the Colorado College Tigers, the past month has been filled
with contradictions. For example, winning your conference
title is a joyful moment, and watching your arch-rivals
win the conference title is a moment you’d probably
like to forget. The Tigers got to experience both within
the span of about 24 hours recently.
there are the national standings to consider. The Tigers
enter the WCHA Final Five in a strange position of being
ranked No. 1 in the nation in some polls, but holding the
No. 2 seed in their own conference.
Tigers’ leading goal-scorer, junior Brett Sterling,
is in a somewhat similar position as his team heads east
in search of its first-ever outright WCHA playoff title.
He’s leading the team, the conference and the nation
in goals scored, but is widely considered to be just the
second-best player on his own line, which has been dominated
by Marty Sertich’s magical ways all season.
caught up with Sterling before his team’s final home
practice this week, before they boarded a Minnesota-bound
plane on Wednesday for a weekend date with the Golden Gophers,
and a chance (with two wins this weekend) to remove the
“co-“ from the Tigers’ current title of
College Hockey: Tell us about sharing the MacNaughton Cup
with your arch-rivals. That had to be an interesting experience.
We went into the weekend of those two games knowing we had
to sweep or at least win and tie to get the full share.
We knew it would be tough because the series between us
and Denver is always a difficult one. It was an interesting
experience, and it was great to get at least a piece of
the Cup that first night. Things didn’t exactly go
our way the second night.
Record: 26-9-2 (19-7-2 WCHA)
Fact: Pioneer fans in search of bragging
rights are hoping that their team beats Minnesota
for the Final Five title on Saturday night. DU enters
the weekend tied with the Golden Gophers on the list
of schools with the most all-time WCHA playoff titles
to its credit (Minnesota and Denver have each won
it 13 times). This is just the Pioneers’ fifth
Final Five trip, but they’ve won two of the
previous four they’ve played in.
Denver wins: Play deep. No matter who they
face on Friday, the Pioneers will have six days rest,
while their opponents will be lucky to get six hours
sleep after the Thursday play-in game. If DU coach
George Gwozdecky can rotate four lines and generate
first period offense, they may be able to take the
fight out of either the Badgers or Sioux and earn
their date for the title game early. A third period
lead versus a battle-weary opponent is a scenario
any coach would like.
2 Colorado College
Record: 28-7-3 (19-7-2 WCHA)
Fact: Since the WCHA went to the Final Five
format in 1993, the Tigers have been among the most
frequent visitors to the tournament. The 2005 Final
Five marks their 10th appearance in 13 years. In fact,
the 2000 season (in which the Tigers were upset by
rookie Minnesota coach Don Lucia in the opening round,
is the only Final Five CC has missed in the past 11
seasons. Their best finish has been runner-up, in
1996 and 2003.
Colorado College wins: Dance with them that
brung ya. While they’re not maintaining North
Dakota’s torrid offensive pace in the playoffs,
the Tigers did put up 11 goals in their two post-season
games thus far. More important may be quieting Minnesota’s
offense, as the Gophers are 20-0-1 when scoring four
or more this season. Hold Minnesota to three or fewer,
and you’ll have a date for the dance on Saturday
Record: 26-12-1 (17-10-1 WCHA)
Gopher Fact: Minnesota, winner of the past
two Final Five titles, has a shot at history this
weekend, as no WCHA team has never been the outright
playoff champion three years in a row. Between the
mid-1960s and late-1970s the league awarded co-playoff
titles, and Minnesota split the title with Michigan
Tech three years running then (in 1974, ’75
Minnesota wins: Play like the home team.
The WCHA does nice work to bring in elements from
each of the league’s 10 rinks for the tournament,
to try to make the Xcel Energy Center feel like more
of a neutral venue. The effect is muted somewhat when
the gates open and 15,000 fans in maroon and gold
file in and start rooting for their favorite rodent
mascot. Don Lucia’s teams have felt right at
home in St. Paul (with a 11-3-0 lifetime record in
the X). One or two wins this weekend and a No. 1 seed
in the NCAAs should be a lock.
