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DU Hockey Prepares for NCAA Matchup Against Cornell

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Matt Meyer



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DU hockey players lined up pregame

It’s business as usual for the University of Denver hockey team—with a twist.

They know they didn’t play up to their extremely high standards last week when they lost 1-0 to Colorado College in the semifinals of the National Colligate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff tournament. But that game is flushed and forgotten as they open the NCAA Tournament against Cornell on Thursday in Manchester, New Hampshire, as the top seed in the region. The game is televised on ESPN News, and the puck drop is at 3:30 p.m. MT, with a radio broadcast on 104.3-FM The Fan.

While Pioneers coach David Carle said it’s necessary to remain focused on the next game, not the one after or before[HH1] , he added that there’s naturally a more passionate environment when 16 teams are fighting for a national champion. That’s especially true for DU as they mount their title defense and battle for a potentially record-breaking 10th national championship.

“We are preparing the same way as we do for every opponent every week,” Carle says. “But when this time of year comes around, there’s a different level of excitement in the air with the guys. That isn’t lost on them, what we’re trying to do, and that’s a good thing. You have to have that excitement and that emotion in the tournament.”

The coach and players both know Cornell is a structured squad with size and the ability to clog up the neutral zone, posting a 20-10-2 record with a No. 10 ranking in the final poll of the regular season. Denver, meanwhile, thrives on its speed, athleticism and skill, some of the main catalysts for their 30-9 mark and No. 3 ranking nationally. Another spark is goalie Magnus Chrona, who was picked as the NCHC Goaltender of the Year last week, as well as for the Three Star Award, given to the player who earns the most “Stars of the Game” points during conference contests. Mike Benning was tabbed as the NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year, while Justin Lee received NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year.

The Pioneers’ roster is chock-full of experienced players who were part of last season’s national championship run, something that should help when the lights come on in Manchester.

“Hopefully a lot,” Carle says with a laugh when asked how much experience matters in the NCAA tournament. “That’s the plan. We believe our group has shown their level of experience all year long, particularly in moments of challenge or adversity, and their ability to rise in big games, big weekends. We expect that to be a big factor, having been there. Not looking past any opponent or game is the most important thing, I think. Just focusing on who that next opponent is and not getting wrapped up in anything done or said outside the team.”

Although DU hasn’t faced the Big Red this season, the programs have some history, especially in the NCAA tournament. The squads have squared off four times on college hockey’s biggest stage, with each team securing two wins. The 1969 national championship in Colorado Springs saw DU netminder Gerry Powers—who passed away Feb. 18—out-duel future hall-of-famer Ken Dryden for a 4-3 victory.

According to The Denver Post, the Pioneers led 4-2 before a goal during the final minute set up a frenetic defense as Cornell pulled their goalie for a 6-on-5 situation. Powers was dogpiled by his teammates after the win, the fifth national title in program’s history and the second time they had secured back-to-back titles.

The Pioneers won consecutive championships in 1960 and 1961, 1968 and 1969, as well as 2004 and 2005. Now, they have a chance to do it for a fourth time. The winner of the matchup between DU and Cornell will advance to face the winner of Boston University and NCHC foe Western Michigan. The Pioneers haven’t faced Boston, ranked No. 5 in the final regular-season poll, but twice beat the Broncos in Kalamazoo this season, winning 5-2 and 3-1 on back-to-back nights.

With championship aspirations and the desire to continue a successful season, senior defensemen Kyle Mayhew said he’s just happy to be representing DU and the broader Denver community.

“It’s awesome,” he says. “I think we really banded together last season and saw how much Denver rallied around us during our run. We’re excited to do the same thing this year. The energy around campus, around the city, has been awesome. Last year is some of the best memories I have, so we’d love to do the same thing this year.”

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