Expectations are back.
After a four-season vacation, a genuine college hockey team plays on the south end of Colorado Springs. For too long, Colorado College skated along at World Arena as a zombie team.
Alive, but only kind of.
Those nights are gone. The Tigers are, finally, living and breathing and making promises. A win over North Dakota and ties with powerful and despised rival Denver multiplied hope and created an entirely new vibe. Fans can drive to World Arena with a reasonable belief they might watch the home team win.
Now, the Tigers must make good on those promises.
If the Tigers collapse in the second half, reverting to their lose-every-night ways of 2013-2016, they will fumble their chance to make peace with fans still reluctant to make the drive to World Arena.
In many ways, being part of a program that won only 27 of 144 games lightened the load on the current Tigers. They were expected to remain zombies on ice.
Then they came to life. Now, they are expected to win.
Coach Mike Haviland shrugged when asked about expectations.
“Expectations?” he asked. “I don’t know if there are expectations on this team yet. Maybe the press and the fans are thinking expectations.”
Ah, Mike, come on. Your players are thinking expectations, too.
Defenseman Andrew Farny embraces the increase in belief.
“With expectations,” Farny said, “comes pressure to perform every weekend. That’s where we want to be. We want to be a team that people expect to win and people expect to be in the top 10.
“With expectations, we have to own that and use that for our confidence and use that as courage to go into the weekend and know that we do deserve to be there and to prove the people who don’t believe in us wrong.”
On Sunday, the Tigers took a strange route to a 4-4 tie with Arizona State. The Tigers fell behind 2-0 and roared to a 4-2 lead before settling for the tie.
But after the game, the blessing of expectation came into view. Haviland was aching and so were his players.
Let’s stop here for a moment.
A year ago, the Tigers resided in the dungeon of college hockey. They could have remained there, and a logical observer might have expected them to remain there.
Sunday, they were angry about a tie that came a day after a dominating victory, and one of the Tigers was talking about someday again residing in the nation’s top 10.
That’s a massive journey.
Remember, the days of CC as a national power are not ancient history. In 2011, the Tigers won 23 games, bombarded defending champ Boston College in the NCAA Tournament and traveled to the final eight.
The Tigers are led by a gnarled group of juniors who have endured serious hockey suffering. These juniors spent two seasons skating on ice where they didn’t belong. These juniors were roughed up, time after time, by DU’s Pioneers.
“They’ve been through a lot,” Haviland said. “They’ve seen a lot. They’re not satisfied with being average, with winning one and losing one.”
The hunger is there for sustained success. So is the goaltender, Alex Leclerc.
Expectations are back, and the Tigers welcome the burden.
Promises? They want to make good on all of them.