By Joe Paisley
Former Colorado College goalie Curtis McElhinney is one of the few who can say he retired on top.
The veteran NHL netminder ended his 13-year career recently after winning two-straight Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning while serving as a valued backup behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“It was a tremendous run the last couple of seasons,” McElhinney said Friday. “It was a pretty special group to be a part of down in Tampa.”
McElhinney, 38, was one of several former Tigers who attended Homecoming weekend. He was honored with the ceremonial puck drop before Friday’s 2-1 loss to St. Lawrence, the inaugural regular-season game for the new, on-campus Ed Robson Arena.
“It was fun,” he said of the ceremony. “It is awesome to be in this building and to see and feel the energy of it. It is a pretty exciting time to be a Tiger.”
Selected in the sixth round (No. 176) by the Calgary Flames in the 2002 NHL draft, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder finished 94-95-20 with a 2.83 GAA, .907 save percentage and 12 shutouts in 249 regular-season games (198 starts) with the Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks and Flames.
He was 3-3 with a 2.40 GAA and .913 save percentage in seven playoff games (four starts). The London, Ontario native went 4-6-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average, .875 save percentage and one shutout in 12 regular-season games in his final season in Tampa.
The former NCAA All-American is pleased to be spending more time with his family, including his two sons.
“First, for me, it’ll just be helping out with my kids’ hockey teams,” he told NHL.com. “I want to make sure that I’m there. They are in grade 7 and 5. … As far as my involvement with professional hockey, down the road I think it’s something I’d like to get back into, but the coaches and managers put in an incredible amount of time, and right now, it’s time for me to spend some time with my family and make sure I’m investing in their lives. I’m going to stay involved in hockey in some capacity, I’m just not sure what yet.”
Robson Arena, which hosted three-straight announced sellouts to start this season (including last week’s exhibition), promises to be a boon for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference program, he said.
“It’s tremendous,” McElhinney said. “It is certainly a great sales pitch to any kid who is considering CC as a program to come to. I think the coaching staff is going to build up this program even more.”
But it takes more than a new building. The Tigers took a step forward by rallying for a 1-1 tie against St. Lawrence on Saturday.
CC rose to the challenge and out shot the visiting Saints by a 17-6 margin in the third, capped by defenseman Jack Millar’s goal with 8:02 remaining.
Millar’s rising shot through a screen beat SLU goalie Emil Zetterquist (69 saves on the weekend) after SLU took a 1-0 lead five minutes earlier.
“You may remember from Air Force (an exhibition loss) that we got punched and didn’t punch back,” CC coach Kris Mayotte said. “Our guys punched back tonight. They started doing all the right things. They started playing together. They got on the same page. The talk on the bench was fantastic and then they executed and gave themselves a chance to win.”
The Tigers did a better job getting to the front of the SLU net and making the Swedish netminder’s life difficult.
“After they scored it was important for us to get on them and stay on them,” Millar said. “(The shot) found a way. It was a good screen by the forwards.”
CC goalie Dominic Basse kept the 0-1-1 Tigers in the game with 21 of his 27 savesin the first two periods, including a couple big-time stops during two penalty kills midway through the second period
“That second period, he gave us a chance,” Mayotte said. “He was a rock back there for us.”
Mayotte appreciates the history of the Tigers program and how that can shape the future. He had McElhinney announce Friday’s starters to the team.
“It was great,” Mayotte said. “He is a great role model for all of our guys with the career he had and the person he is. We have so many of those types of guys we want to have come back and be a part of this and share this with us.”
FALCONS SPLIT, PIONEERS SWEEP
Air Force garnered a road split at Michigan State and was one of three Atlantic Hockey teams to defeat Big Ten squads on Friday, ending an 0-27-1 league streak dating back to Mercyhurst’s 3-2 road win over Wisconsin on Nov. 25, 2017.
Falcons forward Willie Reim recorded his third overtime game-winner in the past six games and fifth game-winner of his college career to lift the Falcons, 3-2, on Friday. MSU prevailed 5-1 Saturday.
“We didn’t do ourselves any favors in the first period,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said on Saturday. “We needed to win that second period and give (goalie Alex) Schilling a chance to win the game for us in third. But we didn’t. We have given up the first goal in every game this season and you just can’t chase the scoreboard in every game.”
In Colorado, No. 12 Denver routed Arizona State 8-3 Friday and followed that up with a 4-3 victory the next night, powered by sophomore defenseman Mike Benning’s game-winner with 7:24 left.
The Pioneers battled back from one-goal deficits twice in the nonconference series finale. Eleven of the 1-3 Sun Devils’ 13 goals so far this season came while on the power play, including all six tallies this weekend against the Pioneers (2-0).
Denver and Air Force (1-1) play each other in a home-and-home nonconference series next weekend starting Friday at Cadet Ice Arena. … CC starts a two-week road trip with a series at ECAC Union (N.Y) College next weekend and single games at Hockey East members Boston College and Northeastern Oct. 22-23. … Union is Mayotte’s alma mater. … The Tigers are back in Colorado for a home-and-home series with Air Force Oct. 29-30.