There are those who believe that the coach of the national champion should always be the national coach of the year. With that line of thought, this story could simply read, “Clarkson qualified for the NCAA tournament and defeated Boston College, Mercyhurst, and Minnesota, so Matt and Shannon Desrosiers are USCHO’s coaches of the year.”
There is a lot to be gained from looking beyond the rubber-stamp answer. As with most seasons, great coaching jobs were everywhere.
Consider Hockey East. In his second season at Vermont, Jim Plumer coached the Catamounts to the program’s first home playoff game and earned its first D-I postseason win. Katie King Crowley shrugged off the absence of Alex Carpenter and led BC to a first-place finish in Hockey East. Brian Durocher navigated Boston University through a season without Marie-Philip Poulin and with some damaging injuries, yet won the league tourney and a fifth-straight NCAA tournament invitation. Dave Flint’s Northeastern squad was minus Kendall Coyne and got clobbered by injuries, but his thin roster still rallied to get back into the hunt.
Even teams that lost more than they won did some amazing things. Richard and Sara Reichenbach took over the helm at Maine with the season already underway; the Black Bears went winless in their first 16 games. However, Maine fought back and climbed out of the basement to a fifth-place finish by season’s end. Ohio State and Nate Handrahan made a similar last-to-fifth jump in the WCHA. Joakim Flygh pushed Yale back into the postseason for the first time in years.
And of course, winning teams turned in some amazing campaigns. Maura Crowell proved to be much more than a stand-in for Katey Stone at Harvard, keeping the Crimson in the ECAC hunt all the way and returning them to the NCAAs. Scott McDonald and RIT shocked the hockey world with a CHA title in only their second season in D-I. Mike Sisti and Mercyhurst survived a shaky start and kept intact their streaks of CHA season banners and NCAA tournaments, plus made the Frozen Four to boot. Wisconsin under Mark Johnson was back in the Frozen Four after missing out on the tournament altogether a year ago.
Brad Frost of Minnesota overcame one of the largest off-season losses of talent in memory and just kept on winning. The 38 wins by the Gophers is topped in NCAA history only by the 41 the team earned a year ago. That was accomplished after losing five Olympians, including three from the blue line and the game’s most-prolific scorer and winningest goaltender. Frost as coach of the year wouldn’t be a wrong choice, but he’s not our choice.
Minnesota was denied in its quest for a historic third-consecutive national title by Clarkson. The Golden Knights weren’t some Cinderella coming out of nowhere. They returned almost the entire roster of a tournament team a year ago and entered 2013-14 as one of the national favorites. Rebounding from a flat stretch of four weeks in October and November, Clarkson took off on a program-record 19-game unbeaten streak that carried it to its first ECAC Hockey crown. The Golden Knights looked poised to repeat that success in the league playoffs when they were hit with an injury to sophomore Erin Ambrose, the country’s top-performing defenseman to that point.
Clarkson was stymied by Cornell in the ECAC final, but embarked on its championship NCAA run a week later, still without Ambrose. It’s one thing to work around the loss of players over the course of the season. It’s a greater challenge to do so on the eve of a single-elimination tournament. The Desrosiers did so successfully on the biggest stage, patching the hole flawlessly and coaching their team to the top.
For putting together Clarkson’s roster, honing the talent, and guiding it through adversity to a championship, Shannon and Matt Desrosiers are USCHO coaches of the year for 2014.