They loom on billboards lining local roads, they advertise on the windows of storefronts. “Be a Tiger,” scream the promotional posters for Colorado College’s men’s ice hockey team.
So what is CC hockey’s relationship and representation to Colorado Springs, the county, and the world, and what exactly does it mean to “Be A Tiger?”
Hockey games at the World Arena pack the house; stands are filled with the cheering cries of students, alumni, and Tiger fans bleeding black and gold. Ice hockey is a uniting factor not limited to the CC community, but a figurative “ambassador” to the college as a whole.
At CC, hockey isn’t a joke. While the school lacks a football team, a defining aspect of many larger universities, the following of the Tigers can rival that of any Pac-12 football team. CC’s student body population just tips 2,000, and yet school pride, not just in the arena but in the classroom also, is unparalleled.
Since 1938, Tiger hockey has not only been a staple of the college, but also of Colorado Springs.
“For some students and parents, the first recognition they have of CC might be through the national reach of the hockey program,” said Ken Ralph, Director of Athletics. “There is no doubt that hockey is one of the few programs we have on campus that is recognized nationally, even outside of the world of academics…that exposure is very valuable.”
64 years after CC was founded in 1874 came the inception of the Colorado College men’s ice hockey team. From humble beginnings arose a Division I team with two NCAA Tournament championships, nine Conference Regular Season championships, and 12 straight winning seasons under current Head Coach Scott Owens, among other accolades.
CC has one of the most historic programs in all of college hockey.
“Having a recognizable Division I program is unique to some looking at a small liberal arts college and that some students might find that intriguing,” Ralph said. “In fact, I hope that students are choosing CC for the right academic and social fit.”
Jane Turnis, Director of Communications, would agree.
“Home games often draw sold-out crowds of 7,000 fans, so that’s a nice opportunity for us to tell our academic story,” said Turnis. “It really boosts our visibility. The hockey program makes national sports news regularly, that gets CC’s name out broadly all season.”
The numbers show just how much impact our program has.
“More than 80 percent of the people attending a hockey game have no affiliation to the school other than being a fan of the program…it is the only event we run at CC where we draw 6,000 to 7,000 people and we do it 20 times per year,” Ralph said.
The hockey link between Colorado Springs and the CC community, said Nathan Lee, President of the Colorado College Student Government Association, is a great way for alumni to stay connected and a source to relive some of their college days and talk about CC in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be afforded to them.
“There is no reason why a strong academic school cannot be known for outstanding athletic programs,” said Ralph. “Many people learn about CC through the hockey team and once they research the school they realize that we have a vibrant community and outstanding academics. Likewise, people who know us for academics see the school name nationally through the results of the hockey program.”
Even on the ice, education comes first for the hockey team, according to Scott Owens, Head Coach.
“Academics come first,” Owens said. “If you don’t have your academics in order, you’re not going to be able to play, you’re not going to be able to help the team.”
“Nationally, both [academics and hockey] are held in very high regard,” he said. “In the last 20 years the program has become nationally acclaimed for a weighing tradition and style of play, but I think the college is known for its academic process as well…the two are equally strong.”
Players see it similarly.
“CC is noticed and known more for its academics than athletics,” Will Rapuzzi, senior captain of the men’s ice hockey team, said. “Although many of the sports teams around campus do very well in their conferences and are often ranked high in their respective sports, academics, in my eyes, still overshadow athletics.”
While Rapuzzi reveals that though CC was his top choice because of the historically successful hockey program, he says he knows he can’t play hockey forever. Part of deciding on CC for him was the great academics and reputation to fall back on, he said.
“Bottom line, they have to be able to do the classwork– and do it on the Block Plan, with a heavy practice, and competition schedule,” said Turnis. “Despite those challenges, many of them are top-notch scholars.”
And the results show it.
“The team posted a perfect 1000 Academic Performance Rating this past year and has been the top team in the conference every year the ratings have been released,” said Ralph. “The team is also well known for traveling well and being great representatives on the college in the cities to which we travel.”
“The graduation rate of our hockey players is nearly flawless…we send our share of guys to the NHL, but for the most part, our Tigers remain students first,” said Dave Moross, Director of Athletic Media Relations.
The players also take part in humanitarian activities like community blood drives, charity events, and reading to young children, shedding positive light on the college as a whole.
“[Our hockey players] seem to carry a ‘celebrity’ status. A lot of people, of all ages, look up to them,” said Moross. “[They are] aware that they are representing CC at all times and have a reputation to uphold.”
Taking advantage of this status, Colorado College is looking to market itself to a new crowd. With President Tiefenthaler’s blessing, new promotionals are showcasing the school at hockey games.
“We’ve done a little bit with a drum beat video that explains the block plan …[also,] we’ll be working on a video that shows our student athletes’ academic side and some of the ‘I’m a Tiger Fan’ videos this year will feature professors,” said Turnis.
Also aiming to generate enthusiasm are the “Be a Tiger” posters speckled throughout campus and the Colorado Springs area.
“Be tenacious, be hardworking, be involved, have great awareness around you, strive for excellence,” Owens said. “That’s what a Tiger is.”
The ongoing campaign is “meant to capture the essence of what CC hockey is all about…and to entice people in the community to share the excitement,” said Moross.
“The hockey program is a very good ambassador here in the community,” said Owens. “I think it helps in that sense to paint a good picture of the college in the city view.”