Photo: NCHC Photograph
For a University of Denver team loaded with talent and one of the top five hockey programs in the nation, winning 20 games was almost a ‘given’. But, following a brutal December (0-4-0), the Pioneers started off after the holiday break with a pair of hard fought ties against Notre Dame.
Sitting at 7-7-4 following the Notre Dame series, it was a foregone conclusion that DU’s streak of 14 straight seasons with 20 or more wins had all but ended. With just 16 regular season games to go, winning another 13 seemed an impossible task. The prevailing theory expressed by many fans concluded that ‘Pioneer hockey’ employed too many under-sized players, especially on defense. The goaltending tandem was iffy and the power play had flat-lined. DU’s star forwards Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore were ice cold. Even the most optimistic Pioneer fan would not have predicted the current run – a sterling 10-1-1 record following the Notre Dame series.
Today, the Pioneers sit 17-8-5, and thanks to that unbelievable 12 game stretch, DU is the hottest team in college hockey.
The Pioneers can still get to 20 wins without postseason help (yes, postseason games count toward the 20) with a sweep this weekend against the Western Michigan Broncos and a split with Omaha next weekend at Magness Arena. With 3rd place all but assured in the NCHC, Denver still has a huge incentive to perform well this weekend.
Twenty wins have become an expected milestone of excellence for the DU program but no DU team has approached this goal in a more dramatic fashion (although you could put together a good argument for Montgomery’s first DU team in 2013). The Pioneers only need to win 3 games between now and the end of their NCAA Tournament run to reach 20 wins.
Almost no one thought Denver had a chance at reaching 20 wins back on January 1st. Yet here we are in the final weeks of the regular season and Denver is well within striking distance of that all-important 20th victory. If the best is yet to come for this year’s team as Jim Montgomery predicts, the number 20 may not end up being the most important number.
Who knows, that important number may very well end up being 8.