The coach of the team that wins the NCAA Championship is always an excellent option for Coach of the Year. Over the years, we’ve also tried to recognize coaches who have done excellent work in spite of coming up short of the ultimate goal. This season is unique, in that nobody added a national title due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
The field this year looked more wide open than ever before, and any of the eight staffs that qualified teams for the NCAA Tournament might have won three straight had the tourney been played. Such a balanced bracket yields a number of strong choices for coaching honors.
Michael Sisti qualified Mercyhurst for the program’s 13th national tournament. Since the field expanded to eight teams in 2005, the Lakers have never failed to qualify in consecutive seasons, one of only three programs that can make that claim. Mercyhurst was one of only two teams that won both the regular-season and playoff titles in its league.
Northeastern captured both titles in Hockey East, and Dave Flint’s squad added the Beanpot for good measure. While the later was closely contested, including a double-overtime win in the final, the HEA crowns were not. The Huskies’ 24 conference wins were six more than second place Boston University. Once the postseason arrived, Northeastern outscored opponents by a 20-4 total and didn’t allow multiple goals in any contest. That earned the Huskies their third-straight NCAA berth.
A couple of newer coaches enjoyed big years as well. Cara Morey guided Princeton to consecutive NCAA Tournament berths for the first time in program history. For the second straight year, the Tigers added six wins to the total from the previous campaign. Princeton was one of the hottest teams in 2020, losing only twice after the new year, and capped the season with its first ECAC Hockey Championship.
With Nadine Muzerall at the helm, Ohio State won its first ever WCHA Final Faceoff Championship, upsetting higher-seeded teams in overtime in both the semifinal and final. The last victory pushed the team’s total to 24, equaling the record for program wins set two years ago.
Worthy as these accomplishments are, Doug Derraugh and Cornell outdid them all. The Big Red (28-2-3) posted the best winning percentage in the country at .894. That allowed Cornell to repeat as ECAC season champs.
The hallmark of this edition of the Big Red was their stout defense, allowing an average of only 0.94 goals per game, which led the nation, as did the team’s penalty kill, which was successful 93 percent of the time.
Derraugh led Cornell to five straight NCAA Tournaments from 2010-2015. Overall, those teams were more potent, featuring the likes of Rebecca Johnston, Brianne Jenner, and Jillian Saulnier up front, and offensively-gifted defenders like Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau, and averaged almost four and a half goals offensively a couple of different seasons.
It’s a testament to Derraugh’s abilities as a coach that he has been able to adapt to playing a different style with his current roster, that scores less than four goals per game. Even that scoring level is downright explosive when compared to his 2016-17 club, that reached the NCAAs while only tallying 82 goals in 34 games.
This year, Cornell was built from the net out, relying on junior goaltender Lindsay Browning, who led the country in shutouts, winning percentage, and goals against average. Her effectiveness was enhanced by the presence of senior defenders Jaime Bourbonnais and Micah Zandee-Hart, who also ranked in the top four in points for the squad.
Perhaps most impressive is how quickly Derraugh had his defense running on all cylinders. Even with the late start mandated by the Ivy League and a tough early schedule — six of the first seven opponents finished with winning records, five of them winning at least 20 games — Cornell allowed only three goals during those first seven contests.
The net result of the season was that the Big Red gained entry to the NCAA Tournament field for the eighth time, this time as the No. 1 seed. We didn’t get to find out if they would have parlayed that seeding into a national title, as many a top-seeded team has done over the years. However, Derraugh got his team to that point, and with that stingy defense, they would have been a tough out. In recognition of the accomplishment, he is our USCHO Coach of the Year.