In the manner of the late, great Wisconsin and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Bob Johnson, Cahoon has dozens of spiral notebooks in his office detailing practices of the national teams of Sweden, Austria, France, Poland and Russia, among others. He's a faithful subscriber to a coaching manual called The Drill of the Week Club and prides himself on introducing five or six drills a week that he has never tried. "Some of them are terrible," he says with a laugh. "Players are running into each other. But that's the fun of coaching. You try to keep the kids thinking. I'm a product of my own insecurity. I don't know anything else I do with the same level of competence as coach. That's what drives my passion. I don't want to lose the thing I do best."
Which is why, the day after a 4-2 loss on Jan. 8 to a less talented but more determined Dartmouth team, Cahoon did something he'd never done: He kept the Tigers at the rink for more than three hours, even though they had a game that night against Vermont. He made them watch a video of the debacle against Dartmouth, walked them through situations on the ice, talked to them collectively and individually. His message? Your time here is short. The games are few. Don't waste a single shift. "I told them to give me something to work with, because the one thing I can't coach is lack of effort," Cahoon says. "I asked them to let me take them to a place they might not ordinarily think they could go. It's corny, but that's me. I'm very comfortable showing these guys exactly who I am."
The Tigers responded with one of their best games of the season, a 3-2 win over the gritty Catamounts that ended a two-game losing streak. Freshman goaltender Dave Stathos, of Longueuil, Que., improved his record to 6-1-1, solidifying a position that was a question mark coming into the season, following the graduation of Erasmo Saltarelli. This Princeton team, like the BU squads Cahoon played for and coached, is fundamentally a defensive, counterpunching club. Its offense is generated by forechecking and neutral-zone turnovers, so it can't play run-and-gun.
"We're beginning to understand our identity," says Halpern. "We can't go out and expect our talent to win games. We've got to hit and shove and win the battles along the boards, and let our skill players score some big goals. It's that kind of play that will take us as far as I think we can go."
They've already come one frozen hell of a long way.