Photo courtesy John Leyba, The Denver Post
On Friday night at Magness Arena, the University of Denver Pioneers and their fans will raise the school’s eighth National Championship banner putting some closure on a historic season. Although there were a few individual awards handed out to Pioneers by the NCAA at the end of the year, coach Jim Montgomery and company know last season was a team effort.
Last week the Pioneers kicked off the 2017-18 season on the road in South Bend when they took on the Fighting Irish, a team Denver knocked out of the Frozen Four last year. There’s no question revenge was on the minds of the Notre Dame players as the series was physical from the get-go. In the end, the Pios won the first game in a shootout, though it will officially go down as a tie, and won the second game 4-2.
It was clear after the weekend was over that coach Jim Montgomery has his team firing on all cylinders again as the Pioneers return to Denver for their home opener ranked #1 overall in both the USCHO and USA Hockey/USA Today polls. But the Pioneers need to focus on the task at hand, which is the Lake Superior State Lakers.
Many times when a team raises a banner celebrating a successful season, they are vulnerable to a trap game. The visiting team has extra motivation to spoil the party and catch their opponents by surprise. This may be the approach the Lakers will try to impose on the Pioneers, but being caught unprepared isn’t part of the culture of DU hockey. In front of a packed house, Magness will be rocking all weekend with fans celebrating last year’s team, and demanding more of the same from this year’s.
The Lakers currently have just one player that has been drafted to an NHL team. Sophomore defenseman Steven Ruggiero was a 6th round selection of the Anaheim Ducks in 2015.
Last season, the Lakers finished with a record of 8-13-7 in the WCHA and 11-18-7 overall. One of the brights spots of last year was forward Mitch Hults who led the team in scoring with 34 points. Hults was going to be a senior at Lake Superior State but he decided to sign an entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks after his sophomore season. He is playing his first year of pro hockey with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate the San Diego Gulls.
Another loss for the Lakers was junior goaltender Gordon Defiel. Defiel started three seasons for the Lakers but decided to go pro and signed with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL.
The Lakers take an average of 12 penalty minutes per game but have been successful killing them off going 13/17 this season. My guess is that they will try to muck up this game as much as possible to keep it a low scoring series.
There is some talent on this team up front that the Pioneers should also to be aware of.
- F – J.T. Henke – SR, 77GP, 58PTS
— WCHA Men’s Hockey (@WCHA_MHockey) October 16, 2017
In their first four games, the Lakers have allowed 13 goals and have scored 11. They are also averaging 24 shots per game. Last season they had a road record of 3-13-4, and are 0-1 this season.
The key for the Pioneers will be to get in their rhythm early and get on the board. The Lakers aren’t a great road team and were not successful last season coming back from deficits.
Who to watch
#7 – Forward J.T. Henke – 2G, 4A
#17 – Forward Anthony Nellis – 3G, 1A
#6 – Defenseman Lukas Kaelble – 3A
#22 – Defenseman Aiden Wright – Team Captain
#33 – Goaltender Nick Kossoff – 3PG, 1-2-0, 3.37GAA, .894 SV%
Prediction – Denver Sweeps LSSU
Last season the Pioneers were very good at home posting an overall record of 16-3-2 and a 7-2-0 home record against non-conference opponents. Lake Superior State has some nice players, but it will take a lot of things to go right for them to come away with a road win.
borgy is back, everybody 🙌 pic.twitter.com/cxrlRqzj7q
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) October 14, 2017
Last weekend in South Bend when Henrik Borgström scored on an odd-man rush on a beautiful setup by Adam Plant, he and his teammates celebrated a perfectly executed play. But there was something special about their celebration. It wasn’t the kind of celebration that you have after something goes your way or happens accidentally in your favor. The Pioneers celebrated their commitment to hard work instilled by their head coach Jim Montgomery who believes teamwork comes first, followed by everything else.
This Pioneers team has talent, skill, and the experience to steamroll their way to another successful season. The challenge they face now is focus and determination. As they continue defending their National Championship, the Lake Superior State Lakers are just one of many opposing teams with their sights set on an upset.