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COC hockey back for more

After a strong run in 2009, club team makes a run at nationals

Posted: February 16, 2010 10:27 p.m.
Updated: February 17, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

Last season, goaltending let down the College of the Canyons men’s ice hockey team after it advanced to nationals.

If the Cougars come up short this season, that probably won’t be the case.

College of the Canyons won its second straight Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association championship the weekend of Feb. 5-7 by defeating Santa Clara and Cal State Northridge.

That victory assured the Cougars of a return trip to the American College Hockey Association’s Division III national tournament, which will take place in Fort Myers, Fla., from March 10-13.

A big reason for that is goaltender Michael McGrath, who has really come on strong this season.

“We have the No. 1 goaltender in the PCHA,” said COC head coach John Taferner. “He’s resting up and he’s ready to go for the finals.”

The ACHA releases five sets of rankings for four different regions over the course of the season. The Cougars have been ranked No. 1 in the Pacific rankings all five times this season.

The top-two teams earn an automatic trip to nationals, which COC sealed with its PCHA championship.

McGrath was stellar in COC’s 13-4 victory over Santa Clara in the PCHA semifinals. He only allowed one goal while the team built a big lead and put in back-ups for a lot of the game.

“That’s what’s important,” McGrath said. “You can score as many goals as you want but the more important thing is making sure the other team doesn’t score.”

In the championship game, the Cougars (21-3) were able to hold off a motivated CSUN team 6-4. The Matadors needed to win that game to avoid dropping to third in the Pacific rankings and therefore having to take part in this weekend’s ACHA Regionals in Las Vegas.

With CSUN’s loss, Colorado moved up to No. 2 and earned the other automatic bid to nationals.

Taferner said that COC is the first community college to repeat as PCHA champions.

“It feels great,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure. Coming off a good year last year, there was a lot of pressure trying to maintain that success.”

The Cougars have maintained it – and then some.

They haven’t lost since Nov. 15, when the Cougars fell to Colorado 8-5 in the midst of a lengthy road trip.

COC has reeled off nine straight victories, including a 9-7 win over Colorado on Jan. 17. Along with the win over CSUN in the PCHA championship game, the two-goal margin represents the smallest margin of victory during the win streak.

The Cougars had a 26-day gap between games from early December to early January, but Taferner said the layoff didn’t hurt his team, which gets tested on a nightly basis.

“Most of the guys stayed on the ice,” he said. “From the get-go, we wanted a team that was committed to participating in nationals. It seemed every time we played a team, no matter how bad they were, they always played their ‘A’ game against us.”

The Cougars have been able to respond, and it’s not just because of their goaltending.

COC has outscored its opponents 220-82 this season, led by forward Alex Brodetsky’s 21 goals and 38 assists, good for 59 total points.

Forward PJ Gilmore is the team’s leading goal-scorer with 27 goals and 31 assists for 58 points total.

Andy Jakiel has 49 total points with 25 goals and 24 assists.

COC has also had the benefit of playing seven of its last nine games at home.

“We’ve played really solid,” Jakiel said. “We have a lot of depth to our offense. We have four strong lines that are all capable of scoring. That puts us as a pretty big threat going to nationals.”

Jakiel said that COC will likely run into tougher defenses at nationals, so goal-scoring alone will not carry the day.

The Cougars will have another lengthy layoff until the national tournament.

Last season, they took part in regionals and didn’t get the rest.

McGrath thinks this year’s layoff can help the team.

“I think we kind of ran out of gas doing regionals and then nationals,” he said. “I think the rest is going to help us.”

To stay sharp, Taferner said the team is trying to schedule scrimmages with schools like San Diego State and Loyola Marymount.

It’s all in preparation for the national tournament, where COC fell apart last season in Rochester, N.Y.

The Cougars lost their opener last March to drop into the consolation bracket, where they beat Albany 6-5 but lost three straight games to bow out of the tournament.

Jakiel believes the element of surprise can work to COC’s advantage this season.

“I think when we got to nationals, because we’re a junior college no one’s ever heard of, we have a huge advantage in surprising them,” Jakiel said. “They don’t expect too much from a college they’ve never heard of.”

Taferner and Jakiel both said the team will take pride in representing West Coast hockey at the national tournament.

For now, the memories of a second straight PCHA championship are fresh in the team’s mind.

The Cougars were awarded the Adams Cup for their efforts, which Taferner said is full of prestige.

“You look at some of the names,” he said. “UCLA, San Jose State, Stanford, all the big names on that cup. Just to be among those people to win that championship is really an honor.”

 

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