DU Hockey Mailbag: It’s NCHC Tournament Time!

Photo Credit: Sasha Kandrach

I know this week’s mailbag is up late…but it’s finals week and finding time to write this week has been surprisingly difficult. So your patience here is greatly appreciated. I decided to take a break from studying to get this written, so without further excuses ado, let’s get this thing going.

The third regular season in the short history of the NCHC has come and gone and, unfortunately, the last weekend of the season didn’t really provide any intriguing storylines. North Dakota took it to Western Michigan to clinch the Penrose Cup outright, St. Cloud bullied Colorado College like everyone expected, Denver swept UNO just like Omaha fans expected, and Duluth claimed the No. 4 seed in the NCHC by sweeping Miami.

All things considered, last week was, in a word, boring. Even in Denver on Friday night, I caught myself yawning during the DU-UNO game. What are you going to do? UNO played bad hockey and let DU do whatever they wanted. Luckily Saturday was a bit better and it took a Dylan Gambrell goal with just over a minute left in regulation to lift DU to the 2-1 victory.

For those of you counting at home, yes, that’s 9 straight victories for the Crimson & Gold and the 7th straight game in which Denver has allowed one goal or less. In short, Denver is probably the best team in the country right now. They’re all but assured a spot in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and if they get past Omaha for the second straight weekend, they’ll be on a trip to Minneapolis next week for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

It’s fun hockey time!

Onto your questions:

First off, Tyler your my best question source for this weekly piece. And I appreciate that immensely. You always give me great stuff to work with. That’s all I can ask for with this column!

I’ve actually been thinking about this question for some time now. My tendency as a sports-watcher in general is to assume that no run of goodness or even greatness can be sustained. My philosophy is the sports gods hate me, so the higher I get on a team, the harder I will fall when the inevitable happens. I’ve been waiting a couple of weeks for this to happen to the Pios, to be honest.

It has nothing to do with their quality of play, it’s my quite irrational belief that my connection to a team somehow impacts the outcome (I’m not the only one who experiences this). But because of this belief, I’ve been analyzing every angle of this question: What is it going to take for this team to lose?

I’m not sure I have a concrete answer to this question. Every time I think they’re going to blow the streak, DU comes out and just dominates every inch of the ice. I’ll do my best here:

First, it’s going to take a complete and committed team effort from an extremely talented team to stop Denver. The Pioneers are entering the building knowing they’re going to win. The confidence I’ve seen from all 20 players when they’ve taken the ice since 2016 started has been incredible. The know how good they are and they have every intention of proving it every single night.

That’s part of the reason why I don’t think Omaha is going to slow DU down this weekend. It took a goalie performance of a lifetime from Kirk Thompson to hold DU to just 2 goals on Saturday night. Any other goalie, DU wins that game by 4 or 5 goals. Omaha is down right now and their confidence is probably at an all-time low. They played really good hockey for most of the game on Saturday and still lost.

So if not Omaha, who can stop the Pios?

I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t think a team from the NCHC can beat Denver right now. North Dakota came closest in DU’s 6-4 victory, and DU still dominated all 200 feet in the last 50 minutes of that game.

This is going to sound crazy, but there is only one team in college hockey that could give DU a real run for their money right now, and they’re not in the top 16 of the PairWise. That team is Northeastern.

Yep. Northeastern is the only other team who has only lost once since the beginning of 2016. They’re actually 16-1-1 since December 19th. NU might be the only team that can stop DU right now…and if they don’t win the Hockey East Tournament, there’s a pretty good chance Denver won’t have to worry about playing the Huskies.

This is playoff hockey, though. Anything can happen. It’s such a different brand of hockey. It’s more grind-it-out, keep the puck deep instead of up-and-down hockey. Scoring chances will be few and far between, even for DU, so as great as DU has been playing, you just never know what might happen if a few bounces don’t go their way.

DU is assured of a spot in the NCAA Tournament already. Who do you think they’ll play and in what region?
Tommy in Denver

USCHO’s Jayson Moy has a great weekly column called Bracketology. About halfway through the season, he starts looking at the way the PairWise is shaping up and the various factors that the selection committee has to consider to create the NCAA Tournament field.

In this week’s bracket, Moy predicts that DU will travel to St. Paul, Minnesota as the #2 seed (#6 overall) in the West region to play UMass-Lowell in the first round. The other predicted matchup in the West is #1 overall North Dakota vs. #15 Minnesota. If this were how the brackets shaped up, should they beat Lowell, Denver would advance to play either North Dakota or Minnesota (Gophers) in the West final with a trip to Tampa on the line.

This is a realistic setup, but I do have a feeling the selection committee will try to avoid allowing Providence 2015 from happening again (you remember #4 seeded PC had two home games in DU’s region).

In my humble (though MAYBE educated) opinion, regardless of attendance factors, a #4 seed should never play an effective home game in the NCAA Tournament. They are a lower seed for a reason. They shouldn’t be rewarded just for lucky geography.

A lot can change between now and Selection Sunday next weekend, but that’s kind of how things sit right now. I’d look to see Denver have a lot of success in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, regardless of who they play. Beyond that, I have no idea what to expect.

Last games of the season at Magness Arena this weekend. Prediction please.
Jim in Castle Rock

I hate predicting playoff hockey. Playoff hockey is such a different animal than regular season hockey and anything can happen. But you asked, so I’ll oblige.

Denver sweeps: 3-1, 4-2

This prediction has more to do with Omaha than it does with Denver. UNO might not be able to find the word “win” in the dictionary right now. They did everything right last Saturday and they still found a way to lose. You have to credit the Pacific Rim Line on the game winner, though. To quote Coach Montgomery, “That play was big time.”

Denver is again just too good for Omaha. Even in that low-scoring 2-1 affair, the Pios still generated 46 shots on goal. DU will continue to impose their will on the Mavericks on Friday and Saturday and earn a free trip to Minneapolis next weekend and Sunday will be devoted solely to DU lacrosse.

There you have it. The playoffs are here. Denver seems to have peaked at the right time. They’re playing with confidence and they’re playing Jim Montgomery trademarked “relentless” hockey. No matter the results over the course of the next month, this team has been so much fun to watch lately and that does mean something.

With that, I’m going to wrap up this week’s mailbag. All that’s left is to watch some great playoff hockey at Magness Arena this weekend. Next week, I’ll be coming to you from Minneapolis while I’m covering the Frozen Faceoff. So if you have any dying questions about that event or playoff hockey in general, be sure to tweet at us or email us at letsgodu@gmail.com.

Enjoy this first weekend of playoff hockey, Pios. You’ll want to be at Magness Arena this weekend. Trust me.