ML Cavanaugh

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.

I took my family to the inaugural game at Ed Robson Arena at Colorado College on Saturday night. We watched the Air Force Falcons win 2-1 over the home team Colorado College Tigers in an exhibition.

Once, I wanted nothing but to play hockey. Having grown up in Minnesota, and played a little at West Point, it was borderline obsessive. Only later in life have I come to recognize that college hockey matters so much less in the way we think, and so much more in the ways we don’t. Who wins and who loses matters not one tiny bit. Everyone wins, even the “losers.” Especially now, in CC’s new on-campus arena, the things that matter were so apparent on Saturday night.

My two young daughters watched carefully every brick and timber go into building that arena. They asked every time we passed by when it would be finished. I always answered “soon” — until, a few weeks ago, I got to say, “it’s ready.”

At the game, at the end of the first period, a video went up on the above-center-ice jumbo screen. It showed the players walking into the arena for the first time. They were gobsmacked as they ogled the new locker room. It was as close as college kids can come to Christmas morning.

“This is your new home,” head coach Kris Mayotte told them in the video, and asked them to remember all those people that came before them to make it possible. In 83 seasons of Tiger hockey, this was the first to be played at home on campus. Home matters.

And it was played against a cross-town rival that in some ways couldn’t be more different. The most public of universities versus the most private of colleges. Air Force is mandatorily diverse, and proportionally represents the entire country. CC was recently cited as having the wealthiest median family income of any college or university student body in the country. At Air Force, the only tuition is a commitment to serve. At CC, the sticker price is around $80,000 per year.

And yet, Air Force is a military school and CC was founded by a former general. There’s room enough for both in this town.

You could look around the sellout crowd of 3,502 and see a sea of black and gold blend in with bluish bolts. The common denominator was smiles.

Even the ceremonial puck drop was as local and representative as it gets. Three were invited: a mayor, a colonel, and a professor. It was like the old bar joke, but instead of a bar, it was in an ice rink. The Pikes Peak region assembled for a moment at center ice—the local public, the military presence and the private sector.

The game was what it always is, complementarity at its finest. Elegant and rough, poetic and profane, smooth and gritty. “Brutiful,” in the mashup made famous by writer Glennon Doyle. CC scored a quick goal in the first, then in the second period Air Force struck once early and once late, and the game stayed 2-1 all the way to the end.

This was not necessarily a high-hockey-knowledge crowd. I overheard someone in the crowd ask how many periods there are, and then quickly guess, “Two, or four?” When the score was 1-0 after the first period, my older daughter said, “Dad the Tigers won the first round.” (We’ll work on the hockey-speak.)

But does any of that matter?

You could walk around the arena and see a lot of local. The CC Tiger mascot—“RoCCy”—bumped into my bashful kids several times, eliciting a smile every time. You could get a scoop of special blend “Tiger Stripe” ice cream from neighborhood favorite Josh & John’s. At least a dozen other local businesses showed their support with logos plastered all over the boards.

As divided as things seem from time to time, how many events bring us all together? Where everyone checks their arguments at the door? Where partisan disagreements seem to slip away?

Sacrilegious to some, but still — Saturday night was so much more than a game. It was a community coming together, gathering neighbors for a night of fun. It also meant jobs and dollars and rent and food for a lot of working people.

And for the players’, let’s face it — it’s not really about the wins and losses. Not really.

It’s about physical health. It’s a test of character. It’s learning to lose, sometimes a lot. It’s struggling to win. It’s growing to be a little bit better person when it seems everything pushes you to be a little bit worse. It’s about being human.

And every human needs something like Ed Robson Arena. A place to call home.

ML Cavanaugh is a lieutenant colonel and strategist in the Army, lives in Manitou Springs, and writes a weekly newsletter at StrategyNotes.co. Contact at MLCavanaugh.com.

ML Cavanaugh is a lieutenant colonel and strategist in the US Army, lives in Manitou Springs, and writes a weekly newsletter at StrategyNotes.co. Contact at MLCavanaugh.com.

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