March 23, 2011
Jerry York, one of the greatest coaches in college hockey history, begins his chase for his fifth national crown Friday in St. Louis.
His Boston College Eagles, the defending national champs, are once again mighty, deserve their No. 1 seed and have every reason to believe they will still be skating at the Frozen Four.
But Jerry, a mere four games away from title No. 5, must be concerned as he examines his bad luck. His opponent in the opening game of the tournament is Colorado College, and the Tigers rank as the most formidable No. 4 seed, with apologies to my friends at Air Force Academy.
On Monday, a surprisingly relaxed Scott Owens examined a weird yet ultimately wonderful season that included gruesome demolitions of his Tigers at World Arena but also featured an uplifting late-season revival.
The Tigers sneaked into the tournament with a No. 4 seed, which was deserved after early season struggles, but offered a frightening announcement to Jerry and his Eagles Friday night in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five.
CC placed a scare into the hearts of North Dakota, which is playing the best hockey in the nation, before losing 4-3. The struggle revealed the Tigers can play with any team in the country.
Owens accurately described his team as a “really good No. 4 seed.” He’s absolutely correct, and he leads a team that could shock the Eagles and the college hockey world Friday night.
All season, the Tigers have been reaching for their potential. On some nights, it looked as if they would never arrive there. Minnesota demolished the Tigers, 9-4, and North Dakota leveled CC, 6-0, and might have scored 10 goals if it had been in the mood.
For a moment, Owens' sunny mood went dark when he thought back to some of the worst moments of his hockey life.
“There were nights when we were awful,” Owens said.
Yet Owens never lost faith. He’s always enjoyed this team, which is one of the least experienced of his 12 seasons as head coach.
“It’s been fun to be part of,” he said. ‘We’ve got young kids, and they’re excited and don’t know what to expect.
“They’re impressionable, and it’s all new for them. They’re engaged and excited about things, even the little things.”
Best of all, this edition of the Tigers closely follows the instructions of Owens and his staff.
“They listen to what you’re saying, exactly, instead of having some of the answers already,” Owens said.
Owens always preaches team-focused hockey, but his teams sometimes decline to embrace his philosophy. These Tigers follow the team-first concept, which allowed them to steadily improve.
I’ll say it again: The Tigers have a strong chance to upset the Eagles. They have a strong chance because freshman Jaden Schwartz is an eternally calm athlete who will not be rattled by the stakes of the game.
They have a strong chance because all season this has been a collection of players striving to play their best for coaches and for each other.
They’ve been reaching for their potential and, yes, they’ve often failed. This sometimes baffling team has been offering hints of its true might for the past few weeks.
They might quit hinting and start fully delivering on Friday. Jerry and his Eagles have every reason to be worried.