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…
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.
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.
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