DU Pioneers Return to the NCAA Hockey Tournament
For the 31st time in program history, the University of Denver men’s hockey team is preparing to make a run at a national championship. DU is hosting the NCAA West Regional at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. The No. 1 seed Pioneers will face the No. 4 seed UMass Lowell River Hawks in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday.
This marks the first time since 2004 that DU will play in a national tournament game in the state of Colorado. Eighteen years ago, after defeating Miami and North Dakota in the west regionals in Colorado Springs, the Pioneers went on to win the NCAA Championship.
“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate Colorado hockey and for our fans to be able to see us play tournament hockey in the great state of Colorado,” says David Carle, the Richard and Kitzia Goodman Head Coach.
It’s the first time the Pioneers are back in the NCAA Tournament since 2019. Both the 2020 and 2021 campaigns were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It just shows you that you can’t take it for granted,” says team captain Cole Guttman. He is one of a handful of seniors who were freshmen on the team during the 2019 tournament. “We are really excited to get back, and we’ve got a really good group heading into it.”
The depth of this year’s roster helped the Pioneers finish with a 27-9-1 record and claim their second Penrose Cup as regular season champions of the NCHC. Freshman Carter Mazur earned rookie of the year honors from the NCHC, one of a handful of first-year student-athletes who have contributed in a big way for DU.
“They came in and made an impact right away,” Guttman says. “You need everyone in the lineup to be going, and having them come in right off the bat and make an impact has been really good for us.”
The play of junior Bobby Brink might be the biggest reason for why the Pioneers are serious contenders to win a national championship. Brink is the leading scorer in college hockey; he won the NCHC Player of the Year award; and he has been named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which recognizes college hockey’s most outstanding player.
“There’s a lot of great players that have come through Denver and been up for this award,” Brink says. “It’s nice to be in the same class as them, but a lot of those guys have also won national championships, so I’d rather be in that group instead of the Hobey Baker one.”
Carle believes it’s that mentality that this team will need to survive the single-elimination tournament. If the Pioneers defeat the River Hawks on Thursday, they will play the winner of Minnesota Duluth and Michigan Tech on Saturday for a ticket to the Frozen Four in Boston, Mass. in early April.
“In this tournament you can’t win the last one unless you in the first one,” Carle says. “The urgency and intensity of a win or go home is at a different level than obviously a regular season game—and that’s something I believe our guys are prepared for and ready for.”
You can watch the Pioneers play Thursday night on ESPNU or listen to the action on ESPN Denver 1600.