In the third installment of Hockey’s Future’s 2005 Frozen Four coaches interviews, Colorado College head coach Scott Owens shares his thoughts about the upcoming season and his outstanding group of players that will make up the 2005-06 edition of the Tigers.
HF: Let’s go back to last season for a moment. Your team won a share of the MacNaughton Cup, posted a come-from-behind win vs. Michigan in the Midwest Regional, only to lose to your archrival Denver in the Frozen Four. Do you feel that with everything that the team had accomplished last season only to fall short in the Frozen Four that that is the biggest motivating factor coming into this season?
SO: Well, I think there’s no doubt that it sat with us all summer long. I think it was a motivational factor for our guys working out this summer to come back and get into great shape. We return a lot of players, especially at the forward position and I really think they used it. I don’t know if it was the single-most. You get close to getting to that championship game and you come up a little bit short. But it was definitely a motivating factor. We did have a lot of success last season. We won 31 games. We were just there (at the Frozen Four) and we also didn’t think that we put our best foot forward in that game. We took a lot of penalties and weren’t able to bury some of our opportunities. Having said all that, we don’t dwell on the past. We use it as a motivation for the future. But we certainly don’t swell on anything that has happened in the past.
HF: You lost three key defensemen in the offseason in Richard Petiot (LA), Mark Stuart (BOS) and Brady Greco (TB). What will be the greatest challenge in filling the holes that the departed players leave and who are you expecting to fill those roles?
SO: I think the biggest challenge will be just getting the chemistry right and being able to put all of the pieces together. We do think that we have enough talent back there on our blue line. In addition to the players that return, we brought in Cody Lampl and Jake Gannon as well. I think it’s just a matter of spending a month or so just to get the right pairs together, the right power play guys, the best penalty killers and just kind of sort through it. Brian Salcido and Lee Sweatt really took off last year. I think Brandon Straub, who is a 6’4/225 lbs. defenseman, will probably be picking up some of the slack left by Petiot and Stuart as far as physical presence is concerned. Weston Tardy will be a senior and you always like to get good play out of your seniors. Jack Hillen will be a sophomore now and has a year under his belt. So I think there are some good pieces there, it’s just a matter of sorting through it all.
HF: How surprised were you that Brady Greco left early to sign with Tampa Bay?
SO: Well, that one surprised me. As far as Mark (Stuart) leaving early, we were prepared for that. He’s a first rounder who had given us three good years. With Brady it was a little bit of a surprise. He had one year remaining. But he sensed that it was a good opportunity. There was a window of opportunity for him in the pro ranks. Who knows, that window could’ve been closed after another year. I don’t fault him but I’m a little bit surprised. The timing was awkward in the sense that it was the middle of August. But we wish Brady well and he gave us two very good years here at Colorado College.
HF: Two players that you eluded to earlier were Lee Sweatt and Brian Salcido (ANA). Do you expect them to take on more of a leadership role on the blue line this season?
SO: I think so, now that they’re both juniors. Lee Sweatt has always been a quiet leader for us in that regard. In some ways I think he’s a little bit underrated as far as how good he really is. Brian Salcido really took off on the offensive side from the middle of the year on. They’re going to be two of our go-to guys and they’re going to get a lot of ice time. Their play will serve a leadership role for the rest of the defensive corps.
HF: You had utilized Brian both at forward and on defense last season. Barring any significant number of injuries, do you intend to continue to use him at forward?
SO: No, he’ll play strictly defense but he’ll have an offensive defenseman role.
HF: One late addition to your incoming class is defenseman Jake Gannon, what can you tell me about him?
SO: He joined Sioux City back in January, so he came from midget hockey to Sioux City (USHL). He’s 6’1/195 lbs. and he’s a rugged defenseman. We figured that it helped us in a sense when we lost the size that we lost. He has great character, skates well and plays aggressive. He’s got a little bit of a hand injury right now but we think that he’s going to end up being a very significant contributor to our program. He gives us a little bit of what we miss without Petiot and Stuart. He was a very late addition to our roster. After Brady left and we had to go to work, we were very fortunate to get him at a late date.
HF: With the loss of the key defensemen along with the graduation of Curtis McElhinney (CGY), the performance of Matt Zaba (LA) will be especially crucial to the success of your team. Do you feel that Matt is ready to step in, take charge and help stabilize the team’s defense?
SO: Oh, there’s no doubt. Last year, we split the two goaltenders all the way to very end, until we got to the WCHA Tournament. So he’s played a lot of games last year. In his freshman year, Curtis had mono so Matt actually played two-thirds of the games and he made the WCHA All-Rookie team. So he’s a very good goaltender, an LA Kings pick and they’re very high on him. He’s played a lot of games at both the junior ranks and the WCHA the last few years, so we think he’s very much capable.
