The reigning 2017 national champions emphasized their near unanimous preseason No. 1 ranking on Sunday night in Magness Arena. The DU Pioneers exemplified their exquisite depth over the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns as each line skated a returner from Chicago’s national championship team.
The exhibition game was an ideal platform for Denver to test its depth in waves, experiment variations of lineups and affirm the realization that the conquest for repeating the title is underway.
Denver’s first period goals were scored from special teams by sophomores Tyson McLellan and Liam Finlay. Neither McLellan or Finlay were in Denver’s top-five of scoreboard last season, further attributing to the breadth within the Pioneer roster as this season’s team will continue to demonstrate its.
“I think if there’s an area that we’ve looked to get better at it’s going to be in special teams,” Head coach Jim Montgomery said. “We like our power play. If you’re looking at numbers above 25%, we’d like our penalty kill to be at 85% or above. We think that with the speed of our forwards maybe we could score more shorthanded goals; I think that was an incredible play there [McLellan’s goal]. We also had two other two-on-ones with our other penalty kills so those are other areas that we are looking to get better at from last year.”
Ian Mitchell was assessed with cross-checking leaving the Pioneers shorthanded in the opening five minutes. McLellan rushed the attacking zone after collecting a pass from linemate Logan O’Connor and drew in Pronghorns’ defenseman before cutting inside the crease. McLellan chipped his shot past Lethbridge goalie Garret Hughson 4:30 into the period leveraging the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.
Just five minutes later, Lethbridge defenseman Blake Orban was assessed with interference. On the powerplay, DU circulated the puck out to the right circle where Finlay wired a wrister to double the Pioneers advantage.
Denver swapped out national championship and 2017 Mike Richter Award recipient Tanner Jaillet for freshman Dayton Rasmussen in the second period.
Last season’s scoreboard leader Troy Terry earned his first tally of the 2017-18 campaign on a tough-angle shot as Dylan Gambrell fed Terry just inside the left faceoff circle. Terry sniped his shot shortside to extend DU’s lead 3-0.
The Pronghorns prevented the shutout in the final frame as Brandon Clowes beat Rasmussen. Rasmussen made a game-high 18 saves in his 30 minutes of action, after Lethbridge scored its sole goal sole goal, freshman Devin Cooley saw action in the pipes.
With only five NHL draftees on Denver’s roster, it’s impressive the Pioneers have attained such substantial success in comparison to teams stacked with seven or more prospects like Boston University, the University of Michigan or University of Minnesota.
DU experimented with assembling their prospects among the lineup with San Jose Sharks prospect center Gambrell skating top line alongside classmates Jarid Lukosevicius on the left wing and Anaheim Ducks prospect Terry. First round 2016 Florida Panthers draftee Henrik Borgstrom centered fellow Helsinki, Finland native Jaako Heikkinen on the second line, alongside Finlay. The final draft Pioneer draft picks spent the summer together at the Chicago Blackhawks development camp and were paired together on the blueline; junior Blake Hillman and freshman Ian Mitchell.
“We don’t concern ourselves with if our players our going to get drafted or not, we concern ourselves with if our players are going to be prominent college hockey players, and whether they fit our culture and they way we play,” Montgomery said. “A lot of people didn’t recruit Jake Durflinger and I know he’s going to be one hell of a college hockey player so that’s just one example. How [freshman defenseman] Griffin Mendel at 6-foot-4 moves around the ice, didn’t get drafted? I guarantee he’ll be drafted by the end of this season.”
DU was without captain and integral defenseman Tariq Hammond during the exhibition match. Hammond is still recovering from an injury sustained in the national title game against the University of Minnesota Duluth, but is expected to suit up for the Pioneers’ next series against the University of Notre Dame on Oct. 13 and 14 in South Bend.