Puck Swami: Five Musings From a DU Fan in Boston

As one of the “elders” in the extensive and inspiring  LetsGoDU stable of writers, I thought I’d jot down some of my own musings after cheering on DU’s epic NCAA hockey championship weekend in Boston.

So much has already been written about how talented and clutch this Denver team was (and they were indeed that), but I think it’s important to state a few other things that don’t appear in the media as often as they should…

DU Coach David Carle/Denver Post Photo

Musing #1: David Carle should have been AHCA and NCHC Coach of the Year 

Our noted riverboat gambler coach, David Carle, won only one national Coach-of-the-Year award (from USCHO this week) but was denied the AHCA and NCHC Coach-of-the-Year awards, which also should have been his. This was an egregious pile of negligent BS from the voters — even worse than national-scoring-leader-playing-in-the-toughest-league Bobby Brink being denied the Hobey Baker Award.  Carle, after a rare losing season last year, decided to gamble his entire team culture on a bevy of newcomers instead of keeping up to ten Covid 5th-year senior vets on the DU roster. No other NCAA coach was willing to part with of all that experience.  But Carle was.

Picked for 13th in the national poll at the start of the season, today he’s got a national National Championship trophy at age 32 (Denver’s ninth), while his older coaching peers were already on the golf course. And Carle and his staff out-recruited everyone else, even the University of Michigan, with its $180 million dollar total athletic budget.  Michigan had the greatest assembly of NHL drafted talent ever rostered by a single team, led by the record seven Michigan NHL first round picks.  Well, those seven first-rounders did not record a single point against Denver, even after a whole year of skating together when it mattered in the Frozen Four — and they couldn’t beat Carle’s Pios. Nor could Minnesota State’s ‘AHCA Coach of the Year’ Mike Hastings, either.

Last week, the shuffled-out fifth-year DU players were golfing or watching their former teammates in Boston, while four of the six NCHC all-rookie team were Pios, helping in winning Carle a natty as the youngest coach in 58 years to do so.

So, DU AD Karlton Creech, before you leave Denver later this year to go to your next position, you should please back up the Brinks truck (pun intended) to David Carle’s house in metro Denver, and lock up this 32-year-old coach on the longest contract extension you can get the DU Board of Trustees to fund.  And do it fast, before his phone rings from Boston College, Boston University, Michigan State (who all need new head coaches), or perhaps even Michigan, who may be soon looking for a new head coach, depending on the results of an investigation into serious allegations against current coach Mel Pearson. Give David Carle the money and job security he needs to keep DU beating up on all these more “pedigreed” coaches in the NCAA Tournament!

Musing #2:  Whole seasons are made in decisive moments when your best players step up to play their best

Denver was looking very tired deep in the first overtime in the National semifinal against top-ranked Michigan, with the score tied 2-2. With 6:20 left in overtime, Michigan’s prized first-round NHL draft pick Luke Hughes roared down the ice with the puck on his stick with no DU defensemen back, and a chance to win the game for the Wolverines. But DU’s fifth-round draft pick goalie Magnus Chrona stood tall and robbed Hughes’ breakaway with a great save. Soon, DU’s other stars, second-rounder Bobby Brink and fourth-rounder Carter Savoie teamed up for the game-winning goal for Denver, teaching all those Michigan first-rounders a lesson in overtime.

Beating Michigan was incredibly satisfying after three painful DU losses to the Wolverines in NCAA tourney play in 1964, 1999, and 2002. I am sure all of the living DU alumni players who were on those losing teams felt a special jolt of joy to see the Pios get their revenge — perhaps even more than the DU fans did.  And when the DU players dedicated the game “to those players who came before us” you know that the DU hockey family has bonds that cross many generations of proud players. 

Musing #3: Sometimes you need your old guys to create belief

While the Pioneers did say goodbye to most of their fifth-year eligible seniors before the season started, they certainly needed one fifth-year grinder in the NCAA title game. And that was Ryan Barrow, who played a school-record 168 games for Denver, which was appropriately set in the national title game. Barrow’s third-period goal tied the game at 1-1 and showed the rest of the DU team that it could score on Hobey Baker-winner Dryden McKay.

