January 10, 2013
Ken Ralph, Colorado College’s athletic director, has watched his hockey team stumble to one win in the past 12 games.
“I think the best word right now is we’re frustrated,” Ralph said this week in his office. “I think the coaches would agree and I think the players would agree that we’re a bit frustrated at this point.”
I don’t agree with his word choice. I believe Ralph and coach Scott Owens and the rest of the Tigers should be outraged by a slump that is reaching epic levels.
In the past 47 games, CC has won 17 times. That’s all. Last season ended with nine wins in the last 25. This season began with a bouncy 7-3 start, including 4-0 in the Western Conference Hockey Association, before the Tigers tumbled into the abyss. This is a lost team wandering through a mind-numbingly awful season.
The Tigers are winless in their past seven, and last weekend’s 8-4 loss at Nebraska-Omaha ranks among the worst performances of the Owens era, which started in 1999.
The immediate future does not look promising. The Tigers tangle with North Dakota this weekend in a deafening, hostile arena. North Dakota has scored at least four goals in four of its past five games. The Tigers have allowed 55 goals during their 12-game tumble.
You can do the math. This journey to The Frozen North could turn ugly. Really ugly.
Owens constructed this catastrophe, but he’s also the right leader to resurrect his team. He resides in a crisis point in his CC career. He’s collected one – count ‘em – win in the NCAA Tournament since 2005. He’s spent portions of the past few seasons leading the third-best college hockey team in our state, trailing the Evil Empire of the North, sometimes known as the University of Denver, and the Falcons of Air Force Academy.
And yet …
He’s an expert recruiter who persuaded Peter Sejna, Marty Sertich, Brett Sterling, Mark Stuart, Richard Bachman and the Schwartz brothers to compete at World Arena.
Many CC fans wonder if a fire burns in Owens’ hockey soul. I often read messages from disgruntled fans who believe Owens is too passive and polite.
These fans do not know Owens. He’s fiercely, and deceptively, competitive, and he cares for his team as only an alum can care. When an underachieving player sits down with Owens, I assure you this player will witness the coach’s rage. Yes, it’s understated rage, but that’s the most effective brand.
It’s past time for Owens to reveal his powers as a recruiter and motivator. He’s shown the ability to stock his team with elite hockey players who double as legit students. In other seasons, he has pushed limited teams beyond their talent.
He’s performed these recruiting and motivating feats before. Let’s see if he can perform them again.
Ralph and Owens emphasize this season is anything but a lost cause, and their optimism is not completely blind. Junior Josh Thorimbert belongs on any list of the most talented goaltenders in the college game, but he’s been reduced to a shadow of himself since a violent collision in front of the net Feb. 4 against DU.
If he can finally recover, the Tigers could climb from the depths and become respectable again. Please, realize I’m not getting carried away. I said respectable, not powerful.
Urgency is required. It’s time for Ralph and Owens, two calm, rational types, to dig into their emotions and demand more.
From the players. And from themselves.
This collapse must inspire much more than mere frustration.