Expectations Run High for the 2019-20 Pioneers
University of Denver is ranked second in preseason polls
If the story last year was the youth and inexperience of the Pioneer men’s hockey team, this year it would have to be the advantage of what it means to have that youth seasoned by a year of experience.
The 2018–19 team consisted of 19 underclassmen and a rookie head coach, yet the University of Denver advanced to its third Frozen Four appearance in four years. Now the expectations entering this season are that the Pioneers will be back competing for a national title.
“Several of us on this team have been in this spot before,” says Tyson McLellan, one of only four seniors on the team who were freshmen when the Pioneers won the title in 2017. “We never really look at the rankings or what people are saying. We really focus on our day-to-day and what we can do to get better.”
One area where DU hopes to improve is in scoring. Last season the team returned only 40% of its offense from the 2017–18 season. This year that number is up to 80%. But the Pioneers know that’s still not enough.
“We need that 80% to score more than they did last year,” says David Carle, the Richard and Kitzia Goodman Head Coach. “We are going to be playing up-tempo fast hockey. We should be able to make a lot of plays, and we have a lot of depth up front through our five forward lines.”
The defense and goalie position was a definite strength last year. In the NCAA playoffs, the Pioneers shut out their first two opponents before losing in the first round of the Frozen Four to UMass in overtime. Filip Larsson, who spent the second half of last season starting in net for the Pioneers, is now in the NHL. However, Carle likes what he has seen between the pipes from junior Devin Cooley, sophomore Michael Corson and freshman Magnus Chrona. He also knows the return of junior defenseman Ian Mitchell will help on both ends of the ice.
There was media speculation this summer in Chicago that Mitchell might jump to the NHL to play with the Blackhawks. As a sophomore, Mitchell led the Pioneers in blocked shots, power-play assists and power-play points, while finishing fourth in team scoring. When he thinks back to last season, Mitchell says there was little doubt in his mind that he wanted to return to the Pioneers.
“There’s definitely unfinished business with how last year ended,” he says. “Everyone came back this year in great shape and ready to prove to everyone that we can be the best team in the country. We’ve shown it so far in practice, but now it’s up to us to continue that and walk the walk.”
Walking the walk means proving to everyone that the Pioneers are deserving of their current preseason ranking. Both USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rank the University of Denver second in the country, behind only Minnesota Duluth, which has won back-to-back national championships. DU will play seven opponents ranked in the top 20 including Minnesota Duluth (1), UMass (4), St. Cloud State (6) and Boston College (6) in their home-opener on Homecoming weekend. However, Denver drops the puck on its 70th anniversary season with back-to-back road matches beginning this weekend at Alaska Fairbanks. For the seniors on the team, they’re hoping to leave the Pioneers the same way they came in — as champions.
“I know our senior class is anxious to get going; we don’t want this last year to go by, but we want to leave a lasting mark here,” McLellan says. “Everyone wants to win, all 60 teams in college hockey want to win. But we saw what the seniors did when we were here as freshman, so that’s exactly what we want to do and that’s our goal.”
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