photo courtesy of Patrick Green
Rivalries create a stage of passion-driven, high caliber play among an of atmosphere fueled by passionate supporters awaiting to witness how the continuum of the storied collision will result. The unfolding storylines between the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers (6-2-2) and the No. 3 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (7-2-3) continues to divulge to the delight of the those who have witnessed the rivalry cultivate, as one of the richest in college hockey.
Unique instances occur when a player has the opportunity to return to the helm of his alma mater during his coaching career and relive these rivalries from behind the bench. David Carle currently has this first-hand experience as the Pioneers assistant coach.
Carle graduated in 2012, but didn’t suit up for the Crimson and Gold due to a heart defect called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy discovered in July of 2008. Denver’s current coach at the time, coach Gwozdecky agreed to honor the defenseman’s scholarship and allow him to pursue a volunteer student coach position he was interested in. By doing so Carle remained involved with the program and still was subject to the rivalry from a skater perspective.
“There’s little similarities here and there I’ll share with the [current] players,” Carle said. “From a team perspective it hasn’t changed a ton, the intensity is going to be great in our building and on the ice so our guys don’t need a lot from us to be mentally excited for that. Certainly I’ve shared little stories of plays in the past and they’ve been on youtube checking things out cause a lot of it’s on there nowadays.”
Contrary to the days when the rivalry escalated to players delivering controversial hits like the devastating one between North Dakota’s Brad Malone and DU’s Jesse Martin on Oct. 30, 2010 that fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae C2 or when competition would get so heated coaches or players would get ejected mid-game. The passion is still present between teams, but the hatred has simmered as both programs have established an civil, mutual understanding of what the competition should be.
“There has been a real healthy respect between the two programs. Honestly, there hasn’t been any real on-ice escalation as far as extracurriculars the last couple years,” Carle said.” It’s great, we have the last two national champions in the building this weekend and we’ll let our play on the ice dictate that. I think that’s what made both programs so great in the last not only five years but the last 50-60 years.”
Behind the University of Michigan with nine, Denver and North Dakota were tied in second for national championship titles with seven apiece. The Fighting Hawks edged the Pioneers in 2016 to claim their eighth title, in doing so they eliminated Denver in the Frozen Four semifinals in Tampa. The Pioneers returned in 2017 resilient and determined, earning their way to Chicago where they clinched their eighth national title — tied right back with the Fighting Hawks.
The No. 1-ranked Pioneers were nearly perfect (10/11) on the penalty kill last weekend on their series sweep over then, top-ranked St. Cloud University. Carle orchestrates the blueline special teams.
“We’re getting more comfortable executing our details on our PK,” Carle said. “We tweaked some things from last year. Through video, through game reps, through practice reps, I think you finally saw us finally hit that level of comfort on the ice of reading off each other; when to pressure, when not to pressure. I think you saw that last weekend against St. Cloud where we executed very well. Hopefully we’ve hit that turning point where we can keep it at a high level now.”
Denver’s notoriously smaller back-end corp has incrementally increased its size with each incoming class.
“You have [Erich] Fear, [Griffin] Mendel, [Sean] Mostrom, some of our freshmen forwards are a lot bigger,” Carle said. “It’s been nice. I know Matt Shaw is excited to get his hands on them and add some muscle to their frame. It certainly gives us another dimension that we’re excited to have in our program.”
Magness Arena will showcase the clash DU and North Dakota for the addition of the ruthless and riveting rivalry of college hockey’s finest.
Denver will be without captain and senior defenseman Tariq Hammond who still has yet to return or receive clear-status from off-season ankle surgeries. Additionally, the Pioneers will be without senior assistant captain Adam Plant on the blueline on Friday and probably Saturday as well.