Editor’s Note: This article was originally slated to run ahead of the hockey team’s NCHC quarterfinal series with Omaha, which was later canceled along with the rest of the 2019-2020 NCAA season.
If you happen to find yourself in need of a toothbrush, Ilona Kovacs might be able to help you out.
That’s because a student once bribed her with one, in exchange for being able to sit in the first row of the student section. Sitting there allows one to be next to DU Whiteboard, the large dry erase board Kovacs and fellow sophomore Jack Fowle write taunting messages on for the other team.
“They brought me a gift so I let them sit up here, it worked (laughs),” says the sophomore emergent practices major.
On this warm Friday, March 6th evening, Kovacs, Fowle, and student section chant leader Jack Welch have allowed me to climb into Welch’s car for the trip down to Colorado Springs to watch DU play CC for the Gold Pan.
When I get to the parking circle in front of Nagel Hall I find several DU students ready to go for night one of this crucial hockey weekend.
A home gameday starts with a group chat of about 8 or so fellow student section leaders. They discuss which chants will work for that evening’s game and make a plan to hit Magness around 4 pm.
On game days, they stay strictly focused on hockey. This is absolutely not a joke. “No one’s allowed to talk to me for that entire period of time,” explains Kovacs.
The core group purposely spreads itself evenly out across the first row. Everyone has a role to play, you’re either Whiteboard, a chant leader like Welch, or a chant supporter who is there to give the chant fuel.
They’re also very smart about how they organize. Whiteboard is highly recognizable, and they know the messages they write will be seen by DU’s athletics administration.
Kovacs and Fowle explain the hard and fast moral code of the Whiteboard. “Would your grandma read it?” Kovacs asks rhetorically.
That said, anyone who has ever sat near the student section at Magness knows the chants don’t stay G-rated for very long, which is exactly why if you’re on the chants, you’re not part of Whiteboard. Welch goes out of his way to make sure it’s clear to me that he is “Whiteboard adjacent”, but not a direct member of that part of the student section.”
As the drive hits about Larkspur, the three offer some strong insight about life as a DU student in 2020.
Being as how they weren’t even born yet when Boone was removed as DU’s official mascot in the late 1990s, I ask how they view that situation.
At this point in time, they say the issue is rarely discussed. From their vantage point, the former mascot is a part of the past of an institution that they love dearly. “When there’s a game where we know a lot of alums will be there, we’ll honor them by bringing out Mega Boone,” Welch explains.
Kovacs continues on: “I think it’s cool to do that just because it makes it more about the tradition of Boone and not so much about the mascot Boone, the tradition of excellence, the tradition of winning and being a hockey school.”
Fowle, who stores Mega Boone safely under his bed, nods in agreement. He believes Mega should be saved for the marquee matchups where Pio fans are at their most fired up (plus it’s heavy!).
Fowle explains University of Denver life this way: [DU] is such a friendly place where else can you get such a good education, but also when you’re walking to class you’re like waving to everyone because you know them all.”
Finally, we take on the greater esoteric theme of what is a DU Pioneer? Well, it’s a “Pioneer” they all say almost at once. Everyone in the sedan (including myself) came to DU from out of state. Welch, from Michigan, explains that he could have followed his high school friends to Michigan State and had a pretty good time inside of a comfort zone. But ultimately that would not have been fulfilling.
“[A DU student] is someone who is individualistic they come here because they want to be themselves,” Welch says.
Plus, when friends come to visit from their home states of California, Georgia, and Michigan, they all have a blast at the hockey games.
In the second period, everything is going as planned, DU is up 2-0 over CC and their tepid offense. I can occasionally check my e-mail on the arena’s horrid in-house wi-fi.
Then it all changes in the third period, the Tigers spring to life and force a 2-2 tie, the second goal coming with just eight seconds left in regulation.
All of a sudden, the Tiger student section, decides to gravitate from their seats towards us. Those fans then start jumping around and bringing back 1999 by making the “L” sign on their foreheads, clearly not understanding that even a tie means Denver earned back the Gold Pan.
At this point, we all know what happens next. Neither the NCAA nor NCHC overtime periods produced another goal, but then…bang…Brett Stapley scores in the first round of the shootout.
The dozen or so DU students and I make our way to the corridor, not before more words are traded with the dispersing CC student section.
The DU students chant “Let’s go Denver” as they stream out – while Tiger fans offer shouts of “F*** you, DU” and “safety school.”
As Welch drops me off at my place, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of respect for the trio.
“There’s a lot of history in this car,” Fowle says.
As for Kovacs she has a unique plan to remain part of DU hockey:
“I’m preparing to have a boy that just comes and plays hockey so I can relive it [laughs]”
For more pictures from the Gold Pan trip with the student section follow Jason Evans on Instagram: @inthebluecrewdu