Photo courtesy DU Athletics
Nine seniors will don the Crimson and Gold for their last regular season series at Magness Arena this weekend. The top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers (22-6-4, 14-3-3-2 NCHC) host the No. 18 St. Cloud State Huskies (15-14-1, 9-10-1-0 NCHC) who handed DU its most recent loss (3-2) on Jan. 20.
The senior class will be recognized prior to Saturday (Feb. 25) night’s game. The diverse group covers the ice in every position, including goaltenders Evan Cowley and Greg Ogard, defensemen Will Butcher (captain) and Matt VanVoorhis (assistant captain), and forwards Brad Hawkinson, Evan Janssen (assistant captain), Matt Marcinew (assistant captain), Evan Ritt, and Emil Romig.
From comics to stoics to college hockey’s best flow, this iconic senior class entered the program simultaneously as head coach Jim Montgomery in 2013.
“I feel like I’m graduating with them to be honest,” coach Montgomery said. “I think as much as they’ve grown as men I think I’ve grown as a coach with them. I think we’ve pushed each other to become better and it’s going to be an emotional night for me.”
The Class of 2017 has witnessed and contributed to the evolution of Pioneer hockey under coach Montgomery. From winning the NCHC Championship freshman year to the Battle on Blake and a berth to Denver’s first Frozen Four appearance in more than a decade a year ago, these players bought into and trusted the process Montgomery preaches.
Besides Janssen, who played juniors under Montgomery for the Dubuque Fighting Saints, the remaining classmates had to adjust to Montgomery’s system of high-pressure, “relentless” hockey.
“I think the one thing he’s done really well in the four years is a total culture change from freshman year all the way until now,” Butcher said. “He’s changed the brand of Denver hockey into a more in your face, puck-pressure type of game and I think that’s better for the program since the way the game is evolving. I think our senior class is kind of the pedestal to his culture change, in the sense of how he wanted to play and which guys he wanted to bring in to make that culture change.”
As of Friday morning, the senior class has amassed 266 points and contrived a save percentage of .929%. There are certainly mixed emotions of sadness, excitement, nostalgia and determination as the Class of 2017 conclude their DU careers.
“When you represent a prestigious program like Denver and putting on the Crimson and Gold sweater like we do every Friday and Saturday night it’s something special,” Butcher said.” It’s hard to put into words exactly what it is. Every guy loves to do it and would do it until the day they die if they could.”
From an upperclassmen perspective, the seniors reflect on ascending through the hierarchy from freshmen to the respected senior roles they embody today.
The guidance VanVoorhis offers to his younger teammates first and foremost is, “Go to class,” he laughs. “Enjoy every bit of it. Don’t have any regrets. Do everything to the fullest and passionately. Build as many relationships here as you can obviously with the guys on the team, but people off the team as well. You’re going to look back on these years and these are going to be the best four years of your life so make the most of it. Enjoy every single bit of it and put a smile on when you’re doing it.”
Last season’s results, while impressive and noteworthy, weren’t acceptable. Unfinished business left in Tampa fuels this senior class and the program to return to Denver from Chicago with hardware.
Having been in the seniors’ position of chasing a national title, coach Montgomery advises, “It’s kind of easy because I’ve lived through it, right? Stay in the moment. Embrace the opportunities that are coming your way. Obviously, we are already in the national tournament. Focus not on that, but on the whole journey of what we’re doing every game to achieve our ultimate goal. There’s a lot of goals to achieve, but the more goals you achieve, the easier the next ones become.”
The Class of 2017 and Montgomery will forever be inextricably linked. Their paths to this point have intertwined harmoniously and the effects can be seen on the ice at Magness Arena. But, if there is one thing for certain, their journeys aren’t over just yet.