Coach boasts stellar record, dedicated team
Coach Jeff Eaton knows ice hockey. He could also tell you a few things about winning.
After all, the head coach of the CU men’s Division II hockey team has led his Buffs to a 19-2-4 record and a No. 1 ranking in the West Region of the American College Hockey Association. With the wins continuing to pile up and the subtle mutterings of a Division II National Championship on the horizon, CU’s best kept secret is soon to be a secret no longer.
“It’s been fun,” Eaton said. “We’ve just got a good bunch of kids on the team, kids committed to playing competitive hockey at an elite level.”
With a two-game split against DePaul University in Chicago over the weekend, the Buffs have amassed a startling portfolio of success against some of the nation’s most formidable Division II opponents. Since winning the Big 12 Championship in October, Eaton and the Buffs have had their crosshairs trained diligently on the ACHA National Championship, hosted in nearby Fort Collins, in early March.
“The way we run our program here at CU is the key to our success,” Eaton said. “The goal from day one has been to attain and keep that No. 1 ranking.”
And if the Buffs do indeed retain that ACHA West Region’s best ranking through Feb. 10, they will be guaranteed a bye through the regional tournament and a ticket straight to Nationals.
But while Eaton mostly attributes the success of CU’s hockey team to the collective philosophy of the players and coaches, he admits there are always intangibles.
“With so many teams fighting for the same trophy, any league is bound to have some inconsistencies as far as skill levels are concerned,” Eaton said. “That’s why maintaining health and having a little luck is so important.”
Part of that luck might be the dynamic relationships the players have come to form with one another during the season. Junior forward Tim Stanton fully acknowledged the relationship between winning on the ice and maintaining solid friendships away from the rink.
“We have a lot of talent on this team and a very tightly-knit group of guys,” Stanton said. “At 19-2-4, we have a legitimate shot at winning a national championship if we can stay dedicated and focused.”
Senior goalie Danny Akers said sustaining team focus might not be that difficult.
“We’ve been really successful this year because we are so willing to forgo any personal success for the betterment of the team,” Akers said. “To me, this team embodies all that is good in sports, as everyone is tied by the common denominator of a sheer love of the game.”
But the Buffs still have to keep winning.
With scrappy San Jose State sandwiched between a couple of games against a second-ranked Eastern Washington team this week in Boulder, Eaton’s team faces what may be its most challenging home series yet. The games are this Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at the CU Ice Arena.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Eaton admitted. “Winning is more hard work than anything else.”
Because of their exciting play, collective devotion to winning and growing national recognition, the Buffs may have one of the hardest working hockey team in the land. At the very least, the teammates have each other, their success this season and a proven coach with a well-respected hockey mind and the track record to confirm it.
“Winning is everything to me,” Eaton said. “Winning is everything to this team.”