September 22, 2006
Postcard: 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 upon us.

“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 Avenue:

• 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 wonderful, unknown.

Now comes the mystery.