One thing is certain: It'll be weird not seeing Scott Owens patrolling the Colorado College bench at Amsoil Arena this weekend. Instead, it's Mike Haviland, a highly-respected pro coach who took over the program this season.
For Haviland, the lure of a beautiful city and a traditionally-strong program in a great conference turned into his first college hockey head-coaching job.
"When I first started talking to the athletic director and president," Haviland said this week, "I saw how much they wanted to see this program succeed. These jobs don't open often, and it was a great fit for me and my family. At this time of my career, it was the right choice to do.
"I'm an East Coaster, born in Manhattan. My wife's from Boston, and now we're in the mountains. It's absolutely gorgeous."
The 46-year-old Haviland joined Colorado College as the program's 14th head coach, taking over for Owens, who stepped aside after last season. It's the first time Haviland has worked in college hockey since he served as an assistant for alma mater Elmira College in New York. He helped lead the Soaring Eagles to two ECAC (Division III) championships.
More recently, he was an assistant coach for the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. He also has a bunch of minor pro coaching experience, including as head coach of the AHL's Hershey Bears last season.
In Colorado College, Haviland inherits a team that struggled mightily last season, winning just seven games out of 37. That was enough to bring on the coaching change. The Tigers have one of the better young blue-liners in the nation in sophomore Jaccob Slavin. He made the U.S. World Junior team last winter, and while he has just two points in 11 games, Haviland knows there's plenty of potential there. Slavin plays in all situations and leads his team with 25 blocked shots.
Haviland wants his team playing a tighter defensive style than what they played under Owens, and Slavin is a huge part of that plan. He's strong off the puck and good with it. While his offensive numbers haven't come around yet (he had 25 points last season), he is playing big minutes and continues to get better.
The Tigers are young in goal, where former Andover star Chase Perry and Tyler Marble have split the games. Numbers aren't good, but Haviland knows both players have potential and will only get better as they gain experience. We're expecting to see Perry start at least on Friday, as he's made five straight starts and has played pretty well of late. In CC's last games, a non-conference win over Wisconsin and loss to Air Force the weekend before Thanksgiving, he stopped 46 of 51 shots, including 24 in the win over the Badgers.
UMD needs to generate shots and traffic. The Colorado College defense can be beaten as it tries to find its footing under Haviland. The Tigers haven't played a team as deep as the Bulldogs are up front. And as tough a year as it's been in the faceoff circle for UMD so far, CC is just as bad at faceoffs. If UMD can generate puck possession and handle the biscuit with care, scoring chances will come.
If the Tigers are growing into their tighter
structure, UMD will have to work for the chances that may have come more
easily for North Dakota in Colorado Springs back in October.
Haviland admitted that his team is probably better-suited for the NHL-size surface it plays on this weekend versus the gargantuan Olympic-size surface in Colorado Springs that I've previously compared to what you see in the movie "Mystery, Alaska."
"I think we're better suited for a smaller rink," he said. "Guys need to understand things happen quicker. There's not a lot of time or space out there."
This is where I remind everyone that Colorado College is winless away from home this season, with losses at Boston College (NHL size) and New Hampshire (Olympic), two losses at Miami (NHL size), one really lopsided loss at Denver (NHL size), and a loss at Air Force (NHL size).
I'm not saying Haviland is wrong, because watching back the Air Force game, I thought CC played pretty well, especially over the first two periods. The Tigers outshot the Falcons 27-14 and held the puck a ton. They just couldn't beat AFA goalie Chris Truehl, outside of a fluky bounce for Charlie Taft in the opening two minutes.
That's been a theme for the Tigers so far. Opponents have a .933 save percentage. While 13 Division I goalies have matched or exceeded that number so far this season, it's hard to imagine that continuing. Only four goalies did it over a full season last year, eight the year before, and five the year before that.
However, Haviland knows his team has to be better to get that number to come down.
"We need more traffic. We need guy to stay in those tough areas. You're just not beating goalies anymore coming down the wing. I don't care what level you're at. We need more guys with that will to go in the tough areas and get those second and third chances."
In case you're wondering, yes, he showed his new players his championship ring from that magical run in Chicago.
"I had a meeting early on when I was here, and I had the ring on," he said. "Lot of wide-eyed kids. I don't like to wear it much, but my staff says I should more often.
"Certainly, it's something everybody dreams of. I was fortunate to go through the hard work and understand what it takes to win."