Pioneers building on NCHC Quarterfinal, playing ‘inspired hockey’ ahead of Frozen Faceoff

Photo courtesy Maddie MacFarlane/DU Hockey

ST. PAUL, Minn. – It was ugly but it might have been the most important moment of the season for the #4 University of Denver Pioneers. That moment, or rather that game may come to define what the Pioneers do and where they go in the postseason. That game, of course, was Denver’s 2-0 shutout loss to in-state rival Colorado College in Game One of the best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal series.

Denver outshot the Tigers 37-23 in the game but by the third period, when CC scored both of their goals, the Pioneers were flat and played underwhelming hockey. It was a surprise of sorts for die-hard DU fans. How could Denver play that poorly and get shut out by one of college hockey’s recent basement dwellers?

All of a sudden, the Pioneers were on the brink of elimination from the NCHC Tournament and a fifth-straight trip to the Frozen Faceoff was in doubt. DU responded in a big way with a dramatic 3-2 victory in Game Two on Saturday and a dominant 6-1 blowout win in Game Three. It was the exact kind of response the Pioneers needed after a disappointing playoff debut.

“I thought everyone played inspired hockey on Saturday and Sunday,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said after Sunday night’s victory. “We’re hoping that Friday night was that lesson that galvanizes us to play inspired hockey and play the right way the rest of the way.”

Playing inspired hockey has been the theme for the Pioneers since last Friday and it will need to continue throughout this weekend if the Pioneers are going to end their three-year streak of semifinal losses.

“We haven’t had great success in this tournament the past couple years,” DU captain Tariq Hammond said after Thursday’s practice. “But we’re just staying in the moment and I really think we’re playing inspired hockey right now. Our backs were against the wall last weekend and we put two good efforts out so we’re looking to carry that forward…there’s a lot of excitement coming from our locker room.”

If there was a more inspired performance over the course of DU’s season than in Game Two or Game Three last weekend, it would come as a shock. For the first time since maybe November, the Pioneers finally looked like a team that could go on a run to win not just the NCHC title but also a second straight National Title.

And if you ask Montgomery about that, he’ll repeat himself give you the buzzword once again: “I thought last week was a galvanizing moment for our group to play inspired hockey for the teammate that’s next to you and leave something that’s better on the ice, leave momentum on the ice for the next line that’s coming out. I think that’s what we need to do the rest of the season or else the season doesn’t advance.”

The Pioneers know what’s ahead of them. In a sense, the season finally started last weekend and the games really start to count for the defending national champions. Though they’d never admit it, DU has had their eyes firmly focused on the postseason since the season started in early October. The goal has never wavered. They knew where they wanted to be at this stage in the season and they’re here. Denver’s next obstacle on their march to the NCHC and NCAA titles is a familiar foe in Minnesota Duluth.

How exactly do the Pioneers plan to get past the Bulldogs tomorrow night in the Semifinal? Yep, you guessed it: they’re going to play inspired hockey.

5 thoughts on “Pioneers building on NCHC Quarterfinal, playing ‘inspired hockey’ ahead of Frozen Faceoff”

  1. If they do truly play inspired hockey, and if our stars play like they should, then DU should make the Frozen Four. If DU does not play inspired hockey, they are no better than a team in the top 10-15 in the country, and face an early bounce from the NCAA’s. The recovery on Saturday and Sunday was certainly encouraging. Monty should really be able to fire up the crew–returning to the Frozen Four and attempting to repeat as champions is the very reason that some players (and possibly Monty himself) came back.

    BTW, congrats to Borgstrom on being a Hobey Baker top-10 candidate. I love the guy–he’s an amazing player, one of the best DU players ever. But I don’t think that he has much chance to make the final 3 unless he really plays “super inspired hockey” in the NCHC playoffs and beyond. (Although I don’t recall at what point the final 3 is announced.)

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  2. UMD, they are not chopped liver and you can expect inspired hockey from them also. UMD actually has more incentive to win Friday night. Win and they are in the NCAA’s. I played around with the Pairwise calculator on USCHO.com and there are some not too crazy results where UMD can not make the Tournament if they get swept in St. Paul this weekend.

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  3. DU has had UMD’s number in recent years, and with UMD playing to confirm an NCAA berth as well as league bragging rights, expect UMD to lay it all out there…

    The Pios have the talent and experience to do well the rest of the way, but those things don’t matter as much as mindset and leadership, and those are the areas where DU has been deficient at times this year.

    This weekend will tell is a lot about where DU’s head is…

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  4. I’m fearful as the NCAA tournament approaches.

    When DU gets an early lead they have often lost intensity and allowed their opponents back into the contest. When they have had multiple early chances without scoring they seem to get frustrated and forget the team approach, trying too hard, playing as individuals (without much success).

    At this point in the season I believe it’s up to Monty to keep the boys on a consistent, game-long high level of intensity… No matter what the score or early success.

    In the end, luck (good or bad) could be the deciding factor.

    That being said… Go Pioneers! We are behind you all the way rooting for another back to back NCAA Title!!! When you’re in St. Paul come April, we’ll be there again this year providing inspiration from another huge DU cheering section!

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  5. Ok! Assume D.U. loses both games. Then what?
    We are still in the 16 team tournament and that’s where the proverbial “rubber meets the road”.

    Remember the 04 team .They didn’t make Minn.which gave them a week off to heal and collect themselves. Then those two great games at the Springs. I’ll never forget the save Adam made off the Miami breakaway skater. That was the save of the century. it got us into Boston and that unbelievable 6 on 3.
    . Let’s go D.U. – can you get those 2 minutes full time on our screen ?. I need to relive it to assure myself that it really happened.

    Game still on for next weeks 16 team tournament.
    I’m ready to book St. Paul, lets hope…

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