Photo credit: Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today
Summer is finally over and Fall is upon us once again. Rather than waking up to the bright, piercing sun, we’re waking up to cool, crisp mornings. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is back and Major League Baseball playoff races are heating up (the Rockies are still in it!) and we’ve reached the final days of September. All of this means only one thing. College hockey is finally right around the corner.
It’s now been more than five months since the University of Denver hoisted the NCAA Hockey championship trophy for the eighth time in program history. The country’s focus has shifted from the Pioneers’ dominance in 2016-17 to whether they can put forth a repeat performance in 2017-18. After losing such an important senior class that included the likes of captain Will Butcher, Matt Marcinew, Evan Janssen, and Emil Romig, the incoming freshman class is going to play an important part in whether the Pioneers can reach the promised land again.
Last year, the Pioneers’ freshman class played an important part in their run to the national championship. Players like Liam Finlay, Tyson McLellan, Michael Davies, and, of course, budding superstar Henrik Borgström all contributed important minutes and great play on both ends of the ice throughout the season.
This year’s class is shaping up to be just another in a growing line of great classes under Jim Montgomery’s leadership. Only time will tell if it ends up being as good as last year’s class was, at least in its first year, but the potential is there with this group and they figure to earn big minutes right off the bat come October.
F Ryan Barrow, Banff, Alberta
At 6′ 2″, 170 lbs, Barrow will add an element of size to a forward corps that has desperately lacked it over the past few years. While Montgomery has preached playing fast, relentless hockey, a lack of size, especially up front has caused issues in the past and Barrow will certainly help address that inefficiency. While he’s only 170 lbs, you can be sure that Matt Shaw, DU’s trainer, will help him bulk up and take full advantage of his 6′ 2″ frame.
After a relatively quiet first year with the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL posting 6G-14A-20P in 51 games, Barrow broke out in his second year tallying 68 points with 28 goals. Given the depth the Pioneers have at forward, Barrow may not see the ice as much early in the year, but by the end of the year, his scoring touch and fresher legs could be relied upon down the stretch. While his name may not ring around Magness Arena like Borgström’s, Barrow will be an important offensive piece of the Pioneers for years to come.
G Devin Cooley, Los Gatos, California
Cooley was a late addition to the roster after DU announced that Vermont transfer Packy Munson would be leaving the program to join Michigan Tech. At first, Cooley was slated to join the Pioneers next season, but with a third-string opening on the roster, it made sense to bring Cooley in a year earlier.
As a 6’5″ goalie, Cooley is cut from a similar cloth as former DU goalie Evan Cowley. He’ll fill up the net front and limit the amount of twine shooters have to aim at. Despite his size, he has struggled a bit throughout his short career. Between the NAHL and BCHL last year, he posted a 2.70 GAA and .896 SV% in 24 games. As the projected third-string goalie this year, he should be able to make some large strides under DU’s tutelage. Not only that, but he’ll have the reigning Mike Richter Award winner in Tanner Jaillet to learn from throughout the year. Thanks in large part to his size, Cooley has a great chance to develop into a very good goaltender in Denver over the next few years.
F Jack Doremus, Aspen, Colorado
Before you ask, yes Jack is indeed the younger brother of former DU standout Daniel Doremus, who graduated in 2015. At 6’1″, 174 lbs, Jack is joining the Pioneers as nearly a carbon copy of his older brother. Even though he hasn’t lit up the scoreboard throughout his development, like Barrow, Jack Doremus will add some size to the forward corps.
Last year, with the Sioux Falls Stampede and Lincoln Stars of the USHL, Doremus accounted for 32 points and 20 goals in 57 games. With the Pioneers, he’ll fit in well as a third line type forward. He has the ability to score, but his strength likely lies with his ability to be a big body in the defensive zone. If Doremus can develop into the same type of player his brother was with the Pios, DU fans should be very excited to watch him play over the next four years.
F Jake Durflinger, Walnut Creek, California
Durflinger is more of a “prototypical” Jim Montgomery forward recruit. At 5’9″, 174 lbs, his speed and his ability to out-maneuver the opposition is likely what made him appealing to DU’s head coach. Even though he isn’t a large body on the ice, Durflinger will be able to follow in the footsteps of sophomore teammates Liam Finlay and Tyson McLellan and provide an offensive spark with his speed and footwork.
With the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder last year, Durflinger tallied 29 points on 12 goals and 17 assists and wore the “A” as an alternate captain. It will be interesting to watch him develop alongside Finlay and McLelland and see if Montgomery ever decides to put them on a small line together. If the chemistry is there, it could be a lot of fun to watch.
