Denver Hockey Weekend Preview: Air Force & Alabama-Huntsville

Photo courtesy of DenverPioneers.com

The Denver Pioneers start the 2018-19 season on the road with a tough game against the Air Force Falcons

Welcome back Pioneers fans!  After a long summer, college hockey is finally back and it couldn’t have come any sooner.  There have been several questions surrounding the Denver Pioneers this offseason regarding their new leadership behind the bench and on the ice, but only time will tell how the young group transitions.

In the first USCHO poll of the season, the Pioneers are ranked #10 in the country.  They are joined in the top 20 by fellow NCHC members #3 Minnesota-Duluth, #5 St. Cloud State, #13 North Dakota, and #18 Western Michigan.  It’s safe to say the NCHC will be uber-competitive yet again this year.

Last weekend, Denver hosted the University of Alberta in an exhibition game at Magness Arena and defeated the Golden Bears 6-4 with a couple freshman making key plays.  Cole Guttman tallied three assists and Emilio Pettersen notched two goals and an assist.  Hopefully, those points are the first of many.  And with freshman goaltender Filip Larsson out indefinitely with an injury, it looks like sophomore Devin Cooley – he allowed three goals on 24 shots in two periods against Alberta – will be between the pipes to start the season.

Air Force Academy

Denver’s regular season officially starts this weekend with a game in Colorado Springs against Air Force. The Pioneers will return home on Saturday for a homecoming matchup against the WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.  The Pioneers are looking to get off to a good start because the first half of the season is brutally tough. After Air Force, Huntsville, and Alaska in October, the Pios host Western Michigan, play at St. Cloud, then host Minnesota-Dultuh and Providence in November.  Then to start December, they head north Grand Forks to face rival North Dakota.

Air Force will be a good measuring stick to see where this Pioneers team really is in the early going.  There is still a lot of talent on the Pioneers roster despite several key players turning pro last season.  However, the back end and their goaltending is very young and the Falcons will try to exploit that.

The Falcons are led by a trio of tough two-way players in Evan Giesler, Matt Serratore, and Matt Koch, all of whom were top scorers for Air Force last season.  They also feature senior goaltender Billy Christopoulous who had an outstanding 2017-18 campaign and led the way in the crease in a First Round NCAA Tournament upset of top-seed St. Cloud State.  He went 23-15-5 with a GAA of 2.06 and a save percentage of .922.  Unlike last season, Christopoulous doesn’t plan on losing 6-0 to the Pioneers.  This will be a tough game in an intense environment for the young Pios.

University of Alabama-Huntsville

The Chargers have been building their program under head coach and former Denver Pioneer Mike Corbett for the last five years and they’ve been slowly getting better in the WCHA.  They opened their season last weekend against Miami University and were swept, 5-1 and 4-0 on Saturday and Sunday.  They also travel to Colorado Springs on Friday to face another tough NCHC team in Colorado College before finishing their western road trip in Denver Saturday night.

Senior Josh Kestner was a big loss for the Chargers who led the team with 24 goals, but they should have some emerging young players to take over his role.  It was early last season when another WCHA team in Lake Superior State came into Magness Arena and tied the Pioneers.  Another unexpected challenge came from Dartmouth later in the season.  The Pioneers can’t look past UAH or any other team that could come in with a solid game plan.

Prediction – Pioneers split, losing to Air Force and defeating UAH

With a new head coach, new captains, and a handful of new talented young players, it just makes sense that the Pioneers take this weekend to jell.  The Pios will certainly be fast and exciting to watch, but the defensive reliability that fans have grown accustomed to might not be there to start the season.  And with many young Pioneers learning what college hockey is like for the first time, mistakes will be made, especially against an experienced, well-conditioned Air Force team. The challenge will be how they rebound from the adversity.

Twitter Follow – @AF_HKY & @UAHChargers

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 7:05pm MT, ESPN DENVER 1600

Saturday – 7:05pm MT, Altitude 2, ESPN DENVER 1600