Photo courtesy DU Athletics
CHICAGO – Over the course of this season, the University of Denver Pioneers hockey team has gotten significant contributions from all four lines. It’s been one of the reasons why the Pioneers have made it to the National Championship Game, to be played against Minnesota Duluth tomorrow night. Evan Ritt, fourth line mainstay, has been at the center of the Pioneers’ depth contributions.
You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of Ritt before this season. In the senior center’s prior three years, he played in 10 total games without recording a point. This year, however, he’s been one of the most important contributors at the bottom of the line chart.
The Lakewood, Colorado native has tallied 12 points, including two goals. His first career goal came against Western Michigan in January in nothing short of a breakout three-point game. His teammates were ecstatic for him as it was a bit of a breakthrough for him.
Ritt’s game has reached a kind of boiling point at the Frozen Four though. Last night, against Notre Dame in the National Semifinal, Ritt scored his second career goal while posting a +2 rating, winning five faceoffs, and even blocking a Notre Dame shot.
“I think I was due for that one,” Ritt said of his goal. “A lot of that came from the work from my linemates and I’m really proud of what they did tonight. They did a lot of work for me. I don’t know if I could do that one again, but it feels really good.”
Denver’s emotions were palpable when Ritt shot the puck past Irish goalie Cal Petersen’s glove. While there are bigger goals at stake this weekend, it was an awesome moment for everyone to see Ritt score on this stage against one of the country’s best goalies.
“[It] wasn’t as ecstatic as the first time, because everyone was so happy for him when he got his first career goal,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said of the reaction to Ritt’s goal against Notre Dame “Tonight it was more the relentless pursuit of our forecheck and doing the things the right way that led — obviously everyone is happy, because it kind of took the air out of the balloon for Notre Dame, but it was more about the team now and it’s not more about individuals having success”
All year long, Ritt has been focused on helping make the Pioneers better. His team-first attitude is what has made him a leader in the locker room and on the ice. Even when he has the opportunity to take credit for himself, as he had last night after scoring a key goal to put the Irish away, he deflected the praise to his teammates.
“My highest high is how fortunate I feel to be in a place like this,” Ritt said of his experience at Denver. “I came here when I was 20 years old. To spend this part of my life in an environment where I’m surrounded by guys of this caliber and this character, to have leadership like Monty, to be at a great school, I feel really fortunate.”
In a huge and talented senior class that includes Will Butcher, Matt Marcinew, Matt VanVoorhis, and Evan Janssen, it would have been easy for Ritt to get lost in the fold. Instead, he found his role and he has flourished. Though he hasn’t lit up the scoreboard like last night’s linemates Colin Staub and Emil Romig have this year, he’s been an extremely important part of this team.
Players like Henrik Borgström, Troy Terry, Will Butcher, and Dylan Gambrell have gotten the bulk of the coverage this year, and rightfully so. They’re the offensive leaders of this team. Without players like Evan Ritt, though, those players and this team aren’t where they are now. Ritt is part of the heartbeat of this team and the Pioneers will be forever grateful that he chose to don the Crimson and Gold for four years.