With a Little Help, College of the Canyons Hockey Slides into Nationals
With the top four teams from each division receiving an invitation to the American Collegiate Hockey Association's National Tournament in March, #6 College of the Canyons (11-11) figured its season to be at an end. Then the team remembered that #3 UC Irvine had only begun play this season, and therefore wasn't eligible for the nationals. And then they heard that #2 California State University, Northridge played with ineligible players all season, and was disqualified. Suddenly, College of the Canyons, the 2003-04 State Champions, found itself as the fourth seed in the Pacific Division and began hasty preparations to travel to Fort Myers, FL, for the 2005-06 ACHA National Tournament beginning Wednesday, March 1 at Florida Gulf Coast University. For the second time, College of the Canyons becomes the only community college with an invitation to the nationals. "We've got the red-eye flight lined up for Monday night," said team advisor Jim Schrage, "and we start play Wednesday morning at 7:45 a.m." Midway through the season, any thought the Cougars had of returning to the nationals was becoming a fast-fading dream with each excruciating loss. In late December, ollege of the Canyons lost a pair of games at UNLV in brutal fashion, which included a 4-OT 7-6 defeat that dropped the Cougars under .500 for the first time, with a 7-8 record. The team limped through the next few games, getting blown out by UC Irvine, 6-2, and UC San Diego, 10-2.
Flashes of brilliance emerged, though, and the return of goalie Shawn Deans, who played with the Cougars during the stunning 2003-04 season that saw a State Championship and eventual fifth place finish in the nationals, helped spur College of the Canyons to a strong finish, including exacting some revenge with a pair of wins over UNLV - this time in Valencia - to end the season. The Cougars' reward for their late-season effort is a dubious one, though, as College of the Canyons is seeded #15 in the tournament and has drawn #2 Wright State University in the first round. The Wright State Raiders captured the Northern Division Championship with a 25-2-1 record and are currently on a 11-game win streak, having outscored their last 11 opponents by a wide margin: 51-21. "Regardless of who we play," said Raider forward Michael Blackwell on the team's website in anticipation of the first round match-up, "I feel that we'll dominate them all with our strong fore-check and amazing goal tending." Scoring goals shouldn't be a problem for the Cougars, who were third in the Pacific Division in goals scored, with 127. College of the Canyons is led by sophomore center Shawn Moise' with 20 goals scored on the season, and sophomore winger Jason Feller, with 16 goals. But stopping the shots may require a Herculean effort from the Cougars, especially after allowing 114 goals in the regular season, second to last in the Pacific Division. "We've got more raw talent on this team than we did in 2003-04," said Schrage. "We can beat anyone in the nation – as long as we show up to play."