Wrapping up the college hockey season; York retires; NCAA to NHL signings; Celebrini to USHL
Plus: Transfer portal news and notes; Knies stays in school; Pat Foley tribute
So, uh, a lot has happened since the last newsletter. Heck, a lot happened on Wednesday alone and I’m not entirely sure we’re done yet with a days old college hockey offseason that has already seen multiple premier coaching jobs open up, the transfer portal exploding with players, player signings flying left and right and we even managed to crown a champion somewhere in there.
So I apologize for getting the newsletter out late this week, but it’s been a lot of writing and rewriting to keep up with the news.
So, before we get to the things like Jerry York’s retirement and the larger coaching carousel, Ben Meyers signing with Colorado and a whole bunch of other stuff, let’s take a quick look back at the conclusion of the season, belated as it may be.
Frozen Four wrap
One of the more interesting, entertaining and thrilling men’s college hockey seasons officially concluded in Boston last weekend. The University of Denver came all the way back from narrowly missing the tournament last season to winning the national championship in a stunning third period that punctuated a season of twists and turns with one last swerve.
Minnesota State was probably the most complete team I saw all season, but the way Denver maximized every ounce of their talent over the course of the entire season is something that can’t be overlooked. I think back to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal when Denver had no answer for Minnesota Duluth’s relentless attack and team defense and how much that rattled my confidence in them as a team. Denver made the adjustments, they dug a little deeper and in their greatest time of need, they came up with their best 20 minutes of the season.
The complete lack of panic, the otherwise indifference to their situation — down 1-0, with only eight shots on goal through two periods — I feel strongly stems from the stoic, calm nature of 32-year-old head coach David Carle. They stayed the course, made minimal adjustments and took advantage of the few opportunities they were given.
I also think the season-long grind of playing against the best of the best in the NCHC allowed Denver to stay patient, to understand their opportunities would come eventually. They’d obviously have to work harder for them, but once they got them, they finished. Now they’re national champions.
Congratulations to the Pioneers on an incredible season and a tremendous accomplishment. Denver now is tied with Michigan for most NCAA titles in men’s hockey with nine all-time.
Now let’s get to some closing thoughts on the Frozen Four and the season at large.
Final Frozen Four thoughts:
Minnesota State was incredible for five periods. They were fast, they were physical and their forecheck was overwhelming. The defense bent, but didn’t break… until the worst possible time. It is a reminder that the margin for error can be so slim against the very best teams. I don’t know that Minnesota State did as much to let Denver back in so much as it was Denver kicking open the door. A high-skill team like that needs the tiniest of openings and they took advantage.
The bitterness of Minnesota State being that close to a national title only to see it slip through its fingers makes it harder to recognize what a monumental season this was for that program. The CCHA regular-season and playoff titles, a staggering 38-6-0 record, a U.S. Olympian, a Hobey Baker winner three NCAA tournament wins, a trip to the NCAA final and a school record in wins. The Mavericks took a giant leap this season as a program and put themselves on the map in a way that it never had before. The disappointment will take a while to subside, but the pride Mavericks fans, alumni and the team itself should take from this season is enormous.
Mike Benning (FLA) took such a huge step forward this season. His play away from the puck has gotten a lot better and his defensive game continues to improve. While it will always be his offense that is his greatest strength, he is becoming a more complete player at Denver. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four and I would not be surprised to see him enter the Hobey Baker conversation next year after somewhat quietly putting up nearly a point per game and finishing second among all NCAA defensemen with 38 points. His skill level is especially high and that’s going to really challenge teams next season as he’s a year stronger and more experienced.
I was struck by Bob Motzko’s honesty and candor during his post-game press conference. He was able to cogently explain to us why Minnesota never was able to get going against Minnesota State. He talked about how much the Mavericks’ forecheck broke them down and how even when they had the 1-0 lead, they knew how precarious it was. Motzko also was effusive in his praise of Ben Meyers (COL) and laid out all of the reasons that he became a program-defining player. From being a good student, to being a role model on and off the ice, Meyers left an impact on the Motzko era in a way few other players probably will.
Michigan was a goal away from the final and the devastation of the players after the game was palpable. They knew how close they came and that all of it was over. As you’ll read below, a massive chunk of the roster has signed pro contracts and a few fifth-years will be transferring out. Immediately after the game, the attention inevitably turned to what the future holds. In the more immediate future, an independent investigation into alleged misconduct by head coach Mel Pearson and director of hockey ops Rick Bancroft continues. Pearson’s contract expires at the end of this month. Everything is coming to a head soon and there’s a chance that Pearson could be out. He would not comment on his future at the Frozen Four press conference and neither would Michigan AD Warde Manuel. So one of the wildest college hockey offseasons I can ever remember may yet get wilder. Stay tuned.
Jerry York closes the book on Hall of Fame career
Jerry York called it a career after 50 years behind an NCAA bench. His record of 1,123 wins is unmatched and his impact indelible on the young men he coached and the college hockey landscape at large. Few coaches have had as large an impact on their sport than York had on men’s college hockey. From dozens of NHLers developed, to the many more players that went onto big things outside of hockey, that’s where York’s impact will be most felt in a tangible way. But there was and is something special about Jerry York the person, how he carried himself and how he did the job. They don’t really make them like him anymore.
York got the best out of his players and out of the people around him. Kindness is probably the word most associated with York. Despite his stature, there was always a humility to York even as the wins, the championships and the accolades piled up. There was a gentleness to the man. That didn’t mean he wasn’t demanding or could grind his players like any good coach can, but to the outside world, to those on the periphery, everyone mattered to Coach York. That’s something that I take away from every interaction, however brief. Jerry York made you believe that what you said was important to him and he would offer thoughtful replies, gentle corrections and pointing out matters of fact to make sure he was understood — not assuming that you’d understand. It’s really helpful as a journalist to have someone like that when you’re trying to tell a story.
I don’t profess to know Coach York, but I know anytime I’ve had the chance to speak with him, it’s been a positive experience that left me feeling better after it happened. Not many people are invested in making others feel good, but I think Jerry York was always looking for the best in people. What made him exceptional, though is that he’d often find it and bring it out.
All the best in retirement, Coach.
College coaching carousel is absolutely bananas
I can say with supreme confidence there has never been a year with this many high-profile openings in men’s college hockey. Both Boston University and Boston College are open at the same time — two of the premier jobs anywhere in the nation. Michigan State is now open after the school fired coach Danton Cole after five years, which was curiously late considering Cole had started making moves to restructure his coaching staff before ultimately being let go himself. Union remains open as well, though the expectation is that job will be filled in short order. On top of that, Augustana is looking for its inaugural head coach and is being aggressive in its search with reported deep pockets to entice top candidates.
Here’s what I’m hearing on some of the openings…