Reigning Champions re-identifying process to success

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio

When pressure is high, critiques are intensified, and obstacles appear overwhelming, it’s easy to get derailed from the end goal in sight. To avoid detrimental setbacks, periodically resetting is advantageous; to reset, reflect and refocus. With national attention fixated on the reigning national champions, the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers, for the duration of their subsequent season the program has faced such a drawback.Denver claimed its eighth national championship on April 8, 2017 in Chicago with a 3-2 victory over the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. During the thriller, Jarid Lukosevicius became the first player to score a hat trick in the national title game since DU head coach Jim Montgomery did so in 1993 for the University of Maine.

With this weekend’s national championship rematch on the radar of the college hockey world, Montgomery’s candid concerns with the state of his current team are directed towards the lack of accountability present as opposed to the team’s incredible potential.

“I have to be honest, I hope he’s [Lukosevicius] not thinking anything about that [the hat trick],” head coach Jim Montgomery said. “I hope he’s thinking about the process that led to him having that success and the process that allows our team to have success because our inconsistency is what’s worrying me as a team right now and our commitment to the team. I think it’s more of a mindset than anything physically with us.”

DU is poised to repeat. In fact, they’re favored to do so. Denver entered the season as the near-unanimous No. 1 team with 82-of-84 votes between the two national polls (USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine). While the rarity of duplicating title wins is salient, history is an advantage for the Pioneers. With eight national championships, DU has clinched six of their eight consecutively; with titles in 1960 and 1961, 1968 and 1969 and the most recent pair, 2004 and 2005.

With a 7-3-2 overall record and 3-3-0 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), the Pioneers have taken their bye week to fine-tune their weaknesses and reflect on internal issues.

“We’ve been inconsistent, but I think realistically every game that we’ve lost this year we should have won and we were winning in,” assistant junior captain Troy Terry said. “That’s why it’s really hard for us to swallow, but it’s also nice just because it’s something we can fix. We should have won all of those games, but we had mental errors and breakdowns defensively. It’s stuff that we’ve really been working on the last couple weeks especially with last week off. We’ve really hammered down on it. We know how good of a team we can be. We’re all sick of talking about how good of a team we can be and we’re ready to just go be that team. We’ve all taken a lot of accountability and I think moving forward we’re over the whole mental errors and defensive breakdown stuff.”

Terry is one of the four NHL prospects from the title-winning roster to return for the 2017-18 season. Drafted in the Fifth Round of the 2015 Entry Level Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Terry has developed a dynamic offensive rapport with Finnish sophomore Henrik Borgström. Borgström, a First Round Florida Panthers pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft leads the nation with 13 goals in 12 games (13-9-22). Terry boasts 2nd in the NCAA scoring 23 points on seven goals and 16 assists. Together the duo has largely contributed to DU’s top-ranked powerplay conversion of 30.5%.

“We do it in a little different ways,” Terry said. “Henrik can do some stuff that I’ve never seen before, he’s just an unbelievably skilled player. For me, when I’m having success it’s when I’m not trying to overcomplicate things. It’s when I’m making plays with my brain and using my stick. Coming back this year, we both had a lot of confidence going into it. After last year we both kind of expected ourselves to dominate games and to take over games. Hockey is a big game of confidence, we both have a high expectation of ourselves to take over games for this team and be big difference makers.”

The growth and development of Terry and Borgström over just one season is outstanding; as the duo works a rousing clinic across the ice weekend-to-weekend.

“I think when those two and it’s the same thing for [Dylan] Gambrell, when they really work hard they get rewarded,” Montgomery said. “I think ever since the Lake Superior State weekend, all three of them, I thought their games, their work ethic has gone to another level and so has their production. When your best players work hard usually the results come and they’re coming. Hopefully, the work ethic can be contagious for everyone else so we can get on the right page as far as being a cohesive team.”

After graduating nine seniors from the class of 2017, the Pioneers lost integral depth on their blueline, namely in former captain and Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher. Furthermore, current senior captain Tariq Hammond fractured his ankle in the national championship game that required two surgeries. Hammond wouldn’t return to DU’s lineup until the 11th game of the season.

“It’s been the other captains [Adam Plant and Gambrell] and myself just kind of trying to hold down the fort until our leader is back,” Terry said. “Our leadership group just feels complete with Tariq. I know it was hard on him before just trying to be the captain and not really being involved with the on-ice stuff. It was hard on him and it was hard on us. It’s huge to have him back and obviously from a hockey standpoint and from an emotional standpoint with our team.”

