Pioneers Open the NCAA Tournament Against Penn State
Winner of the Midwest region will advance to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis
The road to repeating as national champions started in the fall, but now the University of Denver hockey program is four wins away from making it a reality. It’s been a season full of ups and downs as the Pioneers have struggled with consistency, but the team appears to be playing its best hockey when it matters most.
“I feel like we are peaking because we are playing the right way,” says Jim Montgomery, the Richard and Kitzia Goodman head coach. “We are committed and the guys are believing. When that starts to happen, you start to see the momentum build.”
That momentum has led to four wins in a row, the 2018 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff championship and now a No. 2 seed in the Midwest region of the NCAA Tournament. Since the start of the postseason, Troy Terry and Henrik Borgström have combined for five goals and eight assists, and goalie Tanner Jaillet has allowed only three goals in the last three games. Jaillet is now one win away from tying DU Athletic Director Ron Grahame for the most wins in school history.
“Ron Grahame was a terrific goaltender. I remember watching him play in the NHL when I was a kid,” Montgomery says. “The fact that Tanner is approaching his wins record speaks volume about what he’s done here at the University of Denver. He knows where the puck is going before the guy passing it does.”
The Pioneers will open the NCAA Tournament playing against Penn State in Allentown, Pa. on Saturday night at 5 p.m. MT. It’s a team they know well from last year’s tournament when DU defeated the Nittany Lions 6-3 in the second round.
“They pretty much play the exact same way they played last year,” Terry says. “It’s a very unique style of playing and it creates challenges that we have not seen this year. Their forwards think offense immediately and they fly the zone, but I think it plays well for us because of how defensive minded we are.”
The winner of this game, which can be seen on ESPN3, will play either Ohio St. or Princeton on Sunday with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four.
The postseason experience that Denver brings to the tournament is difficult to match. The season before last year’s national championship the Pioneers made it to the Frozen Four.
“I think the experience of going through it last year is really big,” Terry says. “Our message to the younger guys is that it’s just another game. “It’s still hockey, but it is playoff hockey and it’s not going to be easy.”
If the Pioneers win the national championship this year, they will be the first school to win back-to-back championships since DU did it in 2004-05. Denver would also tie the University of Michigan with nine titles, the most in men’s college ice hockey.