College hockey scheduling isn’t easy. There are now 63 teams playing Division I college hockey, and DU as a 72-year-old program has played most of them over the years. Non-conference scheduling is a particular kind of art form, requiring just enough potential home wins to keep the fans (and bean-counters) happy, but not too many cupcakes either, or it can hurt your national Pairwise ranking, especially if there is an upset.
We’ve seen a lot of good non-conference teams come through Magness already over the last 10 years or so: Boston College, Providence, Boston University, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Cornell (some of them multiple times) come to mind, so they are not on the list below. Of course, there are some teams who have never played DU in Denver, or in some cases, teams who haven’t played DU in Denver for a long time. My DU opponent wish list is predicated primarily on desired revenge.
Here is my list, in order, of my top 10 (+) non-conference teams that I think DU should schedule in the coming years to play at Magness Arena, and where you see a link in the text, hit it to go deeper. Enjoy!
1. Michigan — This one is vital. DU hasn’t played Michigan on the DU campus since 1981 — over 40 years! Back then, both programs were members of the WCHA. Michigan left the conference after the 1980-81 season, in large measure because Michigan’s AD at the time, Don Canham, wanted to avoid the cost of flying Michigan teams to Colorado every season to play DU and/or CC. So Canham took Michigan out and cajoled fellow WCHA neighboring schools Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and Notre Dame to join the bus circuit CCHA for the 1981-82 season. That caused some bad blood years ago, and other than a few meetings in the NCAA tournament in the last 40 years, DU has not played the Wolverines in regular-season play since then.
DU has tried to schedule Michigan for many years as a non-conference opponent, but the response to make regular-season games happen on the Wolverine’s side has been disappointing. After DU beat Michigan for the first time in more than 40 years in this past season’s 2022 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal, perhaps Michigan might want a renewed shot at a rematch? Come on out to Magness! As the two teams with the most NCAA championships, tied with nine each, these two programs should play each other more often!
2. Harvard — DU hasn’t played Harvard in hockey since the 1986 Frozen Four Semifinal in Providence, R.I., (above) when the underdog Crimson spoiled DU’s National Championship dreams. That was an all-time great DU team with 34 wins – still a school record to this day. Thus, DU fans have been waiting 36 years for a Harvard rematch, the longest overall rematch waiting time among all of DU’s NCAA opponents who have continuously played varsity hockey. Interestingly, Harvard hasn’t played DU on the DU campus since the 1953-54 season – almost 70 years ago, but Harvard actually played at Magness Arena in late 2001, when the Crimson played in the Denver Cup tournament that year. Why? The tourney format that year had Harvard face UMass-Lowell and then Bowling Green, rather than face the host Pios. Also, DU has never played Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., either. So how about it, Harvard? How about a home-and-home someday? I want my revenge before I die!
3. Minnesota — The last time Minnesota and Denver played in Magness Arena was in WCHA conference play in February of 2012, when Nick Shore’s overtime winner gave DU a 4-3 victory. Sad that the Gophers haven’t been back to Denver since that night over 10 years ago. Denver and Minnesota had a long-time conference rivalry, dating back to DU’s first hockey season in 1949-50 until the Gophers left for the Big 10 in 2013 – the two schools have not played each other in hockey since.
For many years, Denver’s legendary coach Murray Armstrong and Minnesota’s legend John Mariucci hated each other with a passion, primarily because of differences in recruiting philosophy, and the heat got so bad that the conference actually broke up over the issue in 1959 and Minnesota would not even schedule DU in conference play from 1960-1972 — a span of 12 years! Although they did play each other in the WCHA Tournament when required during those years, resuming regular conference play for the 1972-73 season. The last time these two NCAA powers faced each other was in 2012-13, the last WCHA season (as it was configured then), a 5-1 Gopher victory in Minneapolis. With Minnesota preferring to schedule rivals North Dakota as well as the growing number of other Minnesota D-I teams as non-conference games these days, it is little surprise that the Gophers haven’t been to Denver since the Gwozdecky era. That’s too bad – it’s always special to beat the Gophers.
4. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) — Pio fans still remember 10 years ago, and I’m sure RIT fans do, too. The Tigers have a hockey history dating to 1957 and became a D-I member in 2005, but have only faced off with DU once ever — in a very memorable RIT upset over the Pioneers in the NCAA 2012 Albany (N.Y.) Regional. DU was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of the season and had 14 NHL Draft Picks on its roster and was heavily favored by many in that game. RIT had no draft picks. Denver, the top NCAA seed, was sent to Albany, a just few hours’ drive away from #4-seeded RIT, who brought thousands of fans to Albany. The final score: RIT 2, Denver 1. That NCAA upset was cited as one of the several given reasons that then-DU coach George Gwozdecky was fired the following season. While that game was painted by some as ‘RIT/David’ vs. ‘DU/Goliath’, RIT actually went on to play in the Frozen Four that year, led by defender Chris Tanev, who is still in the NHL today. Still, many DU fans hear even hear the letters “RIT” and the 2012 revenge wish bubbles to the surface after 10 years.
