Colorado College hosts third-ranked Minnesota Duluth this weekend in a key NCHC series at 8:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Colorado Springs, and Tigers senior forward Westin Michaud has been consulting with the 'enemy.'
The 'enemy' is Michaud's longtime friend and former Cloquet-Esko-Carlton teammate Karson Kuhlman. The two talk regularly and that's something Tigers coach Mike Haviland said he is happy to hear. The fifth-year coach has tremendous respect for the former Bulldogs captain who guided UMD to a national championship a year ago.
That title run by the Bulldogs is what has Michaud picking Kuhlman's brain about as of late as the Tigers - like many others across the country in a similar position - hope to duplicate UMD's second half run to an NCAA championship.
"What we talked about was just sticking with it," said Kuhlman, who has 10 goals and 13 assists in 45 games this season as a rookie with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. "That was kind of (UMD's) thing last year. We knew what we had. He talked very highly of their team as well. Just getting through those low points and sticking with it, because you have to trust each other and trust what you have in the locker room. That was pretty big for us."
A sweep of Miami a week ago in Oxford, Ohio, jumped Colorado College from last in the league - and 12 points out of a home NCHC playoff series - to sixth entering this weekend, and now only seven points back of fourth-place North Dakota with a game in hand because of a postponement.
The Bulldogs, who are five points back of league-leading St. Cloud State in second place, were seventh at the start of 2018 last season and by the end of January had vaulted to fifth in the NCHC, just one point out of fourth place.
UMD not only rallied to gain home ice, but finished third in the league, six points clear of North Dakota.
Thankfully for Michaud, he has an inside source to how the Bulldogs pulled that off.
"He's got a work ethic like no other," Michaud said of Kuhlman. "He's been through great leaders like Dom Toninato, Andy Welinski. They are great hockey minds. ... I would love to pick brains like that."
Now in his fourth season at Colorado College after missing his entire freshman year to an anterior cruciate ligament injury, the 23-year-old Michaud has emerged as a leader on and off the ice.
With junior All-America forward Nick Halloran out for the rest of 2018-19 due to injury, Michaud has taken over as the team's leading scorer with eight goals and 11 assists in 19 games. Two goals and three assists have come in the five games since Halloran was lost - a pair of overtime losses at North Dakota, a tie at Denver and sweep at Miami.
"He's really worked on his skating in the summers," Haviland said of Michaud, who had 11 goals and 13 assists a year ago after a quiet sophomore season offensively. "He's got himself in better shape and things like that have really helped his game."
In the locker room, Michaud has become an important voice on a team with 14 freshmen and sophomores.
"He's holding more people accountable at the right time," Haviland said. "It's not a constant, maybe a nagging or whatever. He is picking his spots and he's really getting his point across of how to hold up standards of what we want to live up to. He's matured in that area."
Michaud will graduate in the spring with a degree from Colorado College in history education. Because he missed his freshman year with an injury, he does have a year of NCAA eligibility left. Michaud could transfer anywhere in the NCAA without having to sit out a year, but the more likely scenario is he returns to Colorado Springs for another season to begin graduate work.
Michaud said he wants to play professional hockey, but he'd also like to be an elementary principal.
Before all that, though, is another showdown this weekend with the school he grew up watching and the team his good friend, Kuhlman captained.
The Tigers are 1-5-2 against UMD in Michaud's previous three seasons, including 3-0 and 5-1 losses in November at Amsoil Arena. Michaud has two goals and two assists against the Bulldogs, as well as six penalty minutes.
"I get a little more excited for these games and get up for them. I get up for every single game but I would say it's like a playoff series," Michaud said of playing UMD. "It's Minnesota Duluth. It's where I grew up. I went to Bulldogs games. Unfortunately we didn't make a connection. That's life."
COLLEGE MEN'S HOCKEY
NO. 3 UMD (16-6-2) AT COLORADO COLLEGE (10-12-3)
What: NCHC series
When: 8:37 p.m. Friday/7:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: Broadmoor World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9
Internet: nchc.tv (video)