DU Hockey Setting Sights on Another Championship
National polls rank the Pioneers as the top team in the country
You could say winning back-to-back national championships for the hockey program at the University of Denver has become a habit of sorts. Three times the Pioneers have won the title and repeated as champions the next year. Now entering the 2017-18 season, the hockey team is setting out to accomplish the same goal.
“It’s kind of a DU thing in hockey and hopefully we can live up to that tradition,” says coach Jim Montgomery. “For us, we are trying to be national champions of this year. We are not repeating what we did last year; we are trying to win this year.”
The Pioneers started the new year last Friday night by skating to a 2-2 tie against Notre Dame. On Saturday night, DU recorded its first victory of the season after defeating the Irish 4-2. Homecoming this weekend marks the start of the Pioneers' home schedule when they host Lake Superior State. On Friday night, the team will celebrate last year's title by hanging the national championship banner. The team knows with last year's success and this year's No. 1 ranking, they are not going to take anyone by surprise.
“Everyone is going to have to step up their game because we do have that target on our back this year, but we are excited for that and we will be ready for any challenge,” says senior defenseman Tariq Hammond.
Hammond is about a month away from returning to the ice after breaking his ankle in the third period of last season’s national championship game. This year he has been named a team captain, a designation he does not take lightly.
“It’s an honor, that’s for sure,” Hammond says. “We have had some great captains in the past that I’ve been under and I’ve learned so much from them. But we have so many leaders in our locker room, guys with tons of experience and guys that everyone looks up to. It’s not a one-man job, because we have a great group in the locker room to lead this team.”
The loss of Will Butcher — voted last year as the top player in college hockey — is a void the Pioneers will have to fill. However, the team returns four of its top-five defensemen, three standout forwards — Henrik Borgström, Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell — and perhaps most importantly, goalie Tanner Jaillet — voted last year as the country’s best college goalie. Montgomery says it’s comforting as a coach knowing that Jaillet is in goal, and the players agree.
“He just brings so much composure and poise to our team,” Hammond says. “He never looks worried and he never looks nervous. Just seeing him back there is a real calming effect that he puts on our team.”
With all the talent the Pioneers bring back to the ice this season, it’s easy to understand why this year’s team could be better than last year’s and why most of the country is picking DU to win the championship.
“Our players are not satisfied and they are all pushing each other,” Montgomery says. “They all individually want to be better, they all want to continue to add to the Denver hockey tradition. I want these players to excel and I want us to be as great as we can be.”