COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) For Colorado College hockey coach Scott Owens, recognition is nice. Being a target, however, is not.
Returning 20 players while losing just five from last year's team that advanced to the NCAA final four, the Tigers have been picked to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title in a coach's poll conducted by the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, and were picked to finish third nationally in a U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll.
''It's obviously nice to have our program recognized around the country,'' said Owens, who is in his third year at CC. ''But we're not thrilled to be in the position with the bulls-eye on our backs.''
Peter Sejna returns again for the Tigers. Senja led CC in scoring last year as a freshman with 58 points (29 goals, 29 assists), which earned him WCHA Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
Also back are forwards Mark Cullen, a senior who scored 53 points last year (20 goals, 33 assists), and Alex Kim, who had 38 points. Senior Jesse Heerema will also be back. He has 78 career points for the Tigers.
On defense CC returns Jason Josza, Tom Preissing, Mike Stuart and Andrew Canzanello. But the Tigers will have to replace Mike Colgan, Paul Manning and Brent Voorhees, three of the WCHA's top defensemen.
Freshmen defensemen James Laux, Jason Krischuk and Richard Petiot hope to fill the gap on defense. Owens was pleased with their play in the Tigers' 1-0 exhibition win over the University of Alberta on Saturday. Owens felt the underclassmen distinguished themselves in the exhibition.
As for the upperclassmen, Owens said, ''I thought our upperclassmen could have done a little more for us than they did.''
''I think we need to show a little more intensity when it comes to battling for pucks,'' Kim said. ''We need to compete more for second shots, because that's where you get a lot of your goals.''
Owens said there are two areas where the Tigers need improvement. One is the power play. CC was 0-4 on power-play opportunities against Alberta. Second is breaking out along the boards, which will be important when the Tigers visit the smaller, NHL-size rink at North Dakota this weekend.
CC will have to get its offense up to speed in a hurry, as the Tigers start with a tough first-half schedule that includes road trips to North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Denver, Wisconsin and a tournament game against New Hampshire.
The Tigers should be strong in goal again. Jeff Sanger should get the lion's share of playing time. Sanger started 26 games for the Tigers last year, sharing time with Colin Zulianello, who graduated. Sanger was 18-6 for the Tigers last year with a .901 save percentage.
Freshman newcomer Curtis McElhinney will back up Sanger. During the third period of the exhibition against Alberta, McElhinney came up with nine saves to preserve the win and the shutout.