The University of Denver hockey program is over-motivated after failing to reach the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2007.
12 Pioneers begin a new season on Friday night, fueled by the disappointment of their losing record (10-13-1) from a year earlier, with hopes of a full home at the Magnes Arena. DU did not finish below .500 before going back to the 1999–2000 season.
“What happened last year was very unacceptable to DU standards, whether there is a pandemic or not,” said forward Ryan Barrow, fifth year senior and alternate captain. “There’s a lot of unfinished business for all of us.”
DU hosts Arizona State on Friday and Saturday (Homecoming), with the belief that it will overtake a rare year. Coach David Carle initially joked that it was better to “forget about it” after the Pioneers started 0-3 and fell into a season-long funk. But Carle later explained why the struggle was crucial to the program’s overall development as he entered his fourth year as head coach.
“We learned a lot,” Carle said. “Number one is how important communication is when you’re trying to build a team and really getting together personally. Coming into this year, our six weeks with our new player, and three or four weeks with our new player, we’re going to have to do that. Being able to training camp, and just be around people is really impressive and powerful. … It can be an X-factor when you get into a tight game against other really good programs.”
One captain, senior Cole Gutman, is expected to attend his 100th career NCAA game on Tuesday. He anchors a forward group of which Carle has said that “we have more depth than we have long had” in terms of goal-scoring ability.
The defense of the pioneers is youth. But it is packed with star potential, featuring a trio of freshmen selected in the first three rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft: Shai Baum (36th overall; Red Wings), Sean Behrens (61st overall, Avalanche) and Carter. Mazur (70th overall, Red Wings) DU made the return of opening goaltender Magnus Krona, who is expected to split time in the nets with new Matt Davies.
“We love our pace, our depth and our skills in all three places,” Carle said. “Our fans can expect a team that can transition well, take time and space, and play a real fast brand of hockey that our fans have really become accustomed to seeing.”
DU is anticipating big crowds this weekend after the Pioneers played without fans throughout the past season.
“It’s definitely more fun with the student class there,” Gutmann said.
Barrow said: “Your feet are a little light when the fans are going crazy.”