The DU coaches, in another moment of genius,  had promoted Barrow up to the first line during the NCAA Tournament to see if he could make more O-zone space for his more talented line-mates, Bobby Brink and Cole Guttman. Turns out, Barrow scored perhaps the most important goal of the season and perhaps his entire life. Minnesota State had dominated the first 40 minutes of the game and had Denver on the proverbial ropes. But the moment Barrow scored, the game suddenly tilted to Denver, and with it, the NCAA title slid into Pioneer hands.  MSU was “leaking oil” according to coach Mike Hastings. But this DU fan saw the change as much more than an oil leak. To me, the Mavericks puckered up like a tightening sphincter, and DU, liberated by Barrow’s takedown of McKay’s mystique, soon took off on a four-goal scoring frenzy to take the NCAA title at crunch-time. It was a truly glorious 15 minutes that will echo through the ages in Pioneer lore…

Musing #4: DU fans created their own fan presence when the DU admin wouldn’t help

Sure, Michigan had its band and famous fight song to create a Michigan Big-10 fan presence. And Minnesota had an even larger Big 10-level fan presence with its band, the Goldie Gopher mascot, and high-level skating cheerleaders.  But both of those teams were back home by Friday, and many of their fans soon left Boston. That left the two smaller fan bases – Minnesota State and Denver – to create the atmosphere on Saturday night.  MSU had its pep band, skating cheerleaders, its bull mascot “Stomper,” and even a couple of fellows in matching purple 18th-century costumes and sporting Boston-esque tricorn hats.  Full credit to them for bringing their own style to the rink. They almost went home happy, too, but the Pios had the last laugh.

And the Pios visual style? Well, this wasn’t Chicago in 2017, when DU sent its band, cheer team, and provided tickets for selected students to cheer on the Pioneers. This year, DU had already killed off the pep band months ago (they apparently didn’t like the expense or the quality) and no DU cheerleaders or school-ticketed students made the trip, either. So the DU fans were left to create their own fan presence and atmosphere. As often happens, the unofficial Denver Boone mascot (funded by DU fans) flew to Boston and made it through the TD Garden doors, but was kicked out of the seating bowl on Thursday night after the first period by TD Garden Arena security under some very questionable pretexts (where have we heard that one before?).

Apparently, Boone was ‘blocking spectator views’  which we know didn’t happen because the mascot character was sitting in front of some of the mascot’s biggest fans. Some of these DU fans were also told by security that “there can be no unofficial mascots in the lower seating bowl” (We’re still waiting to see that rule in print) and that “mascots have to be upstairs in the second deck with the band” (except Denver had no band in Boston). Given the elaborate mix of half-truths they were spouting, it seemed clear that TD Garden security was probably acting on orders from someone else who just didn’t want the character in attendance.

DU fans also picked up the tab for “DU Whiteboard”, – the well-known home game fan fixture who delivers pithy and witty marker-written fan comments on a portable whiteboard in the front row, so that players, fans and cameras can read the DU fan zeitgeist of the moment. Of course, TD Boston Garden banned the large whiteboard that was planned, but smaller, smuggled whiteboards got the job done. Congrats on a great job, too,

As for the rest of the DU fans in Boston, they did their best. The arena wasn’t able to stop the more than 200 small Boone signs handed out before the games by motivated DU fans, and many of them made it into the arena to create some visual interest in the Pioneer section for the scoreboard and for TV. Interestingly, the University of Denver communications folks later did their level best to “white-out” the Boone signs in photo backgrounds with photoshop on some DU websites after the win, but a few of them still slipped through DU’s Orwellian censors.

Boone signs in the crowd helped cheer on the Pioneers/NCAA Photo

Musing #5: DU fans really mattered at ice level, especially ‘Frank the Tank’

I’ve been fortunate to attend every DU Frozen Four since 1986 — that’s four wonderful natties (Boston ’04, Columbus ’05, Chicago ’17, and Boston ’22 (again) and 3 awful losses in Providence ’86, Tampa ’16, and Buffalo ’19. But I’ve never seen a Frozen Four from seats near ice level before.  Let me tell you, it’s an amazing experience. You see the players’ faces, the incredible physicality of the game, and the split seconds that can decide the fate of a play or a season. But most of all, you hear (and participate) in cheering on the players at their own ear level. You can see them responding to your support with a nod here and there. And you hear also the sound of the cheering just as the players hear it. There were perhaps 750-1,000 DU fans in Section 3 of and above with many more sprinkled throughout the arena. And while almost everybody in the arena (other than Michigan fans) hated Michigan and adopted ‘underdog’ Denver on Thursday night, it was the reverse on Saturday, as first-time finalist Minnesota State had some perceptual underdog status and most of the local Boston fans’ support. Suddenly, our little group of DU fans now really mattered, especially as the only school without a pep band. 

With DU ‘Superfan’ Damien Goddard ’88, a noted fan-enthusiasm master, unable to attend this Frozen Four due to a Covid diagnosis just before his flight to Boston, Damien’s decision to give one of his tickets on the glass to the full-throated big-man Franklin Crandall (’02), was a masterstroke of genius. Crandall (whom we nicknamed ‘Frank the Tank’) got the full section of the DU crowd to stand on its feet for most of the third period by leading DU cheers with the power of his voice and the sheer force of his will.

