A year ago, a cloud of gloom hovered over the Colorado College hockey program.
The forecast? More of the same.
Coach Mike Haviland paid no attention to the forecast. He kept emphasizing what he calls “the process.” He kept pushing his players. He kept believing, even when there was little reason to believe. He’s a stubborn man who was convinced he could defy the odds.
On Wednesday, Haviland signed a contract extension. Terms were not disclosed, but athletic director Ken Ralph was quick to say “it is definitely multi-year, and Mike is going to be with us for some time.”
Ralph also said this:
“Mike earned this. He really did.”
Let’s be clear: It was gloomy. Heading into the 2017-2018 season, the Tigers had won 27 of 144 games, dating back to Scott Owens final season as head coach. Some CC game nights at World Arena were depressingly similar to nights when the arena was vacant.
My, but it was ugly. In Haviland’s first three seasons, the Tigers were outscored by three or more goals 41 times and scored one or fewer goals in 42 games while never winning a 1-0 game.
But all that darkness served to magnify the fun when the Tigers returned to life. They split the four-game regular-season series with The Evil Empire of the North, sometimes known as Denver’s hockey team. They pushed DU to the brink in the NCHC tournament. They finished fifth in a brutally tough conference. They flirted with a winning record.
I realize many of you remember the not-so-long-ago days when CC soared as an undisputed national power. From 1993 to 2013, the Tigers averaged 24.15 wins a season. During the same era, DU averaged 22.85 wins. For decades, the Tigers skated proudly among the nation’s elite.
If you’re considering all that CC accomplished last season and remain less than overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to read Haviland’s view of the future.
You’re not satisfied?
He’s not either.
“We’re not where we want to be yet,” Haviland said. “I think we made good strides, but I just don’t think we’re there yet. . . . We’re in the middle of where we want to be. We’re not going to be satisfied with that.”
CC did not graduate a senior and returns the talented and hungry junior class that revived the program. Chris Wilkie, a North Dakota transfer, and promising freshmen Ben Copeland and Bryan Yoon will add power to the Tigers.
I asked Ralph if he’s optimistic.
He said the word “is always a dangerous word to use in sports,” but added that he likes all the “trendlines” he sees with the team.
“In everything,” Ralph said, “the trends are heading in the right direction.”
The rivalry with Air Force is one of the trends that must change for CC fans – and they are legion – to find hockey satisfaction. The Tigers are second in the two-team battle to rule Colorado Springs.
Count on this: Frank Serratore and his Air Force Falcons are determined to remain atop the hill. Next season’s struggle for the Pikes Peak Trophy should deliver entertaining and intense hockey.
Throughout the years of losing, Haviland insists he never lost faith. He could always could see light. He always could see wins beckoning from the horizon.
“That never came to my mind,” Haviland said. “I always just wanted to make the team better, and that’s still my philosophy now.”
The gloom has, finally, lifted. Now, we’ll see just how sunny it can be.