Record: 23-12-4 (16-9-3 WCHA)
Fact: This is Wisconsin’s first trip
to the Final Five since Mike Eaves took over the program
at the end of the 2002 season. In the Badgers’
two most recent appearances (in 2001 and ’02)
they went one-and-done, losing to Colorado College
in the play-in game both times. They’ve won
the Final Five twice previously, beating CC in overtime
for the title in ’95 and beating North Dakota
3-2 in 1998 before a raucous red-clad crowd at the
Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Incidentally, ’98
was the last time the Final Five was held outside
Wisconsin wins: Play with desperation. Their
backs against the wall last Sunday, trailing at home
in the third and deciding game of their opening-round
series with Alaska, the Badgers summoned enough offense
(a pair of goals – one of them somewhat controversial)
and enough defense (16 third period saves by Bernd
Bruckler) to survive and advance. Badger fans hope
Eaves can convince his team that their NCAA tourney
future is at stake on Thursday, so that desperation
5 North Dakota
Record: 20-13-5 (13-12-3 WCHA)
Sioux Fact: North Dakota rookie coach Dave
Hakstol will be chasing the Dean this weekend, and
for once we don’t mean his predecessor, Mr.
Blais. Long-time Wisconsin skipper Jeff Sauer was
the last first-year coach to win the WCHA Playoff
title, in 1983. Sauer and his Badgers traveled to
Grand Forks that March (the playoffs were held at
campus sites then) and beat the Sioux 6-5 in three
overtimes to win the playoff crown.
North Dakota wins: Survive on Thursday. The
Fighting Sioux have appeared in the tournament’s
Thursday play-in game only twice before (in 1995 and
2003), and have gone one-and-done both times. True,
no team has ever won three games in three nights to
take the Final Five title, and the task is especially
daunting this year, with the Thursday night winner
having to face top-seed Denver just 15 hours later
on Friday afternoon. But that monumental journey begins
with a single step called “win on Thursday.”
Plus, who’d bet against the team wearing green
on St. Patrick’s Day?
It must be an interesting time for the rivalry between the
Tigers and Pioneers. You won the Cup two years ago. They
won the NCAA last year. You split the Cup this year. Things
must be pretty intense right now.
The rivalry games between us and DU are always tough and
something you don’t have to work to get up for because
it just happens naturally. With how good both teams have
been doing the past couple years, it’s definitely
made things a little more exciting.
The last time two teams split the Cup was in 1997, when
North Dakota and Minnesota tied. A few weeks later they
met for the tie-breaker in the WCHA Final Five championship.
Are you hoping for a similar rematch with the Pioneers?
Right now I’m just looking for us to get into that
championship game. We’ve got a very tough opponent
in Minnesota to start with, and if we get past that, we’ll
take whoever is there next. If it’s Denver, great.
You’ve faced Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center before,
with thousands of Gopher fans and their band there, while
your side has a handful of fans and no band. Does that make
In some ways it does. It’s nice having fans there
and playing in front of a huge crowd like they have in St.
Paul. But I love playing in front of a big crowd anyplace.
And we have a lot of guys from Minnesota on our team who
are playing in front of their families, so none of us have
a reason to need to get up. We should all be excited about
the series. If you play your game and play the way you’re
supposed to, I don’t think the crowd should matter.
Coming from Southern California, was college hockey a part
of what you expected to do in your athletic career?
Not really. When I started out I was just playing to play.
As I started to get higher in the ranks, college became
an option, but I really wasn’t sure I had a shot at
college hockey. I was playing in a lot of select festivals,
and got asked to play in the national program. Once I got
to Ann Arbor, I knew college hockey would be the route I’d
You’re still a long way from Southern California,
but Colorado College is about as close to home as a kid
from the Los Angeles area can play college hockey, isn’t
This is as close as you can get, and it’s nice being
as close to home as I can be. My family gets to come out
here a little bit more, and I love the area. I really love
Do you have a peer group of other Southern California guys
you stay in touch with in the college hockey world?
