Photo courtesy of the Daily Hampshire Gazette
Welcome back to Denver Hockey! We hope everyone had a nice holiday break and is starting the new year off right. It was nice to see Denver closeout 2019 with a sweep of Colorado College. And with some much-needed rest, the #7 Pioneers can kick off the second half of their season with some tough competition when the #9 UMass-Amherst Minutemen come to Magness Arena for a rematch of last year’s Frozen Four semifinal. Star defenseman Cale Makar has since moved on from college to the Colorado Avalanche, but the Minutemen are again another dangerous team from the east coast. Pioneers head coach David Carle said Thursday on the upcoming series, “the biggest thing for us is to come out and play to our identity and I think we can get the results that we want.”
DC previews the weekend 🎥
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 2, 2020
During the holiday break, a couple of Pioneers represented their countries in different international tournaments around the world. Captain Ian Mitchell won the Spengler Cup with Team Canada while freshman forward Bobby Brink and Team USA lost in the World Juniors quarterfinals to Finland.
Ian Mitchell's goal: pic.twitter.com/b2akFYaPkG
— Brandon (@brandonmcain) December 31, 2019
🚨 Bobby Brink PP
5-3 USA pic.twitter.com/i5XjGLdHmv
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) December 27, 2019
Since starting the season on an 8-0 tear, the Pioneers haven’t been able to find any consistency. But there is plenty of time in the second half of the season to climb the NCHC standings (Denver sits in 3rd, 7 points behind UMD in 2nd and 11 behind North Dakota in 1st). The bottom line is that there are winners on this team who know the road map to a championship. The system is in place, the talent is there, and the young Pioneers need to figure out how to execute it each night. It’s never going to be easy with how much talent there is in the NCHC, but that makes a team stronger. Denver goes toe-to-toe with the nation’s top teams every year and they come out learning what it takes to win when you need it most. David Carle’s demeanor of never being too high or never too low plays to the character of this team and that seems to be to do your job and get better for the next opportunity. This next opportunity is the team that knocked them out of the Frozen Four.
Last series highlights
UMass-Amherst Minutemen (13-4-1)
This matchup couldn’t be more interesting this week with two very different teams that can beat you in different ways. This season, the Minutemen have been successful with a lights-out and responsible defense paired with a forward group that puts a ton of shots on net. Where Denver can win is capitalizing on mistakes. The Pioneers could have just 18 shots all game but three or four could be goals. These teams aren’t the same as when they met in the Frozen Four last season but the emotions are still leftover from that epic game back in Buffalo.
The two biggest threats on offense for the Minutemen have to be Vegas Golden Knights prospect Mitchell Chaffee and San Jose Sharks prospect John Leonard. They both have double-digit goals this season and can change a game instantly.
— UMass Hockey (@UMassHockey) November 3, 2019
Minutemen goaltender Matt Murray may be one of the best netminders the Pioneers will see all season. The junior from Alberta is 8-1 this season with a save percentage of .924 and a GAA of 1.57. One reason for Murray’s strong stats is the steady defense in front of him. With three of their six defensemen with plus/minus in positive double-digits, UMass-Amherst has held strong all season and hasn’t let many quality opportunities get to the net.
The challenge for Denver will be penetrating the zone against players like defenseman Jake McLaughlin who has seen it all in his four years at UMass and continues to lead by example for the Minutemen. He, Matt Kessell, Ty Farmer, and Marc Del Gaizo make up a very strong core on the blue line, even with the Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro departures.
Prediction – Pioneers split
The good news for Denver this weekend is that the Pioneers are 8-1-1 in non-conference play. The bad news is that UMass-Amherst is a talented nonconference opponent. In this series, look at one guy who can be the difference-maker for Denver and that’s Cole Guttman. There are so many playmakers on the Pioneers and after the success that the top flight Pios had against CC, this is an opportunity to continue building on that momentum. Guttman has the highest shooting percentage on the team and is tied for the most powerplay goals with four. He almost carried the Pioneers to the championship last season against UMass-Amherst with two late, clutch goals to send it to overtime and he and the Pioneers will have that same hunger this time around.
Twitter Follow – @UMassHockey
Where to Watch/Listen
Friday – 7:07pm MT – tv: TSN / Altitude / NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 The Fan
Saturday – 7:07pm MT tv: NCHC.tv radio: ESPN Denver 1600