When the television camera switches to the Colorado College hockey team’s bench, coach Scott Owens is usually in the frame, arguing his case with referees, drawing up plays for his squad or reacting to game action.
Two men who don’t appear, but who are immensely crucial to the Tigers’ success, are assistants Joe Bonnett and Eric Rud. They’re equally as animated and occupied as Owens, but don’t get the accolades — or the criticism — the head man does throughout the season.
Such is the life of an assistant in virtually every sport, but CC’s coaches are perhaps different than their brethren because of Owens’ approach to building a program. Owens, whose coaching staff is smaller than most top-20 hockey programs, utilizes his assistants.
“We have 26 or 27 players, so they’re crucial on so many different levels,” said Owens, who is in his 14th season at the helm of the Tigers. ”Our coach-to-player ratio is high in the sport. They’re experienced, they’re insightful, they understand Colorado College and the WCHA and they’re excellent teachers.”
While some head coaches are micromanagers who fear delegation, Owens trusts his assistants to help mold the program.
“I believe in giving them the latitude to do things because, for one, they’re good, and, two, when things are delegated more, they’re more into it,” Owens said. “It gives them more of a sense of ownership (of what we’re doing). They’re proven, and it’d be foolish not to utilize them to the fullest.”
Bonnett, who has been with Owens for 13 years, was a four-year letterman at Western Michigan from 1989-93 and spent four years coaching at Miami (Ohio) before coming to CC in 2000. Vocal and intense, Bonnett plays a role in practice preparation, does most of the team’s video work and is tasked with leading the defensive corps, among other duties.
The Canton, Mich., native has enjoyed helping Owens build CC into a national contender.
“What gets us excited is chasing a national championship and working with Scott,” said Bonnett, who has two sons and a daughter with wife, Laura. “His formula and his recipe is, I think, pretty special. He doesn’t over-coach. We bring in good players and let good players win games for us.
“I’m really proud of the kids who’ve come through here.”
Rud is no stranger to Colorado Springs. One of the best defensemen in CC history, Rud was a two-time Western Collegiate Hockey Association Defenseman of the Year and a two-time captain who led the Tigers to three WCHA regular-season titles, two Frozen Four appearances and the 1996 national championship game (a 3-2 overtime loss to Michigan).
Rud played professional hockey for five years with six minor league teams before going into coaching in the United States Hockey League in 2002. He spent the 2004-05 season as one of Owens’ assistants before moving to St. Cloud State for five years and then serving as head coach of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers for the 2010-11 season.
Rud, a native of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., was excited to return to Owens’ coaching staff for the 2011-12 season.
“When you get into coaching at the college level, you always think about coaching at your alma mater,” said Rud, who has two sons and a daughter with wife, Amy. “This is a place that, as a coach and a student, I have such great memories of, and so when the opportunity to come back came up, I felt like it was the right time to come back.”
The Tigers connect well with the assistants and enjoy that the pair has differing styles that work with various types of players.
“You’ve got two different personalities,” senior forward Andrew Hamburg said. “Joe Bonnett is the type of guy who’s in your face all the time, and he stresses you trying to be almost perfect about things. So, he’s good in that case.
“Coach Rud has a positive attitude and always brings it to the rink. So, you get that perfect blend of a coaching staff, and they even each other out. Some people respond to one style, while others don’t, and we get both styles here.”
Owens couldn’t be happier with his crew, which includes volunteer assistant coach Terry Kleisinger, who works with the goalies.
“They get the league, they understand the type of student-athlete we get, and they get the style of play,” Owens said of the assistants. “Those two guys are good enough to be head coaches in college hockey right now, but they just haven’t gotten a break.
“It’s been a very good working relationship.”
CC’s duo doesn’t let the dream of becoming a head coach get in the way of their day-to-day duties.
“When you call back (home) to Detroit and you have buddies you went to school with who are in sales or handling truck parts, you realize you’ve got the best job in the world,” Bonnett said. “I just try to let my work speak for itself. A lot of (becoming a head coach) is timing and luck.
“I do think about it, and it is my goal, but it’s got to be the right situation.”
The common theme among the Tigers’ coaches is developing players, and it’s central to their desire for being mentors.
“Obviously, we want to win games and move players on to the NHL if possible, but the big thing is just being part of the process of recruiting a kid, spending four years with him and watching him change,” Rud said. “They come here as little boys, and (the experience) turns them into men. That is the part I really enjoy the most.”