Paradox of the Puck
Colorado College Hockey -- just tao it!

click to enlarge Alex Kim scores the second of his two goals in CCs 2-to-1 victory over the University of Calgary in their exhibition game on Oct. 6. - DARRALD BENNETT
  • Darrald Bennett
  • Alex Kim scores the second of his two goals in CCs 2-to-1 victory over the University of Calgary in their exhibition game on Oct. 6.

Paradox -- n. a statement that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

What is the character of the Colorado College hockey program? Its coach? Its players?

The only thing I know of that can explain anything and everything is Taoism, which has at its heart a belief in the power of paradox -- that opposites exist in a complementary relationship rather than in a state of conflict. Night needs day, summer needs winter and vice versa. You get the general picture.

When applied to the phenomenon known as Colorado College hockey, paradoxes create a clear, complementary picture.

To wit:

The Players

In a sport with the potential to be as violent and brutal as it can be graceful and awe-inspiring, it is surprising to hear the CC hockey players using terms like "laid-back," "easy-going" and "selflessness" in describing themselves, their teammates and the general atmosphere of the hockey program.

"I've played on teams where guys were kind of selfish and stuff," forward Jesse Heerema said. "It seems like the character of the guys that come through this program ... you don't see that selfish kind of hockey player coming through here."

Instead, selflessness is the rule, on and off the ice.

"Guys don't hold grudges against one another," said forward Alex Kim. "They're willing to work with each other, and when communication lines are open like that, it makes it easier to bring the on-ice chemistry together."

On ice, the team is a potent complement of size and speed, talent and brawn. The Tigers feature big guys like forwards Justin Morrison and Chris Hartsburg, and defensemen Mike Colgan and Paul Manning. On the flip side, the Tigers sport some of the nimblest skaters and craftiest puck handlers in college hockey with forwards Noah "The Griminnator" Clarke, Mark Cullen, Trent Clark, Heerema and Kim.

The Coach -- improvisation and forethought

In early 1999 coach Don Lucia left CC to coach at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. Colorado College cast a wide net in search of his replacement, and had its choice of many of the best and brightest minds in hockey. CC chose one of their own -- Scott Owens (Class of '79), a former goalie.

These days a silver lining frosts the curly hair above his shirt-collar. Stout of build, Owens is the epitome of burly, but speaks with a staid calmness, and carries himself with a mild manner, at least outside the rink.

His coaching style encourages individual expression.

As with military endeavors, athletic endeavors require a strategy, a structure for attack, as well as a contingency for respite. But within the parameters of any good battleplan, there must be room for improvisation and flexibility.

"I believe in recruiting talented hardworking players and letting them play," Owens said. "I think it's a perfect fit for the kind of kids we get at Colorado College. They don't want a lot of restrictions on them. They're intelligent people -- otherwise they wouldn't be here -- and we give them some leeway on the ice. Obviously, there are guidelines involved, but by and large that's the way it is and kids like to play that kind of style. You know it's nicer coming to the rink everyday knowing you're going to play the way you want to play."

Before transferring to CC after two years at Miami of Ohio, Kim had played hockey in some less flexible systems.

"I've played on teams that don't allow that kind of creativity -- where you just take a shot at the goal, or dump the puck in the corner and forecheck, instead of taking the puck across the blue-line and trying to create an opportunity," Kim said.

The School -- history ensures a promising future

How does a liberal arts college with an enrollment of less than 2,000 field hockey teams that compete with -- and more often than not beat -- such high-rise, quad-crowned mega-universities as Wisconsin and Minnesota?

Colorado College exemplifies the virtue that being small is more often than not an advantage. The school attracts athletes who prefer a small, intimate setting instead of a sprawling campus, students who prefer smaller classrooms with more one-on-one interaction.

In upholding its tradition of academic excellence, CC looks to recruit hockey players who know that there is life beyond the rink.

"Obviously you've got to look for hockey ability and talent," Owens said. "But at a school like Colorado College, it's very important that you get the right kind of kid that fits in here. Somebody who understands what CC is all about, somebody who understands the tradition behind the program and the relationship the program has within the community."

One of the chief reasons why CC attracts an abundance of highly talented hockey players year after year -- ensuring its future success -- is its storied past. Started in 1938, the program's first teams stuck rolled-up Saturday Evening Posts in their socks as ersatz shin-guards. The tradition started at a time when a game against rival Denver University meant an overnight trip. There were times on road trips when hotels made venerated Colorado College trainer Roosevelt Collins -- who worked the kinks out of many a visiting dignitary's back -- sleep in a different, "colored" hotel, separate from the rest of the team.

But the Tigers persevered through the lean, mean times, won NCAA titles in 1950 and 1957. They were runners-up in 1952, 1955 and 1996. Colorado College has produced 29 All-Americans.

Everyday Heroes

A general love can often be an intimate one.

With iss successes, Colorado College hockey has become a community institution but, paradoxically, the team is loved intimately. The fans are everywhere in Colorado Springs. Players -- past and present -- have made a lasting and visible impact on the community.

The player who scored last night's winning goal could be the person you see in the restaurant, the supermarket or in the park today.

Several former hockey players have put academic talents nurtured at CC to use in the Springs business community. Look at Don Bates, for example, who owns an insurance agency in the Springs; or the late Tony Frasca, whose family owns and operates Panino's restaurants; or Marty Wakeland who owns Sports Replay, a Springs sporting goods store.

Looking up in the World Arena at the vast waves of black and yellow attire in the stands, then looking down at the ice and the players in yellow and black, it's as clear as the night and day symbolism of the school colors: CC hockey is a reflection of Colorado Springs, and we are a reflection of them. p


C.C. Hockey home schedule: All home games at the World Arena Fridays at 7:35 p.m., Saturdays at 7:05 p.m.

Tickets: $4-$12; call 576-2626.

Oct. 13 and 14 vs. Minn. State, Mankato

Nov. 3 and 4 vs. Minnesota-Duluth

Nov. 10 and 11 vs. St. Cloud State

Nov. 24 vs. Providence, Nov. 25 vs. Boston University

Dec. 1 vs. Air Force, Dec. 2 vs. Bemidji State

Dec. 8 and 9 vs. North Dakota

Dec. 29 and 30 vs. Harvard

Jan. 5 at Denver, Jan. 6 vs. Denver

Jan. 26 and 27 vs. Alaska-Anchorage

Feb. 10 vs. Denver

Feb. 23 and 24 vs. Wisconsin

  • When it comes to Colorado College hockey, paradoxes create a clear, complementary picture.


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