“This is the last time I’m going to be able to wear this jersey,” Denver senior captain Grant Arnold explained last night after losing in heartbreaking fashion to archrival North Dakota in the Frozen Four. “A lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Two surgeries on my body. A lot of great wins, a lot of great friendships.”
Watching Arnold in the post-game press conference last night, you couldn’t help but feel the same conflicted pain that you saw on his face. He was clearly so proud of what he has accomplished as the leader of the Pioneers, but he wasn’t ready for this season to end, especially not like it did.
With just 57 seconds left, North Dakota’s Nick Schmaltz backhanded the puck into the open net past DU goalie Tanner Jaillet after the puck squeaked out of a group of players off the faceoff. This goal broke a 2-2 tie that looked improbable (if not impossible) for DU after being down 2-0 at the end of the second period.
“That was not a surprise to us that we came back from 2-0,” Arnold said. “We were living in the moment and giving it everything we had.”
It may not have been surprising to the boys wearing crimson and gold last night, but their comeback shocked just about everyone else at Amalie Arena. North Dakota isn’t a team that gives up leads, especially multi-goal leads. Yet Denver found a way to defy the odds and give themselves a chance to win a game that looked impossible to win.
That’s what this senior class brought to the Denver hockey program. And looking back on their four years at DU, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they were able to lead this team to its first Frozen Four in more than a decade.
This senior class, Gabe Levin, Quentin Shore, Nolan Zajac, and Arnold, was the last class recruited by George Gwozdecky, the famous, two-time national champion head coach. They played just one year under the coach that recruited them to play at Denver before he was fired.
While they could have done the same thing as some of their teammates and leave the program, they chose to stay and play for an untested head coach in Jim Montgomery. Though that first year started slowly and it appeared DU would miss their first NCAA Tournament in 7 seasons, they rallied to win the NCHC Tournament and clinch the automatic bid before losing in the first round to Boston College.
The next year, with then junior Grant Arnold wearing the ‘C’, Denver played solid hockey all year earning the program’s eighth straight berth in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large 2-seed. They earned revenge against Boston College for their 2014 first round loss before losing to upstart and eventual national champion Providence.
Of course, this year was the highlight of this senior class’ time at DU earning a berth in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005, when they won the National Title.
This senior class, led by Arnold, helped facilitate the reawakening of the University of Denver hockey program as a perennial national power. It is thanks in large part to the effort and dedication of these four seniors that future of Denver hockey looks even brighter than it did a decade ago.
Watching this team react to last night’s loss and hold their heads high as they left Amalie Arena, you could sense that it won’t be another decade before Denver makes another appearance at the Frozen Four. Given the trajectory Jim Montgomery’s program has been on since he arrived, it’s not unreasonable to think that come this time next year, the Pioneers will be playing at the United Center in Chicago.
As Montgomery’s success is not possible without the foundation built by Gwozdecky, the future success of this program wouldn’t be possible without the foundation built by this senior class. Their dedication to Denver hockey is admirable and they will forever be inextricably linked with success at Denver.
“I love Denver athletics,” Arnold added. “I love Denver hockey. Coach Montgomery, I’ve learned more than you can ever imagine from him. And we’ll be lifelong friends. And that’s what Denver hockey is, Denver athletics, it’s a family and we love each other.”
The future of hockey at Magness Arena looks brighter than it has in a long time and it’s thanks in large part to the dedication these four seniors showed to this program.