Franklin Crandall ’02 helped lead the Pioneer cheering section in Boston. Photo: Franklin Crandall

And since most of those DU fans in Boston were no longer students, this was no easy feat. Many DU players told us after the game how they couldn’t have won it without our standing-and-cheering aggressively-loud support.  And we certainly brought the noise! It took a full three days for this fan’s voice to return, but it was worth it to cheer on the Pios in my fourth of Denver’s NCAA record nine team titles.

I would not have it any other way. Boston, you were great — as you were in 2004 (and 1964).

And so were you, fellow Pioneers!

Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a longtime DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views here periodically at Let’sGoDU.

Top photo: San Diego Union-Tribune

14 thoughts on “Puck Swami: Five Musings From a DU Fan in Boston”

  1. Yo Swami … since you always comment on my articles (thank you) – I’ll comment on yours. Since despite affinity for Denver and David Carle, I am less passionate about this subject — and perhaps my judgment is less clouded 🙂 — I disagree that overlooking Carle and/or Brink is somehow a “travesty.” A case could be made for many other coaches, especially since like we do at CHN, we announced it prior to the Frozen Four. Certainly Carle deserves all the accolades – but a travesty? No. … Same for Brink. You could’ve made a case for 15 players to win the Hobey this year, and all would be reasonable arguments. And as you may or may not know, we put Guttman ahead of Brink on our list and the Hobey people didn’t even make Guttman a Top 10. … So, no travesties. Just lots of close calls. Enjoy the win and let go of the defensiveness 🙂 … As Coach Carle says, you won the only trophy that isn’t voted on. And that’s all that really matters.

    1. Great article. Love the backstories. Team & coaches deserve all the credit they are receiving.

      Let’s hope the team gets addicted to all the attention & newfound fame & goes back2back as the 04-05 boyz did.

  2. Shame on the DU administration. What a shit show, it has only gotten worse since I left. Cutting the pep band was an embarrassment (you’ll be happy to know I played my fight song cell phone ring tone in our bar in Ecuador every time we scored and sang along, to the amusement of the staff). They asked why DU didn’t have a band, I did not know they had been cut (every futbol game we go to here, the band is there playing the entire time … not well, mind you, but loud). And how clumsy can you be to photoshop out a Boone sign from a poster. That’s just the kind of stuff that gets them in trouble. Fat fingered vulgarians. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carle hired away. He has to take care of himself and his family, and a big money offer would do that. I would not blame him.

  3. Loved the article Swami! We can’t forget that in Damien’s absence, Rod Summers was a one-man cheering section on Thursday night. So proud of Coach Carle, his staff and the players.

    1. Oh, and DU alumni got @duwhiteboard to Boston while covering air, housing, game ticket – not DU.

  4. Swambo,

    Re your article I agree totally on the Mankato switch going from on to full off. That evening things up goal by our boys was as important a goal as I have ever seen. The immediate deflating of Mankato was palpable.

    After about two minutes of watching the total deflate of Mankato I said to next seat “this game is over we win” Then the onslaught It was an obvious result. Amazing. A completer reversal. I have never seen such a sudden mental shift before.

    Huge credit to our boys for continuing the fight and persevering. Great victory. This was a character victory.

  5. Good stuff, Swami, you bring a breath of fresh air to this site with your articles! Too many good points to comment on, and I agree with most of them. So I will throw in a random thought. I, too, came out of the championship game (watching it live), thinking that DU got dominated the whole game til the last 15 minutes. But watching the replay, DU was pretty much even with MSU for the first 10-12 minutes, outplayed the rest of the first period starting from the MSU goal, badly outplayed for the first 13 minutes of the second, had the upper hand for the last 6-7 minutes of the second, was even with MSU for the first five minutes of the third (though MSU had scary chances before we scored), and then completely dominant for the last 15 minutes. Don’t get me wrong…DU waking up from the dead in the third period is the takeaway story from the game. But after rewatching, I don’t think DU got dominated as bad as I thought they did, despite the 8 shots on goal through 2 periods.

    Also, thank you Magnus Chrona!!!! I was hoping the crowd at the celebration would have had more of a chance to cheer for Magnus specifically. Maybe they should have had him say a few words. He kept us in it, and will be a DU legend for his efforts!.

  6. Apparently the ineptitude of the administration continues. Try to order celebratory t-shirts, hats or other wearables. I was in the bookstore today and there were only a handful of one long sleeve style and one short sleeve style. Only in size small and medium. Perhaps if they ordered a few more, they could have made enough money to send the band and cheerleaders. Could you bozos figure out the hockey team is important to the university? Just another example of how they are slighted.

  7. Hey, Ron. I also found the items at the bookstore at low volume. But I ordered a shirt on the DU bookstore website
    Although initially back ordered, it was sent out today. Maybe better luck on their website for certain items.

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