The United Center in Chicago – Home of the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four – Photo: NCAA
This is a very big week for everyone connected to the University of Denver, as our top-ranked Pioneers skate for NCAA Hockey Title #8 in Chicago. Over 1,000 DU fans will watch the game live at the United Center in Chicago, and thousands more will gather at the at least 13 DU-sponsored watch parties around the country or in front of their personal screens on ESPN around the world to cheer on the Pioneers, celebrating our common emotional bond with our team and school.
The stage for our hockey team has never been bigger. The glamor factor is high. Chicago is a big city — a far larger host than the last four DU Frozen Fours in Tampa, Columbus, Boston, and Providence, and the top-seeded Pios are favored to do well. DU’s first opponent is Notre Dame, arguably America’s largest college sports brand, playing in its own backyard. Combine the quality of our team, the city setting, the stakes and the opponent and there is a very good reason DU sold out its full 600 NCAA ticket allotment in a matter of hours. There are a lot of DU alumni in Chicago, almost everyone has friends there, and the combination of low airfares, reasonable hotel rates and easy flight availability have made the event easily accessible for DU fans. This Frozen Four just feels bigger and different than those in the past, and the excitement is palpable as Thursday’s game day approaches.
This week couldn’t come at a better time. Our university continues to make national and local headlines in recent years, as the host of the 2012 Presidential Debates on campus, winning the 2015 NCAA Lacrosse Championship in Philadelphia and hosting 35,000+ fans at the 2016 Battle on Blake at Coors Field in Denver. Those successful big-time events have elevated the profile of our University around the country.
And so will the Frozen Four in Chicago!
At the same time, it’s not just big events that have DU rising. Many DU sports have been pushing into the top of national rankings, with a record six DU sports earning national top 15 rankings at some point this season, opening many new eyes to the athletic excellence being created here. DU coaches and athletes are doing their part to put great players and teams in front of us — all of them wearing the name of the school and city on their chests. DU is getting great bang for its mid-major athletic budget, and there’s more good news on top of that: 95% of our athletes are graduating; the athletic GPA is better than the all-student GPA (3.4); and, knock on wood, our athletes stay out of the police blotter. Our sports are great and seemingly getting even greater by the week.
DU athletes have the ability to generate school pride, and it’s time our fans stepped up to support them a higher level. Unfortunately, school spirit at DU is still very much a work in progress. As a school, our fan base still pretty low-key, and our fan base is seen nationally in the hockey world as mostly as a bunch of cell phone addicted golf-clappers who come late and leave early. Magness Arena and the fields around it are rarely passionate places in terms of DU fan energy, despite having multiple NCAA-ranked teams. I think we can do better.
That said, many DU fans are just fine with our low key fan approach. After all, we don’t live in Tuscaloosa, or Grand Forks, where college sports take center stage in life. There is no football at DU, and as a small Colorado school with only 5,800 undergrads, we are often distracted by the multitude of recreational and cultural riches surrounding us, including 8 pro sports teams and 4 public D-I football schools within an hour of our campus. Our mellow Colorado community is a transient one, too — we come from all over the world and most of us didn’t grow up rooting for DU. Our students are becoming less sports-minded more and more academic-minded, and our school has a private/expensive reputation that doesn’t always resonate with the larger Denver community around us.
Furthermore, our DU campus community has recently seemed focused on social, economic, political and cultural divisions, rather than figuring out how to unify us. Indeed some would even argue that a number of people at DU seem determined to divide us further. That’s sad.
Personally, I think this weekend is just what DU needs to bring a greater sense of unity than ever before.
And nothing can build school unity like sports, as the school pride it generates can cut across barriers and make our progress visible and quantifiable. It’s also one of only a few public spheres where we can cheer out loud, as winning against other schools, especially famous ones, makes us feel amazing. We many not beat Notre Dame or Harvard in academic prestige, endowment, or admissions selectivity anytime soon, but we sure have a good shot at beating those schools in front of 19,000 people watching in a hockey rink in Chicago this week, with millions more watching on national television.
It matters and it’s a big opportunity. Hockey is our flagship sport, and a big part of how the rest of the world knows us. For most of our nearly 70 years of hockey, DU has been great at this game, and it’s high time DU again claimed its place at the top of the sport.
At a DU academic event earlier this week in Denver, when DU Chancellor Rebecca Chopp was talking about University strategy, she talked about these very ideas — that DU has to think bigger and that Denver’s destiny should no longer be a humble underdog — a school that “fights above our weight”. She’s right, of course. DU is doing great things and it’s time to openly celebrate our accomplishments, especially in athletics, where success brings us together. Chopp even said that for the University of Denver to build a successful strategy, hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s axiom about “not skating to where the puck is, but skating where the puck is going” is vital. I’d also maintain Gretzky’s other great hockey axiom — “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” — would also apply to our sometimes publicity-shy university.
The good news is that DU is changing right before our eyes. Historically, our university hasn’t been very focused on tooting its own horn. DU’s personality has tended to be more modest, self-deprecating and a little shy. A big step forward this week was deciding to send the DU pep band and cheer team to Chicago. While other schools do this almost automatically, DU has not sent the band or cheer team to a Frozen Four since the 1960s, before it was even called the Frozen Four. Indeed, at the Frozen Four in Tampa last year, Denver was the only school in competition not to have its band and cheer team at the game — making us look and feel sub-standard. This year, no such problem.
The DU Alumni and Advancement Departments have also stepped up this time around, and are now working closely with the Denver Athletic Department to not only create a record 13 game watch parties, but also to create a better DU fan experience in Chicago. And they have even gone beyond the expected to create a new program, called the #SkateFor8 Fan Challenge, to get our fans further engaged around the country, and to help generate needed publicity for DU. This is a great collaborative start between departments that, frankly, have not always worked closely together. At LetsGoDU, we’re excited to be a part of it and to help spread the word.
Fans, it’s now our turn to step up. It’s our turn for each of us to do our part to show and grow the Pioneer spirit as never before.
DU hockey coach Jim Montgomery is here to kick off the program with a 15-second video below:
There are Three Easy Steps to participating:
* Click the link here to go to the#SkateFor8 Fan Challenge
* Commit to one of 3 spirit level challenges:
* Level 1: Pioneer – Use DU’s AmplifyDU social media tool to share DU’s success on your own social media.
* Level 2: Crimson – Invite 8 fellow alums to show your Pioneer Pride (both physical and social).
* Level 3: Gold – Attend a Pioneer watch party – and invite friends as DU tries to win its 8th hockey national championship.
Now is a great time for us to let our friends, families, communities and our networks know that the University of Denver is a great institution and that DU can achieve anything. And we can have some fun along the way.
Let’s get the word out across the country and let the Windy City know that the University of Denver is serious and loud about being the best. The #SkateFor8 Fan Challenge is a great start. Let’s get out of our traditional quiet comfort zone. Take a chance. Sign-up. Tell the world.
And get LOUD!
Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a long-time DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views here periodically at LetsGoDU, and is excited to be going to Chicago to see DU compete live in the Frozen Four for his fifth time.