ice

The College of the Canyons hockey team has remained undefeated

Posted: December 18, 2009 10:41 p.m.
Updated: December 18, 2009 10:40 p.m.

Of all the teams at College of the Canyons, none are hotter right now than the men’s ice hockey squad.

The Cougars are 14-3 and have outscored the competition 46-7 in their last four games, all wins.

They’re currently ranked No. 1 in the latest American Collegiate Hockey Association Pacific Region rankings.

“We’re on a bit of a tear,” said COC head coach John Taferner. “We have a lot of guys who are very committed.”

College of the Canyons competes in Division III of the ACHA, which is comprised of nine conferences and more than 100 teams.

The school is a member of the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association, along with Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Davis, Santa Clara, Sacramento State and Fresno State.

The Cougars have gone 11-0 in the conference so far, and they stepped out of conference in mid-November to take a three-game trip to Colorado and Wyoming.

They went just 1-2 on that trip, including a big loss to the University of Wyoming. But the Cougars rebounded to beat Wyoming 7-3 on Dec. 13, and captain Trent Miller said it was a big step for the team.

“This past week, we totally outplayed them,” he said. “It was a defining moment for the team. We have a lot of skilled players, but it takes a lot for that to really come together.”

Miller is one of the returning players who helped the team reach the ACHA Division III National Tournament in Rochester, N.Y. last season, where it won its first game but fell flat and lost the next three.

Another returner is forward P.J. Gilmore, who leads the team with 18 goals, 25 assists and 43 total points.

Forward Alex Brodetsky is right behind Gilmore with 17 goals and 25 assists for a total of 42 points, and forward Andy Jakiel, whom Taferner said was a key newcomer, has 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points.

Miller has four goals and six assists after recently moving to offense from defense, where the Cougars have an abundance of talent.

Taferner said that Michael Crow, Justin Blaszak, Corey Dinwiddie, Cody Nieuwenhuis, Shane Moore and Kyle Hall give COC a big advantage defensively.

“The key this year more than anything is we have eight of the best defensemen playing in the league,” Taferner said. “I think we’ve got a combination of size and smarts.”

The Cougars have used three different goaltenders this season.

Michael McGrath has played in 11 games and has a 3.68 goals-against average with an 84-percent save percentage.

Mike Phillips has played eight games and allowed just 2.88 goals per game, and Kasey Morris has played in five games and allowed 2.93 goals per game.

Strength in the back is a big part of Taferner’s strategy.

“My philosophy has always been that the game is won from the net out,” he said. “We start with the goalies and defense, then it transfers over to the forwards.”

Miller said his move to forward has given him good perspective on the defense-first mentality at every level of the ice.

“You really get a feeling of protection of the net,” he said. “One thing we have to work on is having our offense back check. That’s one of the biggest beliefs (Taferner) tries to stress to us.”

Taferner also stresses speed to his team.

“If you rev early and use a sense of urgency, you maintain that level,” he said. “You think more and you react more and you read the play a little more. You’re doing it with a purpose. Every time the guys go out there, they do things with high speed but with  composure.”

College of the Canyons’ next game isn’t until Jan. 8, and the team has six games left before the PCHA playoffs, which begin on Feb. 5.

Last year, the team won the PCHA championship en route to the national tournament, and Miller said it’s up to him and the other returners to keep the newcomers focused.

“You’ve just got to talk to players and let them know that even though you move on to another college, it’s still all about the team effort,” Miller said.


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