Photo courtesy DU Athletics
CHICAGO – It doesn’t happen often in the regular season. It’s even rarer in the National Championship Game. But on Saturday at the United Center in the Frozen Four, the college hockey world will get that rare treat when the University of Denver Pioneers and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs hit the ice Saturday night with a National Championship on the line.
In a one-and-done type tournament, the best two teams meeting in the championship game is extraordinarily rare. Due to early upsets, a one-off bad game for the best team, or any number of other reasons, the best two teams meeting at this stage just doesn’t happen. That’s why Saturday night is going to be such a treat for the sport.
To add to the intrigue, Denver and Duluth are familiar foes. Not only did they play a hotly contested December series in Denver, but as the regular season wound down, they were neck and neck in the race for the Penrose Cup, which is awarded to the NCHC regular season champion. Of course, Denver ended up claiming the trophy, winning the conference by seven points.
“I think both teams have really grown since our last encounter,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. ” I think both teams have gotten significantly better and both teams can win in different ways.”
They say familiarity breeds contempt, but with the Pioneers and Bulldogs, it has bred a certain kind of fierce respect. Both teams will skate hard, hit hard, and work hard to bring the National Title home. While that’s hardly groundbreaking when teams both work as hard as Denver and Duluth will, it’s a sign of great mutual respect, the kind of respect that comes with winning at every stage of the season.
“It’s always physical against those guys, but obviously we really respect each other,” DU senior forward Emil Romig said. “This year we’ve been switching off in the No. 1 and No. 2 spot basically all year long. So basically there’s a lot of respect. But we’re all here to come out on top.”
All year long, it’s seemed that the Pioneers and Bulldogs have been on paths that have been destined to meet and end in the National Championship. Denver has dominated their opponents along the way. Duluth has found creative ways to win games. Both have been equally effective.
It really is this simple, though. Denver and Minnesota Duluth are the country’s best two teams. It’s been that way for at least the last three months. The NCHC knows it and now the rest of the college hockey world is aware. Tomorrow night though, the college hockey world will finally get to find out which one is the best.