Athletics & Recreation

Men’s hockey team excited for first Frozen Four appearance in 11 years

The University of Denver hockey team is heading back to the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time since 2005, when the Pioneers captured the program’s seventh national title.

The Pioneers beat Boston University 7-2 on March 26 before defeating Ferris State University by a score of 6-3 the following day to win the West regional portion of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament and advance to the national semifinals. Denver will face the North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., at 6:30 p.m. MDT on Thursday, April 7. This is the 14th time overall that DU has advanced to the Frozen Four.

The University will host an NCAA Championship Send-Off at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, on the north side of the Ritchie Center prior to the team departing for Florida that afternoon. Fans are invited to attend and show their DU spirit. Watch parties for Thursday’s Frozen Four game against North Dakota are scheduled at several DU-area restaurants, including the Pioneer, the Crimson & Gold, the Stadium Inn, Blackbird Public House and the Rosedale.

“It’s going to be a great hockey game,” head coach Jim Montgomery says of the Frozen Four semifinal matchup. “UND plays the right way, and they play hard. They’re a good, talented hockey team, and we’re going to go at them hard.”

Montgomery, who was named DU head coach in 2013, has been named a finalist for the 2016 Spencer Penrose Award, presented annually to the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Coach of the Year.

Being one of only four teams still vying for a national championship is an exciting feeling for a Denver team that has not made an NCAA Frozen Four appearance for the past 11 years. The experience is even more special for the four seniors on this year’s squad.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling, and we’re excited for sure,” says senior defenseman Nolan Zajac. “We’ve been close for a couple of years, but to finally get to the Frozen Four is a lot of hard work. You dream of getting this far, but until you get there, you don’t really think the day is going to come.”

As a senior and alternate captain this season, Zajac knows the importance of leading the DU program to a Frozen Four and continuing the success the team has achieved since the beginning of 2016.

“You come to Denver because you know you’ll be on a good team every year,” he says. “To get recruited to a place like this that has a big tradition of getting to the Frozen Four and winning championships … to finally get back there, it really means a lot to not only us, but to the alums and everyone associated with Denver.”

Team captain and Colorado native Grant Arnold agrees.

“Being a senior and going to the Frozen Four is an awesome experience,” he says. “I’ve said goodbye to three other senior classes who weren’t fortunate enough to get to the Frozen Four. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can, but at the same time, we have to get to work. There are still two games to be won. It’s hard because there’s such a big high from winning the regional, but you have to refocus and turn the page on that. We’re focused on North Dakota now.”

The Crimson and Gold will face NCHC rival North Dakota for the sixth time this season when they arrive in Tampa this week. The Pioneers dropped consecutive games to the Fighting Hawks in their first series of the 2015–16 campaign, falling 5-1 on Dec. 4 and losing 4-0 the following night. However, the Pioneers were able to even the season series with a weekend sweep of UND on Feb. 12–13 by scores of 6-4 and 4-1 in front of their home crowd at Magness Arena. The two squads faced off during the consolation final at the NCHC Tournament on March 19, skating to a 1-1 draw.

The sweep of the Fighting Hawks on home ice in February was a huge confidence boost for each player individually and for the team as a whole, Montgomery says.

“I think it took our confidence up two notches,” he says. “Not so much the first night of the weekend sweep, but the second night because I thought we really dominated the game. I think that led to our increased confidence and the belief that we can beat anybody in the country.”

Denver’s offense at the Frozen Four will be led by the “Pacific Rim Line” featuring junior Trevor Moore, freshman Dylan Gambrell and Boston Bruins prospect Danton Heinen. The trio combined for 12 points and 17 shots in two games en route to claiming the West regional portion of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.

In addition to Denver’s strong offensive threats, the Pioneers defense also has helped provide scoring from the back end. Colorado Avalanche prospect Will Butcher and Zajac combined for four points in the two West regional games, including three goals. Freshman Blake Hillman was named Most Outstanding Player for the West regional after netting the game-winning goal against Ferris State and finishing the weekend with four points.

Sophomore goaltender Tanner Jaillet made 19 saves in the Pioneers’ victory over Boston University, followed by an 18-save performance against FSU the next day, improving to 3-1 in his career at the NCAA Tournament.

“I think everyone really relishes in their role at this point of the season,” Montgomery says. “They know where they fit, they’re comfortable, and I think players are excelling right now in their roles. I never doubted that we would be in this position at some point during my tenure here, but for this to happen so quickly is a complete credit to our players and the culture of our leadership.”


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