I see Gabe (Gauthier) a little bit in the summer. We’re
all kind of rooting for each other, except when we’re
playing against each other. But other than that, we’re
all happy to see Californians like Robbie Earl and others
doing well, even if they’re playing in different programs.
We all kind of know that there’s a small group of
us in college hockey from California, and it’s nice
to see them do well.
Do you envision a day where four to six Pac-10 teams are
playing D-I college hockey?
That would be great, especially for kids from California,
being able to stay close to home and getting to play. But
do I see it happening? Maybe. I don’t see it in the
near future, but hopefully someday.
The numbers you and Marty Sertich have put up together this
season have been amazing. You must be having some fun out
It’s a blast. I’m loving it. Marty and I have
played together for the past two years and we really feel
like we know each other on the ice and know that the other
is going to do. That definitely helps us out. This year
we’ve both been able to stay healthy all year, so
that’s been a positive.
Since the start of the season, people have looked at your
team’s numbers and have said that you stop the Tigers
if you can stop the Sertich-Sterling line. How have you
dealt with checking lines and teams whose sole focus has
been to shut down your line?
I don’t think it is one line on our team. Yes, Marty
and I have been able to put up some really good numbers
this year, but there are other guys on this team with good
numbers. And when Marty and I have been kept scoreless,
other guys have found ways to put the puck in the back of
the net and lead us on to victory. So there are a lot of
factors that go into us playing well. Even when we can’t
score, our goaltending has picked it up and we’ve
won some 1-0 games.
With the goaltending and defensemen you have, there’s
probably a fair amount of confidence in your team’s
Between Curtis (McElhinney) and Matt Zaba, then having Mark
Stuart, Richard Petiot and the rest of our D corps out there,
it’s a huge benefit for us on the offensive end because
we don’t need to go out there and score six goals
a game. We can let our defense speak for itself, then we
can relax a little bit and score when we need to.
You’re leading the nation in goals, but when you talk
to people nation-wide, the general consensus is Marty is
probably the favorite to win the Hobey right now. Do feel
like maybe you’re not getting some of the attention
despite the numbers you’ve put up?
Not at all. Marty’s done some great things for us
this season, and he is a sparkplug for us. I let people
think what they want because I’m not worried about
the award. There’s so much more hockey to be played,
and we’ve got a lot of things left to accomplish this
year. I just want to keep on going, and hopefully I can
continue to put the puck in the back of the net. As long
as our team does well, I’m not too worried about anything
Two years ago you won the MacNaughton Cup, then fell short
of the Frozen Four. Lat year you had a chance to play your
way into the NCAAs and lost to a surprising Alaska Anchorage
team in St. Paul. Do you feel like you’ve got some
unfinished business this season in the playoffs?
Definitely. We’ve done what we needed to do to get
to this point, but in the past we haven’t done as
well as we should’ve at the Final Five, and CC hasn’t
won the championship in quite a long time. There’s
definitely some pressure on us to get it done, get past
the first game with Minnesota, get to the championship game
and just let ourselves play. Because when we play, we’re
good, but we’ve got to play our own game.
How does your team do under pressure?
Our team has been able to stay really calm this year, which
is nice. I think we’re pretty confident going into
games, even if we go down by a goal. We’ve got enough
confidence to stick it out, continue to work, and get those
You played in Columbus in December and won. Did you tell
the folks at the hotel to save your rooms for you because
you’d need them in April?
No, we didn’t say anything about that. It was nice
to play in the same place, to play in Columbus and get a
little bit of a feel for the city, but there is so much
more to go before we can make it there. I don’t want
to get too far ahead of myself.