HF: What area(s) are you expecting Matt to improve this season?
SO: I just think that he’s got to get use to playing back-to-back games a lot more. He’s been very, very consistent for us. Matt is just going to have to adapt and get use to being the workhorse and playing a lot of minutes.
HF: You also bring in a very good goaltender in Drew O’Connell, who played for Waterloo (USHL). Do you see Drew getting some considerable ice time this season?
SO: Drew is a youngster. He’s an ’87 and he’s got a lot of talent but he’s just quite young. We will groom him and bring him along. We’ve also got another goalie that is also a junior, who was quite good and that’s Chris Kawano. He has worked very hard to put himself in a position to play some games as well. A lot of the work will go to Matt but we’ll give the other two kids a chance. We think Drew is going to be an excellent goaltender down the road.
HF: With Marty Sertich winning the Hobey Baker and Brett Sterling (ATL) being one of the runner-ups, would you have liked to have seen both of them win the Hobey Baker?
SO: Honestly, I don’t think it could’ve turned out that way because one is a pure goal scorer and did a lot for us. The other is a top point guy. They’re both so equally important to our team, it would’ve been a really nice situation if they both could’ve won it but it rarely happens that way. I know that Brett is very happy for Marty and he feels like he was a winner in the sense that his center-iceman got the award. But they’re both outstanding.
HF: With the success that both Marty and Brett had last season, what will be the greatest challenge in protecting them so that they can play their game?
SO: I think we’ll just let them play their game. I don’t think that teams are going to key in on them, but they did that in the second half last year. We’ll try to get the right matchups and lines against them when we’re at home. We just have to, in a sense, protect their minutes a little bit this year. Marty and Brett played so many minutes last year that it was a concern late in the season. But basically, we’re not going to do much different. They’re going to play with probably a couple different right-wingers. I’ll keep utilizing them in special team situations in addition to five-on-five play. They just have to go out there and play.
HF: Scott McCulloch (CHI) had a great start to his season last year before a shoulder injury ended his season. Is he fully recovered and what are you expecting out of him this season?
SO: He’s an excellent player. We’re very excited that’s he coming back. He’s sort of like a freshman coming back in a way because he only played 11 games last season. But he’s a big power forward. We’re usually smaller and skilled but he’s a big, strong guy who goes hard to the net. He’s going to get a chance to play. He’s had a great summer. He’s in great shape and he’s recovered very well. He’s going to be a significant guy. One of the things that we need to do with our team is increase our secondary scoring and he’s one of the guys that we’re looking to do that.
HF: Chad Rau (TOR) comes into your program as a highly touted player coming out of the USHL. What will his role be on the team?
SO: He’s a very skilled player that fits into our style of play very, very well. We see Chad contributing quite a bit actually. His sore ankle has slowed him a little bit. We turn over three centers after this season and we look at developing him as a center a little bit. The same goes for Andreas Vlassopoulos, developing him a little bit as well. Chad is one of those guys that we’re hoping will give us that secondary offense as well. He’s very talented. Both he and Andreas actually are going to figure in quite a bit into helping us to not just rely on Brett and Marty.
HF: Do you expect Chad to play right away?
SO: Yes, we do as soon as he’s healthy. We do expect him to play right away. We’ll probably use him a tiny bit until we figure out his strengths and weaknesses and how well he gets acclimated to the league.
HF: You mentioned that Chad has an ankle injury. Do you expect him to miss the regular season opener?
SO: I don’t think so. I think he’ll be able to jump right in. He may be a little slow out of the gate. He rolled it in late July and it’s still healing up on him. He’s a great player and a great kid.
HF: A player who quietly had a very good year for your team last season was Joey Crabb (NYR). What are you expecting to see from him this season?
SO: He’s going to play a very important role for us this year. He’s a big strong senior. He had tremendous success on our power play last year. He’s another guy that we want to kind of come in and contribute with our secondary scoring five-on-five. He gives us a senior presence and a big body. He’s someone who can play physical and someone who can go to the net hard. He and Aaron Slattengren will actually be very key guys for us in that we’re hoping that they have real good senior years.
HF: Aside from winning the WCHA outright and winning the national championship, what would you like to see your team accomplish this year?
SO: I just would like us to pick up on what we were doing last year. We played a good, exciting style of hockey. We were 17-3-1 at home. We had success in terms of league and at the NCAA Regionals. At some point, it would be awful nice to take a run at the WCHA playoff championship, which we’ve never had. Other than that, it’s just to continue to build off of what we were able to do last year and to see if we could learn a little bit.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.