With winter on the horizon and snow in the forecast, it’s time to skate up and prepare for another season of CSU hockey.
For its first season, Colorado State hockey expands competition to Division I club level, facing an elevated level of fight.
“It’s going to be a huge transition, the level from D-II to D-I is pretty exponential,” senior Kyle Nitchen said. “The competition is bigger, faster and stronger. It just calls for a lot more of a team effort to play teams like that.”
CSU made the decision to apply for Division I hockey last year. Head Coach Kelly Newton wanted to have the team play at the highest level available to them, and he knew that meant stepping outside of Division II.
According to Nitchen, CSU is the underdog coming into this season. As a new team in the conference, the Rams are going to have to do the little things in order to be successful.
As regular season play opens this weekend, CSU is within the Western Conference Hockey League. The league is made up of six teams: University of Central Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, University of Colorado and Colorado State University.
Newton acknowledges the talent it will be going up against.
“Three or four of the teams in our conference are one of the top-10 teams in the country,” Newton said. “On paper we probably have one of the toughest schedules in Division I, especially for a new team, based on the rankings on who our opponents will be this season.”
The Rams are lead by veteran Nitchen, sophomore Jamison Wicks, junior Alex Steidler and sophomore Connor Tamai. The four players contributed to a 23-18-3 record and trip to nationals last season. Newton expects Steidler to carry the majority of the load for the team and the defense in the net. Steidler saved 552 out of the 611 shots on goal, a 90 percent saving figure.
New to green and gold, freshman Collin Abitz has already made his mark as a Ram. Atop the points scored in preseason play, Abitz will be one to look out for with the puck.
“I see my role kind of as an energy guy and a goal scorer this season,” Abitz said. “Everyone competes and everyone works hard, it is just about putting it all together and coming together as one.”
Accompanying Abitz on the rink is 15 other freshman. This team is young but is still anticipated to be a competitor as the season prolongs.
“Our goal this year first of all is just to make it to the national tournament, which in Division I is the top 20 teams in the country,” Newton said. “Once were there, anything can happen.”
CSU concluded preseason play at 5-1 prior to this weekend against Weber and Utah State. The Rams overpowered Cheyenne junior-A Stampede and Boulder junior-A Bison twice with one unsuccessful take against Denver University Pioneers D2.
“We have two games this weekend against two Division II teams who were kind of our rivals last year,” Nitchen said. “So that is going to be a good couple of games to start off our season.”
Play for the Rams begins on Friday against Weber State and Utah State on Saturday. The puck drops at 8:15p.m. in the NoCo Ice Center. More information on the Colorado State hockey team can be found at www.csuhockey.com
Hockey Beat Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org