Photo courtesy Bobby Dusso
Separating friendship from team allegiance can be difficult for some, but it’s nothing new for freshmen winger Liam Finlay of the University of Denver Pioneers and North Dakota Fighting Hawks star center Tyson Jost. While Jost and Finlay didn’t begin playing together until 2011-2012 in bantam at the Pursuit of Excellence Academy in Kelowna, British Columbia, they have known each other since they were 8 or 9-years old where they met at a hockey tournament.
“We really grew up around the game together. Playing on the same team and going through similar situations was definitely nice to have him by my side,” Jost told LetsGoDU. “The last two or three years here we’ve been on opposite teams and we’ve always been rivals to when we play each other. Obviously, we’re friends off the ice, but on the ice we’re really competitive. It makes it fun, competitive atmosphere. It’s been a good ride with Fin [Finlay] for sure.”
Jost turned 19 this past Tuesday (March 14), while Finlay is 20-years old. The pals reunited in midget playing for the Okanagan Rockets in 2013-2014. Then, the duo were teammates in the BCHL together in 2014-15 on the Penticton Vees for ten games before Finlay was traded to the Vernon Vipers, where he played the remainder of his Junior A career before coming to DU.
“I committed to Denver before he did. He was weighing his options and I think Denver and North Dakota were his last two,” Finlay said. “I was like, ‘Man come on, let’s go together,’ but as much as he wanted to, his dream school was always North Dakota. His idol is Jonathan Toews. He went there [to North Dakota], so it was nostalgic for him. I wish he came here, but it doesn’t affect our relationship.”
Jost and Finlay enjoy the rivalry between two of college hockey’s most decorated and storied programs and they always banter via text prior to taking the ice. Finlay even scored his first collegiate goal against North Dakota on Nov. 12, helping the Pioneers to clinch the 3-2 victory and Finlay earn critical bragging rights over Jost.
“My mom was down that weekend. She was pretty excited to not only watch me but watch Liam too,” Jost said. “I was not happy when it first happened, but looking back on it now it was pretty cool that he got his first goal with some friends and family in the crowd. He’s going to bug me about it for a long time now so I’m just disappointed it happened against us.”
Throughout the first half of the season, Finlay had to work his way into the lineup as DU head coach Jim Montgomery experimented with different lineup variations. As lines began to take a more concrete shape in the second-half, Montgomery didn’t take Finlay on a road trip to Western Michigan on Jan. 13 and 14.
“It’s no fun to be the guy sitting out. Monty had every right to do what he did with me and sit me, not bringing me on that trip. I respect him for it. It made me mad and made me want to work harder. I think I seized the opportunity I had. I still can’t take a game off, I’ve got to keep going.”
Since the trip to Kalamazoo, Finlay, a Kelowna, British Columbia native, has solidified his spot on the line chart and skates right wing on Denver’s second line alongside senior winger Evan Janssen and sophomore center Dylan Gambrell. He’s tallied 15 points (7G-8A) in his 32 games, including a hat-trick in Denver against St. Cloud on Feb. 25.
While Finlay is thriving for the Crimson and Gold, Jost is boasting big numbers for the Fighting Hawks. In his 30 appearances, he’s totaled 31 points on 15 goals and 16 assists.
Despite Jost’s decision to attend UND, the St. Albert, Alberta native inevitably will relocate to Denver as he was drafted 10th overall in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche.
“We always laugh about that,” Jost said. “Whenever my time comes for Colorado he’ll probably still be there in Denver. We can always connect when that happens. It’s neat that we’re going to be close to each other once again.”
Jost and Finlay are excited to meet on a bigger stage with a lot at stake as Denver and North Dakota clash in the semifinal of the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis, Minn. on Friday, March 17 at 6:38 pm MT.
“Obviously we went our separate ways,” Jost said. “North Dakota and Denver. That’s a huge rivalry. We’ll be playing each other again on Friday and it’s just going to take off [with that rivalry]. It’ll be fun. One will get bragging rights and we’ll joke about it in the summer, but right now it’s all business. I want to beat him as bad as I can and he’ll say the exact same thing to you about me.”
For the top-ranked Pioneers, the devastating result to North Dakota in the 2016 Frozen Four is lingering, fueling a burning desire for retribution and success in this matchup.
“I understand that everyone in the dressing room wants to win, but I don’t understand that feeling as much because I wasn’t there for that loss [in Tampa],” Finlay said. “I can feel how everyone thinks of them and how much we want to beat them. That’s rubbing off on the whole team, even our freshmen. We want to win just as bad as they do.”