An entire yearâ€™s worth of dedication, hard work and preparation has come down to five days for the CSU hockey team.
Starting on March 17, the Rams (25-8-2) will begin their first game of the ACHA Division II National Tournament in Connecticut against the University of Maryland-Baltimore College and a chance at the national championship.
After a successful regular season, the Rams have earned a two seed in their respective pool, finishing second behind CU-Boulder.
Head coach Kelly Newton believes this team has a chance to build from previous years and make it all the way to the end.
â€œLast year we got to the semifinals,â€ Newton said. â€œThis year is time to get to the next step and go to the finals.â€
Newton has seen the team grow throughout the year and has plenty of confidence in what they can accomplish.
â€œWe have a young team that had some hiccups earlier in the season,â€ Newton said.Â â€œI feel like weâ€™re the best team from the West and have as good a goalie as there is in the tournament.â€
Newton is referring to senior Mike Dlugos, who had a solid year going 7-3 and a goals against average of 2.53.
Other leaders on the team such as forward Paul Jenkins also understand the importance of Dlugos to the team.
â€œMike has been a rock,â€ Jenkins said.Â â€œHe can steal us games when needed.â€
While Dlugos is an integral part of the team, Jenkins himself is a valued component on the offensive side of the puck, leading the team with 81 points including 26 goals and 55 assists.
Jenkins feels that it will take more than one or two players to reach their goal of going to the finals and winning a championship.
â€œWe will need everyone,â€ Jenkins said.Â â€œThe third and fourth lines included, everyone needs to score.â€
Offense could prove to be the deciding factor for the Rams going further than in past years and possibly coming home as national champions.
â€œThis is the most offensively talented team Iâ€™ve coached in four years,â€ Newton said.Â â€œWe have always had good goal tending, but this year weâ€™ve got solid defense and three lines to put the puck into the net.â€
Make no mistake; the regular season will play a role in who wins the championship according to Jenkins.
â€œWe have a lot of depth and leading scorers in the division,â€ Jenkins said.Â â€œThe other (teams) got there because they played mediocre teams, but we played a harder schedule and tough games so we will be ready.â€
Senior leader AJ Hau also believes in the importance of the regular season, especially for a young team.
â€œThe regular season is huge,â€ Hau said.Â â€œWe had a roller coaster season and met some challenges.â€
Newton and the rest of the coaching staff have worked hard all year to prepare the players for this tournament.
â€œWe have worked at getting discipline under control, we donâ€™t want stupid penalties,â€ Newton said.Â â€œWe will run with four lines which will be big for us because the semifinals and finals are on the same day so we need a deep bench.â€
All the preparation and hard work will hopefully show up throughout the tournament in order for the team to reach its goal.
â€œIt means a lot for the team in general,â€ Hau said.Â â€œOur losses this year are because we have beaten ourselves.â€
The Rams are eager to play in the tournament and go the distance.
â€œWeâ€™re excited,â€ Jenkins said.Â â€œI was there once with another team, but this is our first time with a chance to win.Â There is high energy.â€
The games can be watched online by going to csuhockey.com and clicking on the national championship website link.
Club Sports Reporter Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.