Ever the humorous showman, Air Force hockey coach Frank Serratore kept things light at the annual Colorado Springs Sports Corp.’s Hockey Faceoff Luncheon at Cheyenne Mountain Resort on Thursday afternoon.
Serratore kept a room of hundreds of hockey executives, fans and community supporters laughing during his remarks, especially when he donned what looked like a fast food paper crown to represent his team’s victory over city rival Colorado College last season. He was joined by CC coach Scott Owens, National Collegiate Hockey Conference CEO Jim Scherr and Denver coach George Gwozdecky, among others, at the festive luncheon.
Excitement for the upcoming college hockey season — especially with the NHL lockout in effect — was palpable in the Centennial Ballroom, with the coaches among those most looking forward to when the pucks drop for their teams.
For Serratore, his team’s enthusiasm is contagious and keeps him feeling young and exuberant.
“I’m an old man and an old, grizzled veteran, but what energizes me is the players,” said Serratore, who is in his 16th season as the Air Force coach. “They energize you because they get so excited about it. They’ve been in school for a long time, and you see them start to champ at the bit.
“There’s nothing like youthful enthusiasm, and that’s the essence of why I love what I’m doing. You’re around them every day and see how excited they get, and that excitement energizes you.”
The Falcons are coming off their fifth Atlantic Hockey Association championship in six years and are ranked 19th in the U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll. Air Force was 21-11-7 last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time.
Colorado College and Air Force both play exhibition games against the University of British Colombia, with the Tigers taking on the Thunderbirds at the World Arena on Sunday night and the Falcons playing host Monday. The Tigers open their home season first, playing a two-game series against Clarkson on Oct. 12-13.
Owens, who led Colorado College to an 18-16-2 record last season, has his Tigers ranked 20th in the USCHO poll and will earn win No. 300 with his team’s next triumph.
“October rolls around, it starts to cool off a little bit and we’re getting closer to the games,” said Owens, who is beginning his 14th season with the Tigers. “We’re excited to get things going. I like the guys and like the team, and we’ll get a better idea Sunday night.”
Scherr will be eagerly watching Colorado College, Denver and the other six elite teams that will make up the NCHC, which begins play next fall. He said NCHC staff will visit all eight venues this season to get a look at their incoming teams.
“It is exciting,” Scherr said. “When you look at the strength of (what will be) our conference, all eight teams got (poll) votes, so I’m really pleased about that. We’re looking forward to our first season next year, and it’ll be great to visit all of our venues this year.”
Scherr said he’s pleased with the moves the NCHC has made since its formation last summer.
“We need to step it up on a couple of fronts, but we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made so far,” he said. “We’re really only 12 months away from our first play next year, so we’ve got a lot to do in that time.”