It was what University of Denver hockey fans had been dying to see for more than a decade. The elation that came from the back-to-back national titles in 2004 and 2005 lasted only so long and even the most loyal of the Crimson and Gold were getting restless. Would the Pios return to college hockey’s promised land? Is Denver’s reign as one of the top programs in the country over?
It didn’t take long for Jim Montgomery and his staff to answer those questions and, last year, the Pioneers finally reached the top of the college hockey world for the eighth time. Across the country, among DU alums and fans alike, there was a collective crimson and gold-tinged sigh of relief. Denver was back…and tied with North Dakota once again.
Tonight, the Pioneers hosted a pregame ceremony celebrating their historic run to title number eight before raising their 2017 National Championship banner. As such, now seems an appropriate time to take one final look back at the team that brought DU back to the mountaintop before shifting all focus on the 2017-18 squad.
If you had watched DU’s opening weekend last year, one that saw them lose at home to Ohio State and Boston College in the annual IceBreaker Tournament, it’d be understandable if you left Magness Arena scratching your head. This team has too much talent to do…that. What the heck happened?
The very next weekend, against everyone’s preseason national champion, Boston University, the Pioneers showed the world who they were. They reeled off a nailbiting 4-3 victory in game one and a dominant 3-1 win in game two. From that point on, Denver put the rest of the country on notice. The Pioneers were for real.
After knocking the opening weekend rust off, the Pioneers lost just four more times until the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis. The Pioneers entered the Frozen Faceoff on a 14-game winning streak and an astounding 28-6-4 record. That record is even more incredible when you consider the depth of the NCHC last year.
Despite losing to North Dakota in a tough, defensive game in the NCHC Semifinal, the Pioneers rebounded immediately and beat Western Michigan the next day in the 3rd place game. The Pioneers wouldn’t lose again.
The very next weekend, Denver imposed their will on the Michigan Tech Huskies in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 5-2 victory before holding off the well-rounded Penn State offensive attack in the second round. With the second round victory, the Pioneers had clinched a spot in their second straight Frozen Four, a feat the program hadn’t seen since 2004 and 2005.
In 2016, there was a sense that it just felt good to be in Tampa playing one of the season’s final three games under the sports brightest lights. Last year, it was a completely different story. The Pioneers went into Chicago with a new mindset. They were businesslike in their preparation and in their habits. The goal was in front of them and it was attainable. All they had to do was go out and grab it.
In the National Semifinal, the Pioneers did just that. They skated Notre Dame out of the United Center on their way to a 6-1 rout of the Fighting Irish. From the moment the puck dropped, Denver was on a whole other level. In a sense, the semifinal served as nothing more than a “warm-up” game for the Pios. It was the National Championship on Saturday that they wanted, that they needed.
It was a familiar opponent. They knew they were going to get a tough, physical game out of the UMD Bulldogs. The Pioneers handled it well and made sure that if there was a team that was going to let the pressure get to them, it would be UMD. Jarid Lukosevicius etched his name into the record books with a 2nd period hat trick and Tanner Jaillet made sure that was all the offense the Pios needed to bring home national title number eight.
Despite the tie (3-on-3 overtime victory) with Lake Superior State, tonight was a celebration of what the Pioneers accomplished last year to put Denver back on top of the college hockey world. It was nothing short of incredible and historic. DU fans will remember that run for the rest of their lives and, who knows? Maybe they’ll have another one to remember in 2018.