COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Colorado College’s preparations for the hockey season were upended when in-person team activities were paused on Nov. 17 for two weeks following a player’s positive test for COVID-19.
No on-ice practices meant a quick transition back to a familiar routine in 2020: virtual meetings.
“It’s similar to what we did back in March, April and throughout the summer,” Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland said of the day-to-day schedule during the pause. “I think we got used to this new world. I think the spirits are better.”
Haviland’s focus, for now, is leading the Tigers through quarantine protocols and ensuring the team is ready for its scheduled NCHC Pod opener in Omaha on Dec. 1. That means a variety of Zoom meetings to work on systems, scout coming NCHC opponents and check in on players’ mental health.
“They were really disappointed and we were all disappointed when it (the pause) happened,” Haviland said. “The message was really ‘control what we can control.’ The guys are just counting down the days and excited to get to Omaha.”
Haviland said he liked how competitive practices were on the ice this fall before the pause. The intensity was something he wanted to see after reviewing several tie-game situations on game videos from last season over the summer. The Tigers won four NCHC games and finished last in the conference standings in 2019-20.
“We felt we needed to get a team that was going to compete for the entire 60 minutes,” Haviland said. “That’s what we went after with the freshman class and transfers. That was the bottom line. We wanted hard skill and knowing what we know in this conference and how good it is, you have to compete on every shift. If you’re not, you’re going to get beat.”
Colorado College added two junior transfers in August with 6-foot-4 defenseman Hugo Blixt and forward Brian Hawkinson, and Haviland said both will play at the Pod. Blixt played 47 games for Boston University the previous two seasons. Hawkinson played in 60 games for Miami and finished second in NCHC rookie scoring in 2018-19. Blixt, Hawkinson and junior defenseman Byran Yoon all played junior hockey together in the United States Hockey League for Tri-City.
Colorado College’s 12-player incoming freshman class is expected to play at the Pod as well. Haviland pointed to defensemen Jack Millar, Chase Foley, Nick Andrews, Hunter McKown and forward Jackson Jutting as players who will get in the lineup. Jutting, a two-time captain at Prior Lake High School (Minn.), is the nephew of former Minnesota State University-Mankato head coach Troy Jutting.
“I like the (freshman) class, what they bring and their work ethic, Haviland said. “I like the group now in the practices that we did have. It’s very competitive. Guys were really pushing each other to get better each and every day.”
The Tigers will be looking to replace the production from departed seniors Chris Wilkie (23 goals, 31 points) and Nick Halloran (12 goals, 30 points). Returning junior captain Grant Cruikshank (11-6—17) was the only other CC player to score double-digit goals last season. Cruikshank, junior Ben Copeland (4-14—18) and sophomore Josiah Slavin (5-8—13) finished behind Wilkie and Halloran in team scoring. Slavin, a Chicago draft pick, scored four of his goals last season in NCHC play.
Haviland said Copeland is looking “great” this fall after his goal scoring production dropped from nine goals as a freshman to four last season. The former Edina High School (Minn.) standout finished sixth in USHL scoring (62 points in 60 games) for Waterloo and led the league in assists (44) in 2017-18 before coming to Colorado College.
“I think he (Copeland) has a ton of confidence,” Haviland said. “We need him to step up. We need Josiah Slavin to step up and go to a different level. And we need contributions from everyone.”
The young Tigers scored the fewest goals (48) and allowed the most goals (96) in conference play last season. All 13 underclassmen played for the Tigers at some point last season and 10 of those players appeared in 24 or more games. Freshmen Connor Mayer, Patrick Cozzi and Slavin played every game. Haviland said the experience gained in those games was valuable and is noticeable this fall.
“You have to go through growing pains sometimes, guys get put into a position and it’s a process,” Haviland said. “You look at the time they (underclassmen) get on the ice and the reps they get – they get better for it. I can see the confidence in them this year.”
Matt Vernon, the son of former NHL All-Star Mike Vernon, started in 26 games (8-16-3, 3.43, .901) as a freshman last season and is the team’s starter going into the Pod, Haviland said. The Tigers added depth to the goalie position behind Vernon with two freshmen: 6-foot-6 Chicago draft pick Dominic Basse and former Hill-Murray High School (Minn.) standout Jake Begley, who won the 2017 Frank Brimsek Award given annually to Minnesota’s top high school senior goalie.
“Right now he (Vernon) knows what college hockey is all about and knows this conference,” Haviland said. “I like the depth we have in the cage and the competition is very good there. I think we have choices and that’s a good thing as a coach.”
Haviland plans to draw on his personal experiences as a professional player and coach to help the Tigers navigate the upcoming NCHC Pod schedule of 10 games in 19 days. Game-to-game tweaks are implemented quickly by necessity. Practices are shorter. Managing rest and recovery is crucial. And there is no time to overthink the game.
“I think guys like playing games every other day,” Haviland said. “You make your adjustments and guys get out and play the game. I see it as a playoff stretch like the pros where you’re playing a seven-game series in 11 or 12 nights. I think they’re so excited to play hockey.”
Dec. 1 — Colorado College vs. Nebraska Omaha, 3:35 p.m.; St. Cloud State vs. Western Michigan, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 2 — Miami vs. North Dakota, 3:35 p.m.; Denver vs. Minnesota Duluth, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 3 — Colorado College vs. St. Cloud State, 3:35 p.m.; Nebraska Omaha vs. Western Michigan, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 4 — Minnesota Duluth vs. Miami, 3:35 p.m.; North Dakota vs. Denver, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 5 — Western Michigan vs. Colorado College, 12:05 p.m.; Miami vs. Nebraska Omaha, 4:05 p.m.; St. Cloud State vs. Denver, 8:05 p.m.
Dec. 6 — Minnesota Duluth vs. Colorado College, 12:05 p.m.; North Dakota vs. Western Michigan, 4:05 p.m.; Nebraska Omaha vs. St. Cloud State, 8:05 p.m.
Dec. 8 — Denver vs. North Dakota, 3:35 p.m.; Miami vs. Minnesota Duluth, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 9 — Western Michigan vs. St. Cloud State, 3:35 p.m.; Nebraska Omaha vs. Colorado College, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 10 — Denver vs. Miami, 3:35 p.m.; North Dakota vs. Minnesota Duluth, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 11 — Colorado College vs. Western Michigan, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 12 — St. Cloud State vs. North Dakota, 12:05 p.m.; Nebraska Omaha vs. Miami, 4:05 p.m.; Minnesota Duluth vs. Denver, 8:05 p.m.
Dec. 13 — Western Michigan vs. North Dakota, 12:05 p.m.; St. Cloud State vs. Nebraska Omaha, 4:05 p.m.; Colorado College vs. Minnesota Duluth, 8:05 p.m.
Dec. 15 — Denver vs. Western Michigan, 3:35 p.m.; Miami vs. Colorado College, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 16 — Nebraska Omaha vs. Minnesota Duluth, 3:35 p.m.; North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 17 — Miami vs. Denver, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 18 — Western Michigan vs. Denver, 3:35 p.m.; St. Cloud State vs. Colorado College, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 19 — Minnesota Duluth vs. North Dakota, 12:05 p.m.; Western Michigan vs. Denver, 4:05 p.m.; Colorado College vs. Miami, 8:05 p.m.
Dec. 20 — Minnesota Duluth vs. Nebraska Omaha, 12:05 p.m.; Denver vs. St. Cloud State, 4:05 p.m.; North Dakota vs. Miami, 8:05 p.m.