5. New Hampshire — UNH hasn’t played DU since 2013 which is right on my “10-year line”, and I am still itching for revenge – as UNH beat DU twice in the 2012-2013 season, once at Magness (6-4) and again, 5-2 in the 2013 NCAA Regional in Manchester, N.H. in George Gwozdecky’s final game as coach of the Pios. DU was leading that game, 2-1, before UNH erupted and scored three unanswered goals before 8,000 crazy New Hampshire fans in Manchester, ending DU’s season. Speaking of ending seasons, the last time DU beat UNH was in 2005 in the NCAA regional in Amherst, Mass., 4-2, on the way to the NCAA title number #7 for the Pioneers. DU hasn’t beaten the Wildcats at Magness Arena since a 4-0 shutout in 2002, now 20 years ago. Add it all up, and I’d love to get another shot at the ‘Cats at Magness.
6. Penn State — While PSU has had club and varsity hockey teams in different forms off and on since 1910, Penn State’s current D-I program began varsity play in 2013 and PSU has never played hockey in Denver. DU has, however, faced the Nittany Lions twice in recent history in the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Tournaments. The Pioneers crushed the Nittany Lions under their Colorado College alumnus coach, Guy Gadowsky. First, DU whipped PSU 6-3, in 2017 in Cincinnati on the way to their eighth NCAA title. And then DU took the ‘Nits’ out to the proverbial woodshed again in front of thousands of PSU fans, 5-1 in the NCAA Allentown (Pa.) Regional in 2018 before Ohio State pulled off the upset in the regional final, ending DU’s hopes of winning a second-straight title. A big-name NCAA brand name like Penn State would probably sell out in Denver, too, drawing casual sports fans, not just hockey fans.
7. Connecticut — Speaking of brand name NCAA schools, the UConn Huskies, better known for their basketball prowess, have never faced the Pioneers in any hockey action, despite UConn sponsoring hockey since 1960 (NCAA D-III), and moving up to Division I status in 1998. Like Penn State, people in Denver know the UConn brand. The Hockey East school is becoming a better hockey program and will be opening a new $70 million on-campus arena with just 2,600 seats in small-town Storrs, Conn., preferring sure sellouts to empty seats in what could have been a larger arena.
8. Army West Point — The “Black Knights of the Hudson” started playing varsity hockey all the way back in 1903, and despite playing continuously since then, DU has only played Army once in nearly 200 years of combined ice hockey seasons between the two schools. That game was a 4-1 DU victory at the old DU Arena back in 1992 when the Pios were coached by Frank Serratore, 30 years ago. Since then, Serratore has gone on to be the head coach at Air Force, where he remains a beloved figure in the college game. And since Army always plays arch-rival Air Force yearly at least every other year in Colorado, a DU game against the Black Knights at Magness might be easier to schedule someday?
9. Clarkson — Speaking of Knights, how about the Golden Knights of Clarkson? Clarkson hasn’t been to Denver since 1995 when DU swept the Vegas NHL team’s namesake in an October series. DU hasn’t played Clarkson at all since sweeping the Golden Knights in Potsdam, N.Y. in November of 1996. Denver and Clarkson have an old history of facing each other in NCAA tourney play, dating back to 1958 when DU whipped the Golden Knights 9-2 in the NCAA semis in Minneapolis as the appetizer to beating North Dakota for the 1958 NCAA title – DU’s first crown under Murray Armstrong. DU also beat Clarkson again in the 1963 NCAA semifinals before losing the title game to North Dakota and also lost to Clarkson 4-3 in OT in the 1966 semifinal. In that 1966 game, Denver old-timers like to talk about a DU shot that went straight through the Clarkson net that wasn’t counted as a goal, back in the days before video replay had been invented.
T-10. Yale — DU lost 4-3 to the Bulldogs in OT at Magness Arena back in November of 2012, the last time these two schools met. As another school straddling my “10-year line,” I always get excited to see the Ivies come to Magness. They bring history, academic pedigree, and elite private status that elevates DU by simple association. That 2012 OT game still stings for some Denver fans, as Yale went on to win the NCAA title that season. Prior to that game, DU had won all six games against Yale, dating back to 1951, with five of those games being played in Denver and the other game in New Haven, Conn., back in 1980 under former DU coach Marshall Johnston. Perhaps the most memorable of those six DU wins was a 4-3 OT win in the 1996 Denver Cup Tournament Championship Game, played before nearly 13,000 fans at the old McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. It was the second-largest indoor crowd to ever see DU play in the City of Denver — the Denver indoor record was set by a capacity DU/CC Denver Cup final crowd of 16,000 the year before in 1995, when DU beat the then top-ranked CC Tigers in OT, 3-2.)
(T-10). Quinnipiac — While we’re on the subject of New Haven, how about Yale’s crosstown foe, Quinnipiac University in nearby Hamden, Conn.? Since QU’s 1998 move up to Division I (which was orchestrated by former DU Athletic Director Jack MacDonald) the Bobcats have become an excellent D-I hockey program, appearing in eight NCAA tournaments and garnering a pair of NCAA Championship Game appearances in 2013 and 2016. It’s somewhat amazing that DU and QU have never met in a hockey game before.
DU has never played some of the newer NCAA D-I programs, including Bentley University (Waltham, Mass.), Long Island University, or St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Also, Stonehill (Mass.) College, Augustana (S.D.), and Utica (N.Y.) are all NCAA DII schools who have committed to stepping up to soon fielding D-I hockey programs, as there is no NCAA Championship in hockey for D-II.
What non-conference teams would you like to see come to Magness? Please write them in the comments.
Puck Swami is the internet moniker of a long-time DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views periodically here at LetsGoDU.
Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics