Already, Colorado College has relished the pleasure of winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's regular-season title for the sixth time in 15 years.
Already, the Tigers have earned a place among the strongest candidates for No. 1 regional seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Already, they have established themselves among the best stories in college hockey this season.
But now as the postseason begins, with CC at home this weekend for a first-round series against Alaska-Anchorage, one question remains.
Just how good are these Tigers? More to the point, where do they rank among CC's best teams of the past two decades?
Don't even bother asking head coach Scott Owens, because he'll insist there's no way to know until a month from now. As much as the Tigers have achieved in the 2007-08 season, the euphoria will vanish quickly if they don't cap it off with a serious postseason run.
Even without the coach's input, some personal opinions have taken shape, helped by the perspective of having been around for most of the CC program's modern-day successes.
Next week in St. Paul, Minn., during the WCHA Final Five, the league will take its shot at analyzing the Tigers with its annual season honors. Without doubt, CC freshman goaltender Richard Bachman will be the rookie of the year. Senior defenseman Jack Hillen should win defensive player of the year, and junior forward Chad Rau has a shot at WCHA player of the year.
Another honor, though, should be no contest. Something's wrong if Owens isn't the league's coach of the year. Before the season, the WCHA coaches picked CC to chase North Dakota and Minnesota in the conference race. Nobody realistically put the Tigers on the same level as the Sioux and Gophers.
After all, CC didn't return a single player who had been recognized previously by the WCHA, and Owens was unsure what to expect without experience at goaltender.
Based on all that, it was remarkable for the Tigers to finish 21-6-1 in the league for 43 points, during a season that ended with no fewer than eight WCHA teams still in contention for the NCAA field. It should be said that, in some of those other CC title-winning years in the past two decades, the league was nowhere near this deep.
Owens deserves a lot of the credit, along with assistants Joe Bonnett and Norm Bazin still around after nine seasons of working together. From this vantage point, all three have done the best coaching job of Owens' CC tenure.
For additional wisdom, I approached Dave Moross, who has been CC's sports information director since 1986. Before that, he spent more than a decade covering sports, including Tiger hockey, for the old Colorado Springs Sun. His thoughts, submitted via e-mail:
"The rabbit has jumped out of a different hat a lot this season. We've had 10 different players score game-winning goals in our 26 victories to date, while a total of 21 have factored in on at least one. Seven players have 20 or more points, and a dozen have 10 or more.
"It's probably the grittiest team I've seen in my 22 years as SID. They've overcome a lot of adversity, on and off the ice. And they're really a close-knit bunch. It's obvious that they enjoy coming to the rink every day.
"These guys are just tough. They enjoy physical play, and are able to take hits as well as dish them out. They've avoided injury for the most part, and those who have gotten hurt have been able to bounce back quickly. The rap on past CC teams often has been "bang 'em around and they'll wear down,' but this group doesn't fit that mold at all. They certainly haven't shown any signs of fizzling down the stretch.
"The Tigers have excellent leadership. None of the captains comes close to resembling a superstar (although senior winger Jimmy Kilpatrick does have 107 career points) or ever could be accused of hogging the headlines. But don't take them lightly. They're a solid group of true "team" guys, role players who appreciate this opportunity to be part of something special."
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