David Ramsey: Colorado College hockey continues to peddle hope, mostly because that's all there is to sell

March 5, 2017 Updated: March 6, 2017 at 4:28 pm
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Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland, back, talks to his players during a time out after giving up two early goals to Denver in the first period of an NCAA college hockey game in Denver on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The day of reckoning will come for embattled Colorado College hockey coach Mike Haviland.

The day has not yet arrived.

"I want to make it very clear that Mike is our coach next year," CC athletic director Ken Ralph said Thursday.

So let's be clear about this, too: Ralph and Haviland continue to peddle hope, mostly because that's all there is to sell.

Tomorrow, they say, will be glorious for the Tigers.

Today? Well, not so much.

The Tigers are 8-22-4 as they prepare to tangle Friday with the mighty Denver Pioneers in National Collegiate Hockey Conference first-round playoffs.

Like most things in life, hope is doomed by an expiration date. Ralph and Haviland can't keep asking fans to ignore the gloom of today while pointing to all the happy hockey days beckoning from somewhere beyond the horizon.

It's been an ugly three seasons. During the Haviland era the Tigers have: A. Been outscored by three or more goals 41 times. B. Scored one or fewer goals in 42 games while never winning a 1-0 game. C. Lost 12 straight to archrival University of Denver while being outscored, 52-18.

Since Haviland took over in 2014, CC has won 20 of 104 games, with 10 ties, and this epic slide is fully alive in the present tense. Since Feb. 13, the Tigers have won two of 14 games, with two ties, while being outscored, 46-24.

Still, despite the mind-boggling struggles, Ralph's patience with Haviland remains plentiful.

"In all honesty, with a new hockey hire, I think you're looking at five or six years before you can really judge a body of work in the college hockey world of today," Ralph said.

In other words, Haviland has two, and maybe three, more seasons to revive his slumbering Tigers, and slumbering may be too kind a word.

The Tigers are completing the worst four-season performance in CC hockey history since 1958-62, when the Tigers won 18 of 96 games. Since 2013-14, coach Scott Owens' last season, the Tigers won 27 of 141 games, with 14 ties. That's 6.75 wins a season.

Let's place those numbers in perspective. In 20 seasons from 1993 to 2013, the Tigers averaged 24.15 wins a season. In the same span, DU averaged 22.85 wins. For decades, the Tigers skated with the nation's elite while CC fans enjoyed a thriving and hugely entertaining rivalry with DU.

The collapse has been painful to endure. I'd love to see an end to the current catastrophe that is CC hockey. Before the season, I expected the Tigers to move from the bottom of college hockey to somewhere approaching mediocrity. I promised myself I would write a column at a CC home game once the Tigers hit the 10-win mark.

They never got there.

Ralph made a massive gamble when he hired Haviland in 2014. Haviland, with no experience as a Division I head coach, was asked to lead the Tigers into the terror of the ultra-elite NCHC. The conference schedule is vicious, and the Tigers were not, and are not, ready for vicious.

Give Ralph credit: He's realistic about the expectations of CC fans. He knows the good times of the recent past remain fresh in the minds of the thousands of fans.

Ralph often attends practices, and he's pleased by the order and effort produced by Haviland. Ralph has been encouraged by CC's wins over North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Cornell, all ranked in the nation's top 15.

But .

"We have to get better," Ralph says. "And Mike knows that better than anybody."

There have been hints of better. Last season, the Tigers allowed 4.02 goals per game. This season, the CC defense has toughened, cutting the goals to 3.29 per game.

"Let's face facts," Ralph said. "We can talk about statistics all we want, but the fans care about one statistic and that's wins. We can give up six goals, if we score seven. Fans are looking at how many games did you win. Our alums, our boosters are looking at how many games did you win. We know that. We all know that."

In the fall, I talked with Haviland for 30 minutes. At the outset of the conversation, I asked if he enjoyed his summer vacation. He laughed at the question.

He's too busy, he said, trying to revive his Tigers to take a vacation.

Patience in college sports can be a virtue. Air Force kept the faith with Frank Serratore, who required nine seasons to fully revive his hockey Falcons.

Still, the clock is ticking on Haviland and his Tigers. Progress has been achingly slow, at times visible only to Ralph and Haviland.

The pace of improvement must accelerate.

Hope, without results, turns to vapor.

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