DU Hockey Mailbag: Senior Week

Photo Credit: Andy Cross, The Denver Post

We’ve reached the final week of the regular season. DU is tied with St. Cloud State for 2nd place and the 2nd seed in the NCHC. The Pios are 12-1-3 since the beginning of 2016 and are charging toward the postseason faster than any other team in college hockey.

Danton Heinen and Dylan Gambrell were named the Hockey Commissioners Association’s National Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month, respectively. The Pacific Rim Line is the hottest line in the country at the moment and no one wants to play Denver right now.

Omaha is in Denver this weekend to close out the regular season ahead of next weekend’s best-of-three first round NCHC tournament series. Things look great for DU right now, but there’s a lot of hockey left this year before this season can be called a success.

Now that we’re only one week removed from the first round, the picture has become a lot clearer…and more confusing. Last week, it was looking like DU was locked into the #3 seed and would likely be playing Omaha in two straight weeks.

Now, thanks to UMD’s sweep of St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, Denver is within striking distance of 2nd place. Of course, the Huskies own the tiebreaker thanks to their sweep of the Pioneers in December (you remember that 4 game disaster). But at the moment, DU and SCSU are tied for 2nd place in the NCHC with 47 points.

If things play out like they should this weekend (anything can happen), Denver won’t move into the #2 seed. So realistically speaking, DU will be playing 6th place Omaha for the 2nd week in a row in the first round.

For fun, let’s entertain the possibility that Denver earns the #2 seed. How could it happen? SCSU is in Colorado Springs this weekend to take on the basement-dwelling Tigers. After being swept by the UMD Bulldogs, the Huskies are all but out of the race for the Penrose Cup. Now, to avoid dropping to the #3 seed, SCSU needs to sweep the Tigers in regulation.

If Denver sweeps the Mavericks this weekend and SCSU doesn’t beat the Tigers in both games before 3 on 3 overtime, DU will move up to the #2 seed and will play Western Michigan in the first round.

There are really only two teams Denver might play next weekend: Omaha or Western Michigan. That’s it. No matter what transpires this weekend, Denver can’t claim the #1 seed. Both North Dakota and St. Cloud own the tiebreakers over Denver.

TL;DR? Denver will play either Omaha or Western Michigan in the 1st round of the NCHC Tournament. It’s (basically) guaranteed.

DU has been one of the most inconsistent teams in college hockey this year. OK first half and downright dominant second half. In the inconsistency, who in your mind has been the most consistent player on the roster?
Jill in Colorado Springs

Hands down it has been Will Butcher. I have seen exactly 0 games that he’s taken “off.” Even in December when the Pios were outscored 20-5, Will Butcher played well.

The stats haven’t been there in every game for him (though they usually are), but he’s been everywhere on the ice. When I see each home game’s shot charts, my first reaction is consistently, “Wow, Butcher is everywhere on the ice.”

He has admirably filled the void left by Joey LaLeggia last year and has brought serious leadership along the blue line to this Denver team.

In 31 games this year, Butcher has tallied 5-21-26 this year which is good enough to put him in 4th on the team in points. He’s behind only the three members of the Pacific Rim Line (Moore, Gambrell, Heinen).

As consistent as the team has been lately, you’re right that the Pios haven’t been very consistent throughout the year. Will Butcher has been the biggest exception to that phenomenon. Every night, you can count on Butcher to play well and drive the Pioneers forward.

Denver handed UNO their first losses ever at Baxter Arena in January. The Mavs are probably looking to exact some revenge this weekend. Any predictions?
James in Denver

This is the one series I don’t want to predict. I’d prefer to predict a DU-UND series than this weekend’s matchup, believe it or not. But since you asked, I’ll oblige and give a prediction. Just keep in mind that I’m not very confident about it.

But before I give it, let’s quickly analyze both teams and where they are coming into this weekend. First, Omaha is going to be a desperate, determined team coming into Magness this weekend. Don’t be fooled by the Mavericks’ less-than-stellar NCHC record (8-13-1). This is a talented team that can skate with and beat any team in the country.

Omaha has gone in the opposite direction of DU since the calendar flipped to 2016. Since New Year’s Day, Omaha has gone 4-10-0 including two losses to Denver at home in January and a split with CC in Colorado Springs. Also included in those four victories, though was a key overtime victory at North Dakota.

To say that I have no clue what to expect out of this Omaha team this weekend would be an understatement and I think many Maverick fans would agree in that no one knows what to expect this weekend.

Denver, on the other hand, has been on fire over the last two months. The Pios didn’t lose in February and have lost just once in 2016 (have I mentioned that yet?). Much has been made of the offensive prowess of the Pios, but lost in the coverage of the Pacific Rim Line’s incredible play is the greatness of Denver’s recent defensive efforts.

In their last 5 games (North Dakota, CCx2, WMUx2) Denver has given up just 5 goals. Denver’s defensive efforts have been outstanding lately, which has allowed the offense to play loose and impose their will against opposing defenses.

Credit Tanner Jaillet and Evan Cowley for much of the recent defensive success. They’ve been outstanding in the crease lately and I see that continuing this weekend against UNO.

So on with this weekend’s prediction:

Denver sweeps: 4-1, 3-2.

UNO is a good. talented team, but Denver is just too good right now. In the two potential trap games against Western Michigan last week, they went into Kalamazoo and took care of business with 5-1 and 4-1 victories.

DU will be focused this weekend. They get to wear their Battle on Blake uniforms again and it’s senior week. They have every intention of sending their seniors off with two victories and I think they’ll get it done.

That’s it for this week’s mailbag. Check back in next week for a special postseason edition of the mailbag and send your questions to me either via email (letsgodu@gmail.com) or on Twitter. Both ways work well.

Make sure to get to Magness this weekend. DU designated this weekend “Fan Appreciation Weekend” and there are some really cool things planned that you don’t want to miss. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, you can do so right here. You can also buy NCHC Tournament first round tickets at that link.

I’ll see you all at Magness Arena this weekend!

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