November 11, 2022 | SPORTS | By Michael Braithwaite | Photos by Crosby Williams
The Colorado College hockey team came into last weekend’s matchup looking to capitalize on their home-ice advantage against No. 19 Minnesota Duluth. In a two-game series filled with tough, physical play on both sides, CC was able to command Friday night’s game to a 5-0 victory before losing in a Saturday night heartbreaker 3-1.
Coming into the weekend, the Tigers had an undefeated 3-0 regular season record at home but a defeated 0-5 record on the road, with the most jarring example of the difference between home and away play coming in the previous series against the cross-town rival Air Force Falcons.
In the previous weekend’s Friday night game at Ed Robson Arena, the Tigers rained goals upon the Falcons to the tune of an 8-0 demolition. However, in Saturday night’s game at Cadet Ice Arena, the Falcons had the upper hand, beating CC 6-3 on a night when the Tigers just couldn’t capitalize on scoring chances.
Despite coming off a tough loss to the Cadets, the Tigers had something to look forward to in the weekend series. Not only were they playing both games at home, but they were facing off against their first conference opponent this season: Duluth.
While the Bulldogs came into the series with a middling 4-4 record, they had also swept their series against the University of Arizona at the start of the season. Just a few weeks after their series vs Duluth, the Sun Devils then swept CC by a combined score of 11-4 across the two games.
With a good team coming to town, CC head coach Kris Mayotte decided to make a change at the goalie position. While Matt Vernon ‘23 had played most of the previous weekend’s games against Air Force, Mayotte decided to give Kaidan Mbereko ‘26 the start in both games against Duluth.
While the first-year collegiate player had played well in his stint with Team USA at the Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship during the summer, he had not done much yet to truly establish his presence on the Tiger squad. Mbereko and Vernon split time in net at the start of the season, but neither had truly stood out compared to the other.
That all changed against the Bulldogs.
Over the course of the two-game series, Mbereko made an astounding 66 saves, recording a 1.02 goals-against average and a .971 save percentage in the process. This performance ultimately propelled him to be named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Goaltender of the week on Monday.
Coach Mayotte spoke highly of Mbereko’s play after Friday night’s game.
“He did a really good job of calming things down early,” said Mayotte. “He looked very matter of fact, even on some of the difficult saves and he has the ability to do that. This week of practice he didn’t wait to get another start — he attacked the week and worked hard to get to tonight.”
With such a sturdy presence in net behind them, the rest of the team was able to focus their attention on attacking Duluth’s defense.
CC got positive momentum going early in Friday night’s matchup, finding the net four times in the first period alone. Forward Hunter McKown ‘24 got the scoring started on an early CC power play and then forward Stanley Cooley ‘25 scored not once but twice after shots from teammates were initially deflected by Duluth goalie Zach Stejskal.
With just over five minutes remaining in the first period, forward Noah Laba ‘26 decided to join the fun, putting a shot right between Stejskal’s legs. After this fourth score by CC, Duluth swapped Stejskal for backup goalie Matthew Thiessen.
Laba scored again in the second period to put the Tigers up 5-0 and both teams played a clean third. Despite the lopsided final score line, CC was outshot by Duluth 34-27 and only won 29 faceoffs compared to Duluth’s 32.
Despite such a commanding victory against a nationally ranked program, Mayotte still noted that the team needed to improve in some areas.
“We still have another level we can get to and our job is to find a way to get to that,” said Mayotte. “We believe in our abilities, certainly at home — we’re playing well at home right now.”
The Tigers kept their foot on the gas going into Saturday night’s game, scoring midway through the first period on a shot by defenseman Bryan Yoon ‘22 that sailed right by Thiessen, who started the game in net for Duluth.
Midway through the second period, Duluth’s attack pierced through the Tiger defense and snuck a shot by Mbereko to tie the game up at one goal apiece.
The Tigers then went back and forth with the Bulldogs deep into the third period, when an odd shot by Duluth ricocheted off Mbereko’s pads and just barely slipped between his legs for a score. With less than two minutes remaining in the contest, CC pulled Mbereko for an extra attacker with the hopes of tying the matchup.
While the Tigers were able to generate some good scoring chances on Minnesota’s net, they eventually turned the puck over and allowed a Duluth defenseman to hit an empty-net shot from their own defensive zone, resulting in a 3-1 final score that didn’t truly reflect how well CC played.
“We just didn’t play a simple game,” said Mayotte in his postgame interview. “We just didn’t manage it well — I thought they played more on their toes than we did tonight.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss in the second game, the series vs Duluth proved just how tangible CC’s home-ice advantage is at Ed Robson Arena. Both games in the series were sold out, with the Mike Slade Student Section overflowing not only with students, but with energy and spirit as well.
“The fans are great, man,” said Mayotte after Friday night’s victory. “Our student section is awesome, another sellout tonight — it just gives you life, it gives you energy to know that you have that type of support. It’s a hard building for opponents to come into.”
After a road trip to take on Miami University on Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, the Tigers will next play at home against St. Cloud State University on Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19.