The Pioneers have all the ideal components to make a repeat championship run. The team is composed of the talent, the capabilities, and the experience (historically in their favor as well). Fulfilling the conquest next April will largely be attributed to DU’s discipline and integrity. As for now, the Pioneers’ greatest challenge is themselves.

10 thoughts on “Reigning Champions re-identifying process to success”

    1. It was just announced that Plant is in tonight’s lineup versus UMD. I am surprised that they are not taking more time but maybe the doctors and everyone else has signed off. Surprised.

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  1. Being a favorite to win a NC does not mean you should win one. Favorite means we have a better chance then others if all things are equal. Never are all things equal, but if we improve as the season progresses and play our best down the stretch, I like our chances. We lost 9 valuable seniors, so it’s a bit of a stretch to think we are better then last year’s team, especially now. Butcher won the Hobey, thus he was arguably the best player in college hockey. No one player can replace him. Marcineau was a great face-off man. He got us extra possessions. Ritt did the same thing the last half of the season. Janssen and the kid from Austria scored clutch goals, but it was their grit fighting for pucks along the boards that is sorely missed. They and the other scrappers wore teams down. Hey, kids graduate. Let’s see who steps up and provides the intangibles. We cannot rely on our super stars to win a National Championship by themselves. We will find games when they are contained and will need others to step-up. It looks like we have those players, but let’s be patient and see how things shake out.

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  2. Another point and a very positive one. We have actually gone through the toughest stretch of our season with great success. 10 of 12 games were 2 at ND, 2 in Boston, 2 at WMU who is great at home, 2 with St. Cloud, and 2 with North Dakota. 10 backbreaking games. and we go 6-3-1. It’s doubtful any of our 6 opponents in that 10 game stretch could come close to doing what we did. Thus our PWR is very high and should stay high, even if we have some stumbles along the way. No bad loses the rest of the way is key. The NCHC is very strong so any league loss won’t hurt that much. Yes even CC, as much as they suck, is actually decent this year.

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  3. Good stuff. As the article indicates, losing 9 seniors is always a big deal, not only Butcher, but Romig, Marcineau, Janssen–guys who provided that upperclassman kind of leadership, and who played big roles in establishing the team’s identity. We essentially have to plug in a bunch for freshmen to replace the depth. So far, Mitchell has been the only really notable freshman. Durflinger and others are playing pretty well, but they haven’t really established a presence out there. O’Connor and Staub have done a good job in filling the roles that some of our seniors had, but Lucosevicius needs to continue to improve and work hard. The man needs to be not only one of our primary scorers, but also one of the hardest workers. I think he’s doing well so far. But I sense from Monty’s quote that there is room for improvement.

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  4. And Gambrell flies under the radar just a bit. Obviously, he’s a marquee player, but I’d like to see a little more of a dynamic game from him—Terry and Borgstrom aren’t the only players with the skill to take over games. That said, when I rewatched the national title game last year, I noticed how important Gambrell was at the end of the game doing the non-headline grabbing things–blocking all kinds of shots, clearing the puck. He was the key player in keeping that 3-2 lead until the horn sounded.

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  5. The key is for the team to incrementally improve week by week and get to peak performance in late March. That’s when the win or out games start. We have some great talent to help us get there.

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  6. When the defense improves, the offense will take care of itself. Right now with Hammond skating well below 100%, Plant with a concussion, Hillman showing some inconsistency, and Mendel/Fear/Mostrom still inexperienced, there are many defensive question marks that DU needs to answer. I am sure Monty and his staff are working hard at this, as we all know that to get to the Frozen Four, the defense needs to be trusted, and right now, it’s still a work in progress.

    It would be nice to see them start to play better than ,500 in league play.

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  7. I agree Gambrell is flying under the radar even though he is in the top 10 or 15 in scoring nationally. As a freshman he was the star of the class, not Troy Terry. Last year Henrik Borgstrom came aboard and took the spotlight until Terry’s heroics at the WJC. His star was clouded by those two and it continues this year. He is valuable all over the ice . San Jose wanted him last summer and we are fortunate he came back. He is definitely an integral part of the elite tripod Pios have on offense.

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  8. Yep, I too am EXTREMELY glad to have Gambrell back. A very talented dude with great hockey sense. He’s having a very good year. But I hope there is a time later this season where he shares the vast amounts of attention that Terry and Borgstrom are (deservedly) getting right now. Having all 3 of those guys tearing it up at the same time would be oh-so-nice around March and April. Would love to see these 3 guys’ return to DU rewarded with another national title.

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