Pioneers underclassmen put Chargers out to pasture in dominant home opening shutout

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics

DENVER – If David Carle retired right now, he’d be the all-time winningest coach in college hockey history (by win-percentage of course). A night after beating in-state rival Air Force 4-1, Denver returned to Magness Arena for the first time in the 2018-19 campaign and turned in another dominant 6-0 performance against a middling WCHA team in the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers to start the season 2-0.

In short, the Pioneers did what they were supposed to do this weekend against two teams that they shouldn’t have a problem beating. Against Air Force, they used their speed and skill to their advantage throughout the game to keep the Falcons from getting anything going. Tonight against UAH, the theme remained consistent as the Chargers were limited to just 16 shots – the Pioneers had 49.

“Our D gaps were very good for the most part all weekend,” DU head coach David Carle said. “Our forwards on our reload getting back on the defensive side of pucks, we created a lot of turnovers in the defensive zone, trying to throw pucks through the middle of the ice. Our forwards worked away from the pucks to create turnovers. It’s certainly a staple of Denver Hockey, being relentless on people and never giving them easy ice.”

Youth and inexperience – both behind the bench and on the ice – have been the two most talked about question marks related to the Pioneers throughout the offseason. Tonight, Denver’s youth took center stage and took care of the Chargers as DU’s freshmen and sophomores accounted for nine points on top of junior Liam Finlay’s hat trick.

“We were looking for him to get that hat trick,” freshman forward Brett Stapley said when asked about Finlay’s performance and the bench’s reaction.

It wasn’t just the youth up front that shined though. In front of the net and between the pipes Denver played flawless defense. They swarmed to the puck and kept the Chargers from generating any sustained offensive pressure – even when they were on the power play. DU’s blue line, led by sophomore assistant captain Ian Mitchell, kept the puck off of Chargers sticks and out of the net. And whenever sophomore goalie Devin Cooley was tested, he was up to the challenge and recorded his first career shutout.

“We’re looking for chemistry,” Carle said when asked about Finlay’s and freshman Brett Stapley’s chemistry scoring a combined four goals three assists. “We have a lot of new faces as everybody knows and we’re trying to see what fits and what works and those two definitely had some mojo tonight and were reading off of each other really well. That was nice to see.”

Denver looked like they didn’t miss a step after last season. Sure, they may have lost some of the program’s best all-time players and an all-time great coach, but don’t tell that to any of the current Pioneers. They looked like a team on a mission this weekend. The forecheck was stifling, their speed was unmatched, and simply put, they played relentless hockey. The names and faces may be a bit different but if you lived under a rock during the offseason, it would have looked like nothing changed from last year.

“We played fast, we played hard, really for all 120 minutes [this weekend],” Carle said. “You could probably pick out about 10 minutes of the second period against Air Force where I think we let our foot off the gas but outside of that, we were able to roll four lines. We were just wave after wave and it was really great to see.”

“DC’s taken a lot of [Montgomery’s] principles and he knows what’s worked,” Finlay added. “He’s done an amazing job with all the players. He talks to players really well, he’s great at communicating, and I think all of our freshmen have bought into it.”

Sure, they didn’t exactly play against the best competition the country has to offer this weekend. Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville aren’t exactly Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State. But in a season with so many question marks all over the ice – mostly related to age and experience – this first weekend of hockey is incredibly encouraging for fans of the Crimson & Gold.