F Jaakko Heikkinen, Helsinki, Finland
Heikkinen will be the second Finnish player on the Pioneers’ roster this year, joining fellow countryman Henrik Borgström in Denver. While Heikkinen may not have the same flash as Borgström, he is a very good offensive player. In fact, when asked about Heikkinen, Montgomery told The Denver Post, “Jaakko is going to be a poor-man’s Borgstrom. He can really do some amazing things with the puck. He’s not Borgstrom but he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Playing for Jokerit U20 in Finland’s top junior flight, Heikkinen scored 14 goals and accounted for 47 points in just 43 games last year. This year, there should be good chemistry between Heikkinen and Borgström so it would be no surprise to see them on the same line at times throughout the year, especially early on as Montgomery experiments with line combinations. Denver is hoping that this newfound Finnish pipeline can produce for them as well this year as it did last year with Borgström. If it can, look for another big offensive year from the Finnish teammates.
D Griffin Mendel, Kelowna, B.C.
Mendel might be one of the more important pieces of this incoming class. At 6’4″, 209 lbs, he’s going to be a force along the blue line. If the forward corps lacked size over the last few years, Denver’s corps of defensemen was extremely undersized. It worked out for Denver as they made up for their lack of sizable physicality with their offensive prowess, but too often, the Pioneers were losing battles in the small areas along the boards just because of size. Mendel’s presence will go a long way toward addressing that issue.
Throughout his young career, Mendel has never been looked to as a scoring threat from the blue line, but that’s ok. He tallied 10 points in 52 games for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, but his presence as a defensive defenseman was key in helping the Vees make a run to the BCHL Championship. Mendel will join sophomore teammate Erich Fear and senior captain Tariq Hammond as bigger defensive forces along the blue line. This combination will give the Pioneers a more balanced look at the back and build on an incredible defensive year last year.
D Ian Mitchell, Calahoo, Alberta
In a deep class that features a lot of developing talent, Mitchell is probably the most-prized addition to the roster. He’s a well-rounded defenseman who can score in droves while playing sound, responsible defense. He’s extremely talented and the sky is the limit for his development, especially under the tutelage of Jim Montgomery. The Chicago Blackhawks agreed when they drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft a few months ago.
If this sounds a bit like a description of Will Butcher, it should. at 5’11”, 174 lbs, he’s a bit undersized but has some room to grow into his body and develop into a great defenseman. Last year, with the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League), he scored 37 points with 8 goals in 53 games. Mitchell has the ability to one of the better defensemen in the NCHC quickly. If he follows the same path as Butcher, there’s no question he’ll develop into another in a long line of top blueliners at DU.
F Kohen Olischefski, Abbotsford, B.C.
If Mitchell was the most-prized addition, Olischefski is a very close second. Olischefski is an extremely talented forward that will fit in perfectly with the already arguably most talented crop of forwards in the country. With a 6’0″, 163 lbs frame, he still needs to grow into his body, but his size hasn’t been a problem for him to this point in his career. In fact, he’s been a man among boys, so to speak, in recent years.
Over the past two years with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs, Olischefski tallied 124 points with 37 goals in 113 games. In the BCHL playoffs last year, he contributed 23 points and 10 goals to the Chiefs’ run to the BCHL finals where they lost to Mendel’s Vees. Olischefski was one of the most important pieces of that team and the Pioneers are certainly hoping he can grow into that same role quickly with the Pioneers. Olischefski is going to be a very fun player for Pioneers fans to watch over the next four years. He’ll be worth every penny spent on a ticket.
G Dayton Rasmussen, Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Tanner Jaillet’s backup will be a freshman this year. The 6’2″, 201 lbs Rasmussen was another very great “get” for Montgomery’s staff. While he’s young and has a ways to go with his development, he projects to be one of the best goalies in college hockey by the time he decides to go to the next level. Even though he wasn’t drafted this year in his first year of eligibility, he most assuredly will be next year. Scouts are salivating at his potential and the Pioneers are going to benefit from his services for at least a few years.
After being traded from the Tri-City Storm to the Chicago Steel, Rasmussen was an important part of a Steel team that made a run to win the USHL’s Clark Cup. Between the two teams last year, he posted a 2.45 GAA and .912 SV% in 38 games. For a developing goalie of his stature, these are great numbers and he’ll only get better at DU. Denver has had great success with their goaltenders since the Murray Armstrong era and Rasmussen will only add to the list of great Denver goalie alumni.
This class is incredibly talented and it might even be better than the class Montgomery brought in last year, which was touted as the best in a long time. Denver’s 2017-18 freshman class is as deep a class as any in the country and will factor into the equation immediately for the Pioneers. It’s going to be a lot of fun for DU fans to watch this class develop over the coming years.
Stay tuned to LetsGoDU over the coming weeks for the full DU Hockey season preview and as hockey season gets underway.