Photo courtesy of DenverPioneers.com
The top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers are coming off a very impressive weekend beating Boston University and Boston College on the road. They will continue their season on the road again when they face the Western Michigan University Broncos this weekend on November 3rd and 4th in Kalamazoo. This will be the first NCHC series of the season for both teams.
The Broncos had a solid 2016-17 season going 22-13-5. They had impressive wins against Denver, North Dakota, and Minnesota Duluth. Led by goaltender Ben Blacker who went 17-8-2 as a freshman, the Broncos made it to the NCAA Tournament but lost to Air Force in regionals 5-4.
Last season, the Broncos were 1-3 against the Pioneers but have been a very well coached team under Andy Murray. Murray was recently featured on ESPN’s College Hockey Nation where he spoke about the hockey culture at Western Michigan University.
— CollegeHockeyNation (@CollegeHockeyTV) October 31, 2017
It’s amazing to watch new players in Jim Montgomery’s system acclimate themselves into his team-first mentality. It was visible in the first couple series, especially Lake Superior State, that the team was still starting to jell but coming home from Boston with a couple wins in their pocket is a huge confidence boost to the team. Soon they will get some reinforcements with the addition of their captain and top defenseman Tariq Hammond who skated this week and is progressing back from an ankle injury in the National Title game in April.
Montgomery has to be saying to his team that this is the real start to the season. These are the teams you will be lining up against, who will be first standing in your way of another championship down the road. Expect the Pioneers to make this series a statement that proceeds a vicious homestand against St. Cloud State and North Dakota.
— WMU Hockey (@WMUHockey) November 2, 2017
The Broncos added nine players to their roster including seven forwards, a defenseman, and a goalie.
#1 Austin Cain | Whitby Fury, OJHL | G| 6’3, 185 lbs
#7 Carson Vance | Sioux City Musketeers, USHL | D | Left Shot | 5’11, 180 lbs.
#18 Brett Van Os | Calgary Canucks, AJHL | F | Left Shot | 6’2, 205 lbs.
#19 Lukas Samuelsson | Toronto Predators, GMHL | F | Right Shot | 6’0, 175 lbs.
#21 Josh Passolt | Sioux Falls Stampede, USHL | F | Left Shot | 6’0, 180 lbs.
#22 Austin Rueschhoff | Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL | F | 6’7, 228 lbs.
#23 Paul Washe | Fargo Force, USHL | F | Left Shot | 6’1, 190 lbs.
#26 Ethen Frank | Lincoln Stars, USHL | F | 5’10, 174 lbs.
#27 Cam Orchard | Des Moines Buccaneers, USHL | F| 6’1, 188 lbs.
Sheldon Dries – AHL’s Texas Stars
Matteson Iacopelli – AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs
Mike McKee – ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers
Kyle Novak – ECHL’s Quad City Mallards
Chris Dienes – ECHL’s Jackonville Icemen
Taylor Fleming – Denmark’s Esbjerg EfB Ishockey
Griffen Molino – AHL’s Utica Comets
Frederik Tiffels – AHL’s Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton Penguins
The Broncos like to shoot a lot. Through seven games this season, they have only shot under 30 times once. The majority of those shots are coming from forwards Colt Conrad, Dawson DiPietro, and Aidan Muir. This shows that the Broncos like to get the puck in deep and put shots on the goalie from anywhere on the ice. The Pioneers will have to fight hard in the corners for pucks and be smart clearing their own end.
The Broncos have also scored power-play goals in five of the first seven games. Even if the Pioneers strike first, they will need to be aware that the Broncos are capable of clawing their way back into the game.
Another strength to note is their shot blocking ability. Defenseman Cam Lee and Luke Bafia have about 15 blocks each and aren’t afraid to get in front of a scorcher. This explains a solid 2.6 goals allowed from the Broncos this year.
The Broncos seem to be pretty top heavy in terms of production. Colt Conrad and Wade Allison do a lot of the heavy lifting which makes it clear for the Pioneers who they need to neutralize.
Goaltender Ben Blacker has been pretty solid this year but has played every game thus far. One way to get to him is on the power-play where he has given up five goals.
Who to watch
#29 – F – Colt Conrad – 5G, 6A
#17 – F – Wade Allison – 2G, 7A
#9 – F – Dawson DiPietro – 3G, 3A, 30 SOG
#28 – D – Cam Lee – 2G, 5A, +5
#33 – G – Ben Blacker – 3-3-1, 2.28 GAA, .918 SV%
Prediction – Pioneers split 1-1
A lot of teams welcome the challenge of hosting the #1 team in the nation, especially if they’re in the same conference. The Broncos and coach Andy Murray know the Pioneers well and probably have a good game plan for how they plan to pull off an upset.
I expect both teams to come out hard, but in the end, it will be about who can capitalize on special teams. With a hard-working Broncos defense against one of the best offenses in college hockey, fans in Kalamazoo should be in for a show.
I think the main reason I’m predicting a split is because I am more than happy to admit I had an incorrect prediction and have the Pios come out with two wins.
Let’s hope I can continue to be wrong.
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