It’s still too early to panic about DU Hockey

It’s October 12th.

Indeed, #10 Denver is 0-2 and looked quite lackluster in their two losses to #19 Ohio State (3-2) and #6 Boston College (3-1).

But it’s October 12th.

The Pioneers have played two games, three if you count the exhibition victory over Mount Royal (which you shouldn’t). The expectations coming into the weekend were that DU would play “relentless” hockey and come away with two victories over less-talented opponents, but that didn’t happen. No, the Pios didn’t look like a particularly good hockey team for five of six periods over the weekend. But that’s no reason to panic about this team at this point.

Channeling my inner South Park, ‘member last year? ‘member when the Pios lost to Air Force to open the season? ‘member when DU was 7-7-2 at the holiday break? ‘member when the Pioneers still went to the Frozen Four last year despite all of that? ‘memberrrr?

Listen, there’s no reason to pretend like DU’s opening weekend was anything but disappointing. Everyone who supports the Crimson & Gold was looking forward to a great year complete with a fast start. The reality of the matter is this: DU lost two-thirds of its top scoring line from a year ago in addition to graduating its emotional leaders. To make matters worse, DU had a grand total of four (4) full practices heading into the Ice Breaker Tournament.

In short, the cards were stacked against the Pios from the get-go. Now, just to pile on, the Pioneers announced earlier today that Dylan Gambrell, 2nd leading scorer for the Pios from a year ago, has an “upper body injury” (he was icing his left hand on Friday night) and will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks.

Now it’s ok to panic, right?

Nope.

It was always going to be an uphill battle. That’s the nature of the beast when you lose six key players in one offseason. Even head coach Jim Montgomery noted after the loss to Boston College, “When you look at our top six [forwards], we don’t have a senior in our top six. We don’t have a junior, really. It’s going to take a while for these young men to get comfortable and be go-to guys.”

Dylan Gambrell was one of the two main “go-to guys” in the Pios’ top six (Troy Terry) before his injury. At face value, his absence from the line chart hurts. The team has already been struggling to score goals (through two games, mind you, so take that with a grain of salt), so losing one of its main sources of scoring won’t help solve that problem.

What Gambrell’s absence does provide, though, is an opportunity for other players to prove they belong on the ice and contribute to the success of this program this year. It will provide fringe top six skaters like Emil Romig and Jarid Lukosevicius with an opportunity to step up and fill the void left by Gambrell.

If you’re scrambling, grasping at straws, trying to find just one thing to be encouraged about with this team, look to the third period against Boston College. The Pios outshot the Eagles 23-5 in the final period of that game. DU didn’t manage to find the back of the net, but it was an extremely encouraging display, especially after the previous five periods, two against the Eagles and the three against Ohio State the night before. BC didn’t sit back with a one-goal lead. DU took control of the game and dictated everything both offensively and defensively in that period.

It took until the end of the second game, but finally, DU seemed to have remembered how to play Montgomery’s trademark “relentless” Pioneer hockey. So, if you’re looking for something positive to take into this weekend’s huge matchup with the BU Terriers, take the third period against BC. Take that, lean on it, close your eyes and reimagine it if you have to.

It seems the Pioneers turned a corner against BC in the final 20 minutes. It took a heroic effort in the crease to keep the Eagles alive and give them a win. Without BC’s brick Woll (sorry) in net, the Pioneers could have broken that game open in the third period.

The Pioneers will be fine. They’re a very good hockey team, even without Dylan Gambrell for 4-6 weeks. The hill may have gotten just a bit steeper this weekend, but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The point of all of this is, it’s still extremely early. The results are less than ideal, but there is absolutely no reason to panic at this point. It’s true that an extremely talented #2 BU is coming to town this weekend and there’s a very real possibility that DU will be 0-4 by the end of the weekend. But it’s a long year. Seasons are not made or destroyed in October.