Now Comes the Mystery
By Jess Myers
With his last breath, on March 8, 1887, a
renowned Brooklyn clergyman named Henry Ward Beecher spoke
four words that I think of every year at about this time,
with the wonder of another college hockey season nearly
“Now comes the mystery,” Beecher
said before drifting off into eternal rest.
Indeed, as one sits down to ponder what will
come between October, when the first rendition of the Star
Spangled Banner is sung, and April, when the last shiny
gold trophy is lifted, the mystery is what seems most intriguing.
There are sure things to be had that anyone
who knows offside from icing can see coming right down Commonwealth
• There will be rough play in the CCHA
and long road trips in the WCHA.
• There will be students at Atlantic Hockey schools,
and at Alabama-Huntsville, who experience the magic of college
hockey (or any hockey, for that matter) for the first time.
• At an ECACHL school, a volunteer student manager
will become an expert at sharpening skates.
• Minnesota State Mankato will change its logo, and/or
the school name.
• A die-hard fan in one of the Dakotas will read something
on-line and feel their favorite team has been slighted.
• A freshman who a year ago was a self-assured star
in juniors, will be surprised to find himself staying on
campus while his team goes on a road trip.
• A club team will win a big game with a huge crowd
on hand, and wonder out-loud why their school’s program
isn’t talking D-I.
But the real intrigue comes from that which
we don’t know – those things that not even a
seer could predict.
For example, ponder the absurd prospect of
a young coach leading a program that’s been bad for
40 years from worst to first in a season. It would be an
impossible dream, if we hadn’t watched it happen with
Don Lucia and Colorado College in 1993-94.
It’s equally absurd to think that a
small, remote school in an out-of-the-way town on the road
to nowhere could rise up and contend for the national title
against the big-conference powerhouses of the Big Ten and
the Northeast. But that assumption would ignore history,
and the amazing run that saw tiny Lake Superior State win
three NCAA titles between 1988 and ’94.
Even when you follow a conference closely,
as I have for the past two decades, the mysteries still
catch you by surprise, and make your “expert”
analysis look foolish more often than not. For proof, look
back one year at the under-talented mess everyone saw when
they looked at St. Cloud State, which was short on offense
and had endured a coaching change roughly 23 minutes prior
to the start of the season. My wealth of knowledge and experience
led me to pick the Huskies for the WCHA cellar. And I like
to think a few of Bob Motzko’s players noted of my
inaccurate prognostication before they headed to the ice
for the WCHA Final Five title game last March.
A year earlier I was among the surprised multitudes
to see a lesser-known forward named Tyler Hirsch out-score
all of the big names on the Minnesota roster, and was even
more surprised at his still-unexplained outburst at the
WCHA Final Five. Show me proof that you predicted either
of those events and you’ve earned the right to pick
my Powerball numbers for life.
So take your “sure thing” outcomes
that are as predictable as hearing an f-bomb in the student
section at Yost, and enjoy them on your ride to and from
the rink. I’ll be content to quietly revel in the
mystery to come, knowing that more often than not my expectations
will be dead wrong. For every outcome that seems preordained
(example: Wisconsin winning the NCAA title in Milwaukee
after winning the regional in Green Bay), there’s
another event that can’t be explained (like finding
an American named Lars Helminen and a Swede named Doug Murray).
The season will begin with a puck being dropped
and will end with helmets being flung toward the rafters
of an arena in Missouri. Of that much, I’m sure. What
will come in between those two events is the great, and
Now comes the mystery.