MADISON – It was impossible for Scott Owens to try and hide the smile stretched widely across his face.
And why should he? After all, the Colorado College head coach saw one of his youngest teams in recent memory come back from a two-goal deficit on the road to beat a seasoned Wisconsin team in the school's season opener.
Throw in the fact that senior captain Mike Testwuide was injured on the game's opening shift on a thunderous hit, it's a surprise the Tigers head coach didn't try to attempt a back flip.
"That was a good one," said Owens after his team's 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin Friday night. "We've had some good ones, and that's as good as we've had with this group that we've got right now."
No WCHA team was hit harder by graduation than the Tigers (2-1-0, 1-0-0 WCHA), who had to replace over 100 points with unproven talent – like seniors Matt Overman and Brian McMillin and junior Tyler Johnson.
All those first two did was score Colorado College's first two goals, erasing a 2-0 Wisconsin lead, in a three minute, 25 second span in the second period, while Johnson waited until the 17:53 mark in the third period to notch his third goal in three games.
"We hung in there and hung in there," Owens said. "It's a process and we're going to keep plugging away, but it certainly helps our confidence against such a veteran team."
Combine the fact that true freshman goalie Joe Howe – another unproven commodity for Owens' squad – stopped 39 shots in a hostile environment, one could sense the brewing confidence coming from the Tigers' locker room.
"He really competed tonight," Owens said of Howe, who he called his best player. "For a true freshman to come in and play with that kind of traffic, I felt he held his ground."
If Howe didn't stand tall, the Badgers (0-1-0, 0-1-0) could have easily had a multiple-goal lead at the first intermission. Wisconsin's veteran squad – a unit that returns seven seniors and nine juniors – out shot CC 41-26, were better on the power play and took fewer penalties, but couldn't get much past the young rookie.
"We put 41 shots on the kid (and) only get two goals," senior captain Ben Street said. "We got to keep getting those pucks at the net, but we got to get there and bang in those rebounds. It's frustrating when you feel like you did a lot of good things … and pretty much dominated the game for a lot of it and still come out with a loss."
The main thing for the Badgers, who play at home four of the first five weeks of the season, was starting the year on the right foot, especially after UW started last season 0-6-1. Captain Blake Geoffrion, who decided to come back for his senior season, started that momentum early, when his cross ice pass deflected off a defender's skate and into the back of the net at 4:32 in the first.
Just like the Tigers losing their senior captain, the Badgers lost Geoffrion midway through the opening period, as he skated on his own to the dressing room and didn't return the rest of the night.
"It's a challenge because you really can't get into a flow with certain guys," Street said "Obviously losing Blake is never going to help your team."
Even so, the Badgers made it 2-0 early in the second when forward Derek Stepan made a pretty fake around defenseman Kris Fredheim, forcing CC's other defenseman to close, leaving Andy Bohmbach wide open for the wrister.
The end result, however, was a familiar sight for a team that worked tirelessly all off season to finish games and earn gritty victories. Wisconsin lost 10 games last season in which they scored first and six games in which they held a lead of two goals or more, all of which contributed to UW missing the post-season by two ten thousandths of a point.
This time, defensive breakdowns enabled the Tigers to score the first goal as Overman snuck a shot between the legs of UW goalie Brett Bennett (23 saves) at 8:52, and tie it when sophomore Nick Dineen executed a solid give-and-go set, drawing the defense to the left side of the net, and firing a cross ice pass to McMillin for an easy goal.
The Badgers were the clear aggressor at the beginning of the third and, at one point, thought they had regained the lead when Bohmbach's rocket hit the crossbar and right post and rattled around behind Howe. Video review confirmed the puck didn't go into the net, much to the dismay of the 11,751 in attendance.
The sting increased when Johnson's quick, turn-around wrist shot from the left circle clipped the stick of Street and found the back of the net, allowing the Tigers to win one for their fallen captain.
"He's definitely our team leader, without a doubt," Howe said. "That motivated us – get this one for (him)."