Photo credit: University of Denver Athletics
Following a sweep against the University of Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, Denver hockey returned recharged and refocused for the second half of the season.
DU’s series against Notre Dame to open 2016 exhibited the standard quality hockey performance Denver fans are accustomed to.
In the time since, Denver has comfortably positioned themselves third in the NCHC standings and in the Top 15 for both major NCAA Division 1 polls (USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine).
After a much needed winter break to regroup, the coaching staff’s adjustments and line changes have worked in favor for the Pios. In addition to the top line, Trevor Moore, Dylan Gambrell, and Danton Heinen, finally providing more consistent offensive production, a variety of players have stepped up providing essential contributions without receiving much attention.
“Since the break, we’ve felt more energized and are playing better hockey. A lot of us, including myself, have just gone out there and played the right way. Not so much worrying about results, but just letting our playing style speak for us.” says junior defenseman, Matt VanVoorhis.
“They’re the line I send out after we score to keep the momentum going for us.” said Montgomery after the Duluth sweep hearkening back to the days of the MASH line in 2014-15.
“We have really good chemistry on and off the ice, those guys are definitely easy to play with and be buddies with off the ice. When its time to go we really wear down the other team and provide some hard hits,” says O’Connor.
Third line left and right wings, freshman Jarid Lukosevicius and classmate Colin Staub have improved immensely throughout the season. Lukosevicius has tallied four goals and six points in 18 games while Staub has one goal and five points in 16 games, seven consecutively.
Both players establish a strong presence and confidence when they’re on the ice and consistently aid in generating a threatening offense. Lukosevicius’ speed contests that of junior, Emil Romig, which has caused recent competition to earn the starting spot each night.
In Hillman’s 23 appearances this season he has one goal and three assists. The 6’1” Minnesota native provides much needed height to Denver’s defense.
“The energizer bunny” as described by Montgomery, VanVoorhis’ season started out well, but was hindered during the first matchup of the home-and-home series against CC when VanVoorhis was blatantly hit from behind and suffered a concussion.
VanVoorhis faced a rocky comeback to the lineup when he returned in time for North Dakota and St. Cloud back to back. Both series were almost unrecognizable hockey from the Denver side.
Following the break, VanVoorhis’ intensity and aggression has been noticeable as the 5’7” blueliner held his own exceptionally well against the amazon UMD forwards in an increasingly chippy match. When waiting for his line’s shift on the sideline VanVoorhis provides the guys on the ice with words of encouragement, a leadership role he’s take on this season.
“I’m a guy that likes to be positive and I think its our [the upperclassmen] responsibility to pick up guys when they’re down or when the team is down,” says VanVoorhis.
Florida Panthers Prospect, Evan Cowley, returned to the crease during the first game of the Duluth series after starter Tanner Jaillet was scored on twice in the span of three minutes. Cowley secured the win for Denver while earning the start in the second game against the Bulldogs. Following the sweep, Cowley received the NCHC Goaltender of the Week and Warrior Hockey Player of the Week honors.
Despite the loss last night against Miami University, the Pios hope to continue their positive momentum into the NCHC Tournament and earn a favorable seed for the NCAA Tournament.
“Most importantly we’re having a lot of fun and I think that’s the key to our success right now,” says VanVoorhis.