April 1, 2013
Denver fired George Gwozdecky on Monday. Gwozdecky only won two NCAA titles during our new century. That’s all.
Those two titles were not enough for greedy DU athletic director Peg Bradley-Doppes. Remember, Colorado College has won two titles, the last in 1957, during the existence of its hockey program.
Let me offer a warning to the coach who accepts Bradley-Doppes offer to replace Gwozdecky:
You better plan to win a national title in your first five seasons. Otherwise, Peg will direct you to the unemployment line.
I’ve sat with Peg in her DU office and admired her dazzling array of jewelry. She’s an impatient woman utterly clear about what she wants. She wants – no, she requires - championship rings to adorn those already crowded hands.
She made a mistake when she dismissed Gwozdecky after 19 seasons. He had just pushed DU to the NCAA Tournament. Any CC fan can tell you an NCAA ride is not a given.
And he’s shown he can craft elite teams. That was in his past. It would have been in his future.
Air Force coach Frank Serratore struggled to believe the news. He spent Monday afternoon talking with his coaching staff.
“We were trying to figure out what the heck happened,” Serratore said. “I’m just shocked. You would like to think his body of work would have enabled him to eventually retire on his own terms. You’d like to think that.”
Yes, you would.
Not long ago, Gwozdecky reigned as the king of college hockey. In 2004 and 2005, he led the Pioneers to consecutive titles.
The first was breathtakingly dramatic with goaltender Adam Berkhoel making two sensational saves in the final minute with the Pioneers down three skaters against Maine.
The second title was overwhelming in its dominance. The Pioneers outscored Colorado College and North Dakota, 10-4, at The Frozen Four to claim the title.
A few weeks after Gwozdecky’s second title, I sat with him in his DU office, which offered a panoramic view of cars whizzing along I-25. For CC fans, Gwozdecky was the arrogant leader of their arch-rival, The Evil Empire of the North. A few fans even threw full glasses of sodas at him during games at World Arena.
Away from the ice, Gwozdecky is a friendly and unpretentious man who enjoys talking about his daughter and Bruce Springsteen. On this afternoon, he leaned back and discussed how the repeat titles would complicate his life.
“You’ve got that damn bull’s-eye,” he said. “It’s really tough to bear.”
Gwozdecky won eight NCAA Tournament games in two seasons while carrying DU’s hockey program, so dominating in the 1960s, fully into the present. Surely, he could cling to this job as long as he wanted.
The program did not collapse, but it failed to soar to the level required by a demanding athletic director named Peg. Since his consecutive titles, Gwozdecky has stumbled to one win and six losses in the NCAA Tournament while being outscored 25-11.
The end, as it turned out, arrived last week when DU suffered through a 5-2 thumping by New Hampshire. Gwozdecky had signed a 12-season – yes, 12 – extension in 2001, and had been working with Bradley-Doppes on extending the extension since 2009.
She ended the negotiations Monday and waved goodbye to one of our nation’s finest college coaches.
Pity the man who succeeds George Gwozdecky.