Photo courtesy DU Athletics
CHICAGO – They did it. The University of Denver Pioneers are back on top of the college hockey world. Sophomore forward Jarid Lukosevicius scored a second period hat trick and junior goalie Tanner Jaillet made 38 saves as the Pioneers beat the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs 3-2 in the National Championship Game at the United Center.
Denver fans are used to NCHC hockey. They’re used to intense, back and forth hockey. Tonight, on the sport’s biggest stage, the Pioneers and Bulldogs took it to another level of intensity.
After a scoreless first period dominated by Denver, four goals were scored. One by the Bulldogs and three by Lukosevicius. The last time a player notched a hat trick in the National Championship? None other than DU head coach Jim Montgomery in 1993.
Denver had control of the game for the better part of the first two periods, but towards the end of the middle frame, Duluth grabbed control and wouldn’t let go until the final buzzer. Fortunately for DU, Jaillet was at his absolute best all night and he only allowed a single goal in the final frame.
This championship means a lot of things for a lot of people. From students to fans to supporters to alumni, the entire Pioneer Nation was thrust back on top of the world with this victory tonight. But this win means even more to the group of seniors that led this team over the last four years.
“It’s a little bit romantic that it’s my fourth year. So I feel like I’m graduating with them,” Montgomery said. “Their commitment has been unreal to the program, especially in the last 18 months. And what they learned from Grant Arnold, who was an incredible captain for two years, it helped me change the culture into a selfless and about the team first and not about individuals.”
The journey that this class has taken this program, this school, this city on has been not only more fun than anyone imagined, but more rewarding than anyone could have dreamed four years ago. There is arguably no more important senior class in DU history than this one. To transition from an all-time great head coach in George Gwozdecky to a relatively unknown quantity in Montgomery and fully buy in immediately says volumes about this class.
It certainly felt like this was a team of destiny, given the overarching story of the senior class, but they still had to take care of business against the Bulldogs tonight. And it didn’t go as smoothly as they would have liked.
“I was worried yesterday with all those individual honors coming that we never thought about,” Montgomery said. “When Will won the Hobey, it’s an incredible moment. And I’m wondering, here’s our best defenseman, is he going to have legs tomorrow night and give them credit they never thought about anything about themselves. He didn’t even spend time with his family. He’s like: I’m going with you, Coach, we’re going back. It’s just a special group.”
It’s impossible to truly capture what this program’s eighth title means to everyone. For a program with such a proud history, this title means a lot to everyone.
“I can’t put it into words,” Butcher said. “I think everybody’s going to be very proud about this one getting back here and being in Chicago with the amount of support and the alumni that are here was amazing. It was the biggest fan base that we’ve ever had. And just seeing everybody at the hotel, down in the corner at the end of the game, it was something I’m going to remember the rest of my life. So I think just that in itself was just unbelievable.”
It’s going to take a long time for the University of Denver to digest this National Title and quantify what it means. For now, the Pioneers are back on top and that eighth banner is going up in Magness Arena.