Photo courtesy DU Athletics
CHICAGO – On college hockey’s biggest stage, under college hockey’s brightest lights, the top-ranked University of Denver once again showed why they’re the best team in the country. Thanks to a 6-1 drubbing of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Pioneers are returning to the National Championship Game for the first time since 2005.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Denver dominated the game from wire to wire. Pure domination has been the theme all year for DU. In nearly every game they’ve played this year, they were the better team on the ice and tonight, at the United Center in the Frozen Four, that was once again the case.
It wasn’t just the top two lines that led the way for the Pioneers against the Irish tonight, though. With goals from Emil Romig, Tariq Hammond, and Evan Ritt, Denver showcased its incredible depth while stepping on Notre Dame’s throats.
“I think I was due for that one,” Ritt said after the game. “A lot of that came from the work from my linemates and I’m really proud of what they did tonight. I don’t know if I could do that one again, but it feels really good.”
It’s been mentioned before, but Denver has larger goals than winning a game at the Frozen Four. They didn’t celebrate loudly when they beat Michigan Tech. They weren’t ecstatic when they beat Penn State. And after clinching a spot in the national title game tonight, it was no different. The Pioneers poured over the boards as the clock hit 0:00 and celebrated as if they had just won a conference game in mid-January. Simply put, the business trip to Chicago rolled on tonight.
“It was more about the team now,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “It was about doing things the right way that led [to the victory].”
The Pioneers’ biggest test of the past few months awaits them on Saturday, though as their opponent in the National Championship Game is fellow NCHC member, Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs beat Harvard in the first semifinal in a thriller that saw Alex Iafallo score with 26 seconds left in the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
It’s unlikely that Denver will have a repeat performance of Thursday night’s game against the Bulldogs. Both teams are extremely familiar with each other and it’s going to be a rare treat that college hockey fans get to watch the two best teams go head to head for a national title.
“I think their staff knows us inside out,” Montgomery said of the matchup with UMD. “I feel like we know them inside out. They players know each other extremely well. I don’t even think the coaches have to tell who’s going to go on the ice when one line goes over. It’s going to be a great college hockey game.”
A dominant win tonight at the Frozen Four definitely helps to get rid of the sour taste from the same time a year ago against North Dakota, but Denver isn’t done. They still have unfinished business from Tampa. One way or another Denver’s 2016-17 journey will come to an end on Saturday night. As long as they continue to trust “the proscess,” there will be plenty to celebrate Saturday night.