The NCHC regular-season champion and fourth overall seeded University of Denver Pioneer hockey team has earned a trip to Manchester, N.H. to take on the #13 seeded Cornell University Big Red from the ECAC in the opening game of the Manchester Regional on Thursday, March 23rd at the 10,000-seat SHNU Arena. Game time is 3:30 MT/5:30 ET, and will be televised live on ESPNews.
Joining the Pioneers in Manchester will be the #5 overall seed Boston University Terriers and #12 overall seed Western Michigan University Broncos from the NCHC, who also face off earlier on March 23 at 12:00 MT/2 PM ET, with the winner of that game meeting either Denver or Cornell for a trip to the Frozen Four in Tampa. That regional title game is set for Saturday, March 25 at 2 PM MT, 4 PM ET, live on ESPN2 .
The Pioneers, as the highest-ranked team in the regional, will have last line change, and its choice of locker rooms and will wear its home uniforms for both games in the regional if it wins on Thursday.
The Pioneers’ first opponent, Cornell, has compiled a very respectable 20-10-2 recored, finishing #13 nationally in the PWR, and finished third in the ECAC behind Quinnipiac and Harvard.
The Cornellians are led by in points by forwards Gabriel Seger, a 6-4 Swedish transfer from Union College who has 29 points this season, and senior Ben Berard, who follows Seger with 27 points. First team all-ECAC defenseman senior Sam Malinski put up 26 points this season from the backline to finish third in team scoring , and had a 10-game point streak in January and February, but has since cooled with only a point since Feb 4. Goaltending-wise, DU will likely have its hands full with Cornell’s Ian Shane, who sports a .913 saves percentage.
Cornell has the nation’s ninth-ranked offense, scoring 3.44 goals per game, just under Denver’s seventh-ranked offense (3.85 GPG). The Big Red have a terrific defense, ranked second nationally, letting in only 1.94 GPG. In comparison, Denver is fifth nationally in defense, allowing 2.15 GPG.
Of course, national statistics are somewhat relative, given the differences in opponent quality. Cornell plays fewer non-conference games, an ECAC league schedule, and rarely plays a two-game series against the same opponent, as NCHC teams commonly do. The Big Red could only manage a single victory against a Top 10-finishing Team this season, beating PWR #2 Quinnipiac once, but dropping the other league game against the Bobcats, as well as all three games against rival PWR #7-ranked Harvard, and a loss against #5 Boston University. The Big Red’s only games against Western competition saw them get swept at Minnesota-Duluth early in the season.
That said by that standard, Denver could only manage a single win against a national top 10-finishing team this year, too, — against St. Cloud State, the only other NCHC team to finish in the top 10 of the PWR.
“Look across the country,” Cornell Coach Mike Schafer recently told College Hockey News. “CC beats Denver 1-0, BU got hammered in shots but still won. Quinnipiac lost three games all year and [were] watching [the ECAC championship game]… All the games across the country are tough this time of year and they will be similar [in] the NCAA tournament.”
If the name Mike Schafer sounds familiar to Pio fans beyond being Cornell’s coach, it’s because Schafer played for the Big Red the last time DU and Cornell met in the NCAA tournament, all the way back in 1986. Cornell had a great team that year, led by future NHL Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. That was a two-game, total goals series played at the old DU arena, and won 7-6 by the WCHA Champion Pioneers, who went on to the 1986 Frozen Four in Providence.
The Pioneers have only played in Manchester once before, a 5-2 loss to the University of New Hampshire in the 2013 NCAA regionals in what was coaching legend George Gwozdecky’s final game as DU’s coach, a game where DU played before a hostile crowd of UNH fans cheering on the Wildcats in their own state.
The only team likely to bring a large crowd to this 2023 regional is BU, which is only an hour away from Manchester.
Ticket details and purchasing information can be found on DU’s ticketing website or here. The DU allotment is in sections 117-120 & 217-220 but fans are encouraged to check with SNHU Arena to check whether there is a specific DU seating area.