Cameron Wright’s Hat Trick Leads Denver’s Dismantling of Alaska to End 2021 on High Note

Covid-19. Supply chain issues. Climate change. Denver Hockey’s uncharacteristic 10-13-1 record end to the 2020-2021 season. There were so many things to forget and leave behind in 2021 and more to look forward to in 2022. But on the last day, in the last college hockey game of the year, the #8 Pioneers (12-5-0, 5-3-0 NCHC, 15 pts)  put 2021 to bed the right way by topping the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (4-13-0, Ind.) 7-2 at Magness Arena for their 19th and final win of the calendar year.

Earlier this week, though, the Pios were dealt one last gut-punch from 2021. Both Carter Savoie and Massimo Rizzo, Denver’s top two leading scorers with 22 and 21 points, respectively, were both held off of the line chart due to Covid protocols, something we’ve all heard far too much of over the past 365 days. With both of their leading scorers out, Carter Mazur’s premature return from the World Junior Championship which was canceled this week because of, get this, Covid-19, was all the more important. But while Mazur played important minutes, it was Denver’s depth that took over from the jump as Cameron Wright, making a cameo as the top-line left winger, scored 30 seconds into the game, his first of his hat-trick effort.

“I think when people go down, and obviously we were close to not having Mazur on the weekend as well, if the world junior tournament doesn’t get shut down. So we’re looking at not having Mazur, Savoie and Rizzo. We knew that probably on Tuesday or Wednesday of the week, so we were able to think about it and prepare for it,” DU head coach David Carle said of his team’s depth. “Our guys were mentally ready for it and I think it was a great opportunity to showcase the depth of our program.”

From there, it was all Denver by way of Wright. If the world was relying on the Pioneers to rid us of the demons that we all suffered this year, consider them exorcised. No, Alaska Fairbanks is no Minnesota Duluth or North Dakota or St. Cloud State, but on this New Years Eve, it did not matter. The Pioneers simply skated circles around the Nanooks from the moment the puck dropped until the final buzzer. No, they didn’t play a perfect game but for a team that was averaging 4.56 goals per game coming into the night, their fifth seven-goal performance of the season, it was more than enough to outweigh those periodic lulls.

“It was looking pretty good,” Wright said when asked how big the net looked. “You know, the first first one went in early, which is always a good thing. So, so that helps the confidence and then just keep shooting away. And now obviously, playing with the players I’m playing with, it’s pretty easy to just get open and let them find me.”

Plays like McKade Webster’s highlight-reel second-period goal were what allowed the Pioneers to dominate the game in all three zones and prevent the Nanooks from building any momentum at all and get back into the game:

“There was a great play by Carter King, my line mate,” Webster said. “He made a good play, found space and the D kind of just came over and went for the puck. And luckily I got around him and then made a move at the net and it went in.”

To put it lightly, scoring was an issue last season. The Pioneers didn’t even average three goals per game in their 24 chances. But this season and now entering a new year where we can finally leave the bad taste of the 2020-2021 season behind, the Pioneers will end the 2021 calendar year with the country’s best offense, having scored seven or more goals five times already this season and now averaging 4.71 goals per game. It’s been an incredible and fast turnaround.

“I think we’ve just made it a point of emphasis in the offseason to really bear down and score goals,” Webster said of the difference between last year and this year. “I know last year was a disappointment for all of us and we felt that the most as the players. So I know we wanted to make a statement this year and we wanted to prove a point.”

The Pioneers scored twice on the power play in six tries, outshot and out-attempted the Nanooks 42-20 and 78-34, respectively, and won the faceoff battle 29-22. It was as complete an effort as Denver could have asked for coming off of the three-week holiday break, especially without Savoie and Rizzo, both of whom might be back next weekend at Omaha, though Savoie’s timeline is a bit more up in the air than Rizzo’s, per Carle.

“Some guys got more ice tonight than they’ve gotten on on the year and that was really good for them and their development and their growth” Carle said. “So we’re very confident our group. I think Rizzo and Savoie are our top two point getters and without them in the lineup to still put up seven and have the the offensive confidence that our group does was impressive.”

In so many ways, 2021 was a year to forget but if this last day of it is any indication, there may be a lot to look forward to in 2022. The Pioneers have shown Denver Hockey fans and the college hockey world alike that their scoring problem last year was nothing more than an aberration and if the offensive output over the past three months and tonight in particular is a harbinger of things to come, these Pioneers are going to be a group to watch over the final three months of the season and, hopefully, into April.

We want to thank you all, once again, for following us all year long. It’s one of our great joys to help foster this awesome community of DU fans. We appreciate each and every one of you and wish you all a very happy New Year and what we hope is a wonderful and prosperous 2022, both for you and for DU!


Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

5 thoughts on “Cameron Wright’s Hat Trick Leads Denver’s Dismantling of Alaska to End 2021 on High Note”

  1. Another great win and a #2 ranking in the Pairwise.

    Thanks go to YOU Nick for keeping all Pioneer fans informed and engaged. Happy New Year to all!

  2. UAF is a very, very young team with no seniors, a few juniors and mostly freshmen and sophomores, so this game was just what DU needed to shake off the holiday rust. Missing Savoie and Rizzo also opened up some ice time for other guys, and it was great to see Wright take advantage of his time on the top line.

    Expect UAF to adjust tonight to try to keep the Pioneers from skating circles around them by winning more puck battles.

  3. Interesting comment during intermission today from Benning: “Good group of guys, getting along this year”.
    Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but perhaps that tells us something about the struggles last season.

    1. I noticed that Benning comment, too.

      We fans have very little idea of what a team’s chemistry is really like – we only see video snippets of locker room life from time to time after wins, and never after losses. We see their body language and their behavior at the games, but most fans don’t see the players’ lives outside the rink.

      Teams can be resilient but are also delicate ecosystems. For a top college program like DU, think of the hundreds of interpersonal relationship dynamics that exist between the 28-30 players themselves, as well as the immediate support web of relationships with the DU coaches, team staffers, doctors, professors/academics, and administrators who enable the team to function. Then you have to extend that ring of relationships further out, to parents and families, girlfriends, former teammates/friends, agents, opponents, former coaches, media, NHL scouts/managers, etc. Any issues that can (and do) crop up weekly can easily affect a player and the team’s overall chemistry, too, especially if not managed well.

      I think the chemistry last year was almost certainly off. DC clearly moved out all of those experienced seniors who could have stayed on for an extra year, and talented players like Demin and Crone also left the team, too. I am guessing here, that all those player movement decisions weren’t just about talent level or statistical production…

      1. There’s a nice article on Ryan Barrow in this morning’s Post. Besides confirming his value to the team and his character and leadership, the article provides hints that chemistry was indeed off last year. Just based on the on-ice product this year, the players on this year’s squad certainly seem to have gelled more than last year’s group.

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