Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Things To Do In Denver When You're Red

12 consecutive 20-win seasons. Six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Back to back national championship wins in 2004 and 2005. Three MacNaughton Cup titles for winning the WCHA regular season title. Four Broadmoor Trophy reigns as WCHA champions. A Hobey Baker Award winner. Just one losing record in 19 seasons.

Not enough for George Gwozdecky to keep his job at the University of Denver.

Now, the haters are going to point out that, while the Pioneers have consistently made the tournament, they haven't advanced to the Frozen Four since winning it all in 2005, and have won just one NCAA tournament game since then (beating Western Michigan in two overtimes in 2011 at Green Bay - the regional that included the Engineers). So, perhaps the bar is just that high in Denver.

Even still... the resume in the first paragraph is pretty impressive. Apparently, the powers that be at DU want national titles and won't be satisfied with anything less. That has to be daunting for whoever it is that might replace the truly legendary Gwozdecky at Magness Arena.

Denver is certainly a high-profile opening - not the most high-profile opening we've seen this year, but the BU opening was open for about 40 seconds before they named David Quinn as Jack Parker's replacement.

So who is it? Denver's associate head coach, Steve Miller is almost certainly not it - he's been Gwozdecky's top lieutenant for all 19 years that he's been in Denver. You don't show that kind of loyalty for that long only to take the guy's job when he gets canned. The other assistant, David Lassonde, has been an assistant coach in college hockey since 1989, including 14 years at New Hampshire before spending the last two seasons at Denver. He could be a solid candidate.

Protégés are all over the rumor mill. Air Force associate head coach Mike Corbett is a former DU defenseman who played for Gwozdecky, he's been with the Falcons (conveniently, right there in Colorado) for 10 seasons. Derek Lalonde was an assistant in Denver under Gwozdecky from 2006 to 2011, when he took over the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and won a league championship in his first season.

Among the other names that have cropped up are two other Gwozdecky protégés - Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, who played for Gwozdecky in Miami between 1990 and 1994 and who was an assistant in Denver from 1996 to 1999 before taking the top job at his alma mater, and St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, who served under Gwozdecky at both Miami and Denver before eventually taking the top spot at his alma mater.

Neither of these candidates seem likely based on what they have accomplished or are accomplishing in their current positions. Blasi has taken Miami to heights that even his predecessor did not achieve while he was in Ohio (namely, NCAA tournament victories to go with 9 NCAA tournament apperances in 10 years, including two Frozen Fours and very nearly a national championship in 2009). And I don't know if you've been reading the news lately, but Motzko's Huskies just reached the Frozen Four for the first time in school history, quite an accomplishment for a much maligned program that until Motzko took the reins, was a punchline for the number of times they'd tried and failed to win even one NCAA tournament game.

Throw in the fact that both of these gentlemen would be facing their former teams in the NCHC next year, and it's a good bet we won't see either of them in Denver next year.

But there's one other well known Gwozdecky protégé out there that people are talking about - in fact, he was the first name the Denver Post, among other outlets, brought up: RPI's Seth Appert.

As most RPI fans known, Appert was an assistant in Denver from 1999 through 2006, when he came to Troy as RPI's 9th head coach in the modern era, and he was considered an instrumental recruiter for the program during the Pioneers reign as back-to-back national champions. He's not currently at his alma mater like Blasi and Motzko, and he hasn't yet placed RPI on the same level that either of those men have done at their respective schools.

He refused comment when the Daily Gazette's Ken Schott asked him if he would be a candidate. Don't read too much into the refusal to say no - the question was asked mere minutes from the time Gwozdecky's firing was made public. That isn't enough time to consider anything, either way.

It has long been suspected that Appert might only consider leaving RPI for two places - Denver, his long-time home, and Ferris State, his alma mater. That's probably not entirely true, but it does make the Denver opening more intriguing from an RPI fan's perspective.

But don't count on a vacancy in Troy this summer. Why? A couple of reasons. First, alumni reaction to the firing at Denver has been almost universally negative. Whoever comes in now is going to have to deal with a fanbase that will have very little patience. Second, DU's interest could be tepid at best - who would fire a person and then hire someone that learned from him? It would be a different story, for sure, if Gwozdecky had resigned. Third, Gwozdecky's resume is going to be difficult to top. Fourth, the loyalty factor has to come into play: reports say that Gwozdecky's protégés tend to maintain a very close relationship with the man. Like Miller, who would want to be the one to succeed him?

Is it possible that Seth Appert could leave? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not.

Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how everything plays out, especially with the conference realignment about to strike the balance in college hockey.

We'll be keeping a close eye here as well, in part because the Pioneers will be coming to Troy next season as one of the non-conference opponents. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping DU wouldn't want to pay Seth's buyout, which is through '17-'18 thanks to the extension he signed recently. Apparently he's on his way out for an interview this week. Selfishly , I hope they offer the gig to Don Granato instead, because I just love the direction in which Seth's got this program going.

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