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Inspiration for CC hockey

End Zone

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On the first Saturday without college football or basketball since last summer, a marvelous story unfolded that should motivate Colorado College hockey.

Union College, a tiny liberal arts school from Schenectady, N.Y., completed its remarkable run to the NCAA hockey championship, knocking off top-ranked Minnesota 7-4 in the title game after stunning Boston College 5-4 in the semifinals.

Union, with only about 2,240 students, no athletic scholarships and hardly any players headed for the National Hockey League, stunned Minnesota with four first-period goals and never lost the lead after that. For the tiny private college that's been around since 1795, it was an incredible accomplishment. And it brought back some special memories locally.

Colorado College, an even smaller school than Union, nearly reached the same pinnacle in 1996. That year, the Tigers made it to the NCAA finale before falling in overtime to mighty Michigan, in a comparable matchup to Minnesota-Union. Ironically, CC's coach then was Don Lucia, who moved on to Minnesota in 1999. He won national titles with the Gophers in 2002 and 2003, but in 2014 had to watch as Union proved the little guys still can rule college hockey.

The timing for that message couldn't be better on this end, because Colorado College finds itself looking for a new coach now that Lucia's replacement here, Scott Owens, has exited.

Following the first truly disastrous season of Owens' 15-year tenure, cynics might have wondered whether the program could become a national power again. Union, with such limited resources, demonstrated that the answer must be yes, as long as you have the right coach with the right methods, from recruiting to strategy and energy.

Look at it this way: Union just conquered the NCAA with a roster including eight freshmen, five sophomores and only one player who has been drafted by an NHL team.

Now consider, if you happen to be a college hockey prospect, where would you rather play? Schenectady, Minnesota, other outposts that border Canada ... or Colorado Springs?

That, plus the fact that CC ranks among the national leaders in college hockey attendance (No. 4 this season, trailing only Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin) while playing in an arena literally across the street from the headquarters of USA Hockey, should make this a coveted destination for any ambitious coach.

Given those factors, you can't blame CC athletics director Ken Ralph for taking his time in replacing Owens. In fact, Ralph should consider going after any established head coach at a smaller school — starting with the guy who just won it all, Union's Rick Bennett. Or other proven head coaches who have been mentioned, such as former CC assistant Norm Bazin of Massachusetts-Lowell, Nate Leaman of Providence, or Mike Hastings of Minnesota State Mankato.

Some would prefer that Colorado College first consider alumni, which would mean either current CC assistant Eric Rud (the captain of that 1996 team that came so close to the NCAA title) or Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky, who played for the Tigers in the late 1980s. If Rud can convince CC's administration that he could reverse the program's recent slide in recruiting, he would be the right choice.

More likely, though, Colorado College will look for someone different who could bring fresh energy, ideas and charisma, not to mention fierce determination.

Remember that word — fierce. You haven't heard it used to describe CC hockey in recent years.

That might be a good place to start.

routon@csindy.com

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