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Colorado College Making Strides in Mike Haviland's First Year

Matt Dewkett

If you hadn't seen Colorado College play since October, you might not have recognized the team on the ice this past weekend at Providence, if not for the familiar CC jerseys. It's almost hard to believe that the team that fought tooth and nail to grind out two close setbacks to the Friars this weekend was the same team that lost, 6-2, to BC and UNH on back-to-back nights in the last weekend of October.

Those two setbacks at Conte Forum and the Whittemore Center were during a stretch of five games where the Tigers lost each game by a minimum of three goals. Things have begun to swing around and change for the better for the team in black and gold.

The man behind the change is first year head coach Mike Haviland who came to Colorado Springs last May to take on an overwhelming task of turning around one of the most storied programs in college hockey history.

"We've definitely come a long way. We're starting to learn to play the right way. We're still learning what it takes to win. I'm proud of them. We're getting better each and every day. We've made drastic changes from earlier in the season," said Haviland.

After suffering through numerous lopsided losses in the first two months of the season, Colorado College has taken four of its last six games to overtime, including Saturday's 5-4 loss to Providence and December's 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth, one of the top teams in the Pairwise.

"I'm encouraged and [the players] should be too. We're certainly encouraged as a team. When you're on the road, against good hockey teams, to get to overtime and give yourself a chance, you're doing some things right. If we continue to play this way, good things will happen."

Colorado College is starting to find some offensive production and gaining the belief that it can stick with some of the upper echelon teams in college hockey. Excluding the empty net goal on Sunday against Providence, the Tigers lost two one-goal games this weekend against a very good Friars squad on their home ice. According to Haviland, the team's belief and its ability to light the lamp come hand in hand.

"Against a team that doesn't give up much, putting seven by them was pretty good. It helps that we've been scoring our last couple games. Guys are getting confidence. The game is a lot about confidence. We have confidence right now. Early on in the year if a team would score on us we'd fold a little. Now we feel that we can come back and make it a game."

The Tigers are no strangers to being on long road trips in The NCHC, a conference that requires more traveling than what most teams out east are accustomed to. This week CC arrived in New England on Friday for its Saturday-Sunday series with Providence. The team is staying in the region for a Tuesday game with Hockey East upstart UConn at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport before heading home.

"We've been on the road a lot. We've only played five [regular season] home games. It lets us bond and be together," said Haviland of the road trips. "It's great to get out on the road and be with each other. Just thinking about hockey is nice."

Haviland came to CC after almost two decades coaching in the NHL, AHL and ECHL as well as a few seasons coaching at his alma mater, Division III Elmira College in upstate New York. He earned a Stanley Cup ring as an assistant coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Most recently he spent the 2013-14 season as a head coach with the Hershey Bears in the AHL.

He knows what it takes to win and has years of experience to lean on as he looks to guide CC back to national relevancy. When the New Jersey native was hired last spring, the move was universally applauded by those around the hockey world, and for good reason.

Haviland also knew how important it was to surround himself with a good supporting cast. He appears to have hit two home runs, picking two assistants who have a wealth of knowledge and a strong work ethic. He brought in fellow Elmira alum Gene Reilly, a veteran of both the NCAA and professional ranks, including a stint in Europe. Reilly was on the late Shawn Walsh's staff at Maine, including the 1998-99 season in which the Black Bears won the program's second National Championship.

Haviland also hired Colorado College alum R.J. Enga, who has been hitting the recruiting road hard, including drives across New England to prep school tournaments such as Cushing's Watkins Tournament while the Tigers were at Providence. Enga, a high scoring winger on some of the great CC teams of the early 90s, brings some key experience as an assistant in the USHL, a very fertile recruiting ground.

Not only does Haviland seem to be having an immediate impact on making CC a better hockey team, he really seems to be relishing the move to the college game from the pro ranks.

"I'm really enjoying it. It's a lot of fun," said a smiling Haviland. "To see the progression of our team from where we were day one to now is a lot of fun."

If the vast improvement in just a few months is any indication, Colorado College fans should be just as happy with their new coach as he is with his new home.


Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.