Photo Credit: Denver Athletics
Four years fly by when you play the sport you love with an exceptional program, create lifelong friendships with your teammates, and attend an institution that strives to help you find success following graduation. This is the reality for Denver hockey’s four seniors preparing to finish their collegiate hockey careers and enter the real world in the following months.
The senior class of 2016 is Grant Arnold, Gabe Levin, Quentin Shore, and Nolan Zajac. This tight-knit crew describes how surreal approaching the end of college is and what a phenomenal experience full of triumphs and failures over the past four years has combined to develop such a strong bond between the foursome.
Grant Arnold, who wears the “C” on the ice, describes the significance of the program having grown up in the Denver-area as a Pioneer fan, “Being from Denver, getting to wear the ‘C’ for two years, winning a[n NCHC] championship my sophomore year, along with just being able to put on the jersey and being apart of the DU’s family and culture is extremely special,” Arnold said.
Arnold, the more vocal of the seniors, has tallied 12 points (4G – 8A) during his final season and 33 career points (9 G – 24A).
Gabe Levin, the humorous forward from Mariana del Rey, California with his own video segment, “Gabbin’ with Gabe,” breaks his comical character when discussing the reality of concluding his duration at DU. “It’s awesome being a senior, but its sad to say goodbye. These have easily been the best four years of my life. To say goodbye to the school, students, and most importantly my teammates will be really hard,” Levin said.
Levin has generated 12 points (5G – 7A) in his senior campaign and has contributed 61 career points (15G – 46A).
Quentin “Q” Shore, the younger brother of fellow (former) Pioneers Drew and Nick Shore, has contributed immensely to the legacy and correlation between the Shore family and DU hockey during his career. “I hope we can come out with a win this weekend and finish the year out with a National Championship to make the [Shore] legacy even stronger, but that starts with this team right now.”
The charming Denver native and Ottawa Senators prospect has recorded 18 points (10G – 8 A) so far this season and totaled 88 career points (37 G – 51 A).
Nolan Zajac, the son of former Pioneer Tom Zajac, youngest brother of Travis, Kelly, and Darcy – all professional hockey players – and the only defenseman of the family says, “It’s meant the world to me playing for Denver. I know [the school and hockey program] have set me up for future success no matter what that is.”
Zajac, the least outspoken of his classmates, has contributed 16 points (2G – 14A) this season to total 91 career points (18 G – 73A).
While Arnold and Levin bear the jersey symbols of leadership and responsibility, Shore and Zajac joined in taking initiative during their final run. Through leading by example and guiding the team in the right direction, the seniors took action to help manufacture the team’s incredible second-half run.
“You start to think about their achievements and what they’ve meant to this program,” said Head Coach Jim Montgomery. “They’re four excellent student-athletes. What they do inside that dressing room and what they’ve done for our program has meant a lot to me. They’ve really helped me over my three years here to mature as a coach and they’ve matured themselves as leaders and go-to-guys on this team.”
Memories on and off the ice vary with circumstances, but the four seniors agree some of their notable memories together include winning the NCHC Championship their sophomore year, sweeping North Dakota in Denver in February 2016 for the first time in their careers (something not even the 2004 and 2005 NCAA Champion teams can boast), skating in the Battle on Blake and ultimately, growing up with one another.
A unanimous decision from the entirety concluded, Arnold has changed the most since freshman year; establishing himself as a leader and maturing. However, both Shore and Levin jokingly agree that one another has become, “less fun” over the years…that must come as a side-effect to aging.
The excitement radiated from the four passionate, well-rounded seniors who will embark on their final stretch of collegiate hockey beginning this weekend with a celebration of their impact on the program.
Looking to extend their current seven-game winning streak, Denver will finish out its regular season this weekend when they host Nebraska-Omaha and honor the seniors’ contributions prior to puck-drop on Saturday.
“This weekend will be exciting and meaningful for us seniors, but we can’t afford to look past anyone – it’ll be a huge test for us,” said Levin. “Even though they [UNO] have struggled lately, they’re going to come out even hungrier and we need to realize that. We just need to play desperate and focus on what’s right in front of us, while obviously appreciating the recognition for our senior class.”
Arnold, Levin, Shore, and Zajac all were astounded at how fast their four years playing for Denver have passed. Despite the cliche, they agreed their advice to the juniors and sophomores moving up in seniority and the freshmen just beginning the ride is to enjoy the moment, even the struggles with classes, practices, workouts, and so on. Time really does sail by, so savor every minute of the special experience and don’t take a single part of the journey for granted.