DU Hockey Mailbag: Stretch Run

Photo Credit: John Leyba, The Denver Post

Whew…what an incredible couple of weeks. DU hockey swept North Dakota two weeks ago and then swept the Kittens including a 4-1 victory at Coors Field at the Battle on Blake. This was probably the best two week stretch in the Jim Montgomery era and probably the best stretch in the last 5 years.

I think everyone would agree that these two weeks were unforgettable. We got treated to an instant classic game between Denver and North Dakota and then three straight 4-1 DU victories. In the last four games, DU has scored 18 goals while limiting the opposition to just 7. Sure two of those games came against Colorado College, but man, these Pios are starting to hit their stride and it’s fun to watch.

This week, DU travels to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on the Western Michigan Broncos who sit in 7th place in the NCHC after splitting with Miami. After two straight high intensity and high emotion weeks, it might be tough for the Pioneers to keep their focus against the Broncos. In a sense, this weekend could be a trap, so it will be interesting to see how they come out on Friday.

There are only two weekends left in the regular season and DU has already clinched home ice for the first round of the NCHC Tournament and theoretically, they are within striking distance of winning the Penrose Cup. We’ve reached the stretch run of the season and that’s what we’re focusing on in this week’s mailbag:

This is a great question. I’ve had a number of conversations with Bill Rogan (backup radio play by play) throughout the last two months about the 20+ win streak. Our conversations have evolved pretty considerably since January. At first, the conclusion was that the Pios would have to go on a pretty incredible streak to extend the streak to 15 seasons. Now, after the 4 game winning streak against North Dakota and Colorado College, the narrative has changed.

Coming into the second half, the Pios were a disappointing 7-5-2. The four game losing streak against St. Cloud State and North Dakota in December put a damper on things and put the streak in jeopardy. Then the two ties against Notre Dame just intensified the doubt. Since that series, save for the tie against Western Michigan and the loss at Miami, the Pios have been unbeatable.

I think most thought DU had underperformed in the first half of the season, but I don’t think even the brightest optimist saw this second half coming. But 10-1-3 in 2016 doesn’t lie.  Denver is unquestionably the hottest team in college hockey right now.

Now to answer your question, I don’t see a scenario where Denver doesn’t extend the streak. With four games left in the regular season, at least 2 games in the NCHC Tournament, and at least one game in the NCAA Tournament, I really like the Pioneers’ chances of getting to 20 wins. The way the Pios are playing right now, Denver might not lose again.

That’s an unreasonable expectation. of course. WMU plays very well in Kalamazoo and Omaha will be playing for home ice advantage when they come to Magness Arena next weekend. I don’t really see DU winning out, but I do think DU will reach 20 wins before they (hopefully) make the trip to Minneapolis for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

The Battle on Blake was so much fun. The weather was perfect, people showed up, and DU won. We couldn’t have asked for anything more! How do you think this will affect DU’s future attendance and do you think they’ll ever do this again?
Chris in Denver

Chris, I love this question and you’re absolutely right. We really couldn’t have asked for anything more. 35,144 people showed up for this one and broke the all time DU events attendance record. That’s something to be proud of if you’re a DU fan. Even CC fans showed up in force for the game and that was good to see.

As far as how I think this will affect Magness Arena’s attendance, I think it’s definitely going to boost it for the UNO series next weekend and for the first round of the NCHC Tournament the week after. There were a number of attendees at this game who got priced out of this weekend’s Stadium Series game between the Avalanche and Red Wings. Many of these fans likely knew that DU existed, but I don’t think they previously realized that the on-ice product was this good.

We all know that DU exists in a saturated sports market. Now that the Super Bowl is over, I think we’ll see an increased interest in the Pioneers, regardless. I’ve seen that happen in each of the last 5 years. As soon as the Broncos were done, attendance was boosted. I’m not sure exactly why the Pioneers and Broncos are mutually exclusive, but hey, weirder things are true.

Do I think that the Pioneers will do another outdoor game? That’s a tough one to answer. The Battle on Blake has proven that an outdoor game will be a big draw. The issue, as always, is money. Putting together an event like this is a huge financial undertaking. One of the reasons the Battle on Blake was feasible is the NHL’s Stadium Series. The NHL provided the infrastructure for the game while DU and CC likely just had to pay to use it.

Without the NHL involved, I don’t think this is a financially feasible event. It would be awesome if they could make it happen again in the near future, but given the financial state of the DU athletics program, I don’t see it happening again anytime soon.

How can DU win the NCHC Regular Season Title or Tournament?
Jake from State Farm…err…Boulder

To be honest, I don’t see Denver winning the Penrose Cup (NCHC regular season title). While the Pios are closer to first place (6 points behind St. Cloud and North Dakota) than they are to 4th place (16 points ahead of Omaha, Duluth, and Miami), it would take a lot to give DU a chance to win the Penrose Cup.

Let’s entertain the unlikely possibility anyway. First, if DU has any chance at all of winning the Penrose Cup, they have to win out. This one is non-negotiable. They need to sweep Western Michigan this weekend and sweep Omaha next weekend if they want to even have a chance. That’s step one.

Step two: They need help. North Dakota finishes their season at Omaha this weekend and against Western Michigan at home next weekend. St. Cloud State ends their season against Minnesota-Duluth at home and at Colorado College.

It’s unlikely that either team will be swept in either series, so realistically, the best Denver fans can hope for is that both the Huskies and Fighting Hawks split their next two series. If DU wins out while UND and SCSU go 2-2 over the next two weeks, the Pioneers will earn a third of the Penrose Cup. Yes, this is a possible result. If that (unlikely) scenario plays out, DU will still get the third seed in the NCHC Tournament by virtue of the two tiebreakers: UND on head-to-head goals scored and SCSU on head-to-head record.

Winning the Tournament is a much more likely possibility. At worst (and in all likelihood), the Pioneers will have the #3 seed in the NCHC Tournament. This means that they will play either UNO, UMD, or Miami in the first round. At this point, DU is 6-1-1 against these teams so far with two more coming against Omaha. The Pioneers are very good at home, so there is a very high probability that the Pios will advance out of the first round and into the Frozen Faceoff.

That’s the easy part. The way things seem to be shaking out right now, if DU advances to the Frozen Faceoff, they will face either North Dakota or St. Cloud in the semi-final. To have a chance to win the tournament, they have to get past one of the two best teams in the country. Whoever wins that matchup wins the Tournament, I think. Denver is going to be a tough out if and when they advance to Minneapolis and there is a pretty good chance that DU wins their second NCHC Tournament in 3 years.

Thanks for bearing with me as I explained all of that. There are still a lot of questions to be answered over the next two weeks, but things might start to look clearer after this weekend. I’ll analyze DU’s position in the standings and PairWise in a feature next week and hopefully that will be a good look at DU’s chances at hoisting a trophy or two this year.

Here comes the stretch run, Pios. DU is peaking at the right time and any team with Denver on their schedule should be worried. The team’s chemistry is high and they’re playing great hockey right now. The most exciting part of the season is coming and the postseason picture is really starting to take shape.

Remember you can always send your questions to me at letsgodu@gmail.com, @ us on Twitter, or post on our Facebook page. It’s up to you!