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Senior Ostrow leads Pioneers into postseason play

At first, Kyle Ostrow assumed he had unwittingly tweaked an abdominal muscle during practice earlier in the week. Or that perhaps something he ate simply was not agreeing with him.

Whatever the case, it never crossed Ostrow’s mind that one of the penultimate road trips against the University for Minnesota would end in emergency surgery for the Pioneers’ senior captain.

Ostrow underwent a procedure on Feb. 11 to correct a rare abdominal injury — robbing DU of its leader for six games at the most crucial juncture of the season. With a flair for the dramatic, Ostrow finally returned last weekend, producing a milestone goal to lead the Pioneers to a victory against St. Cloud State in their regular season finale.

Now healthy and back in form, Ostrow will be a key figure as DU opens a best-of-three series against Minnesota State Friday night at Magness Arena in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

“I didn’t think it was as serious as it was,” Ostrow says of the morning in Minnesota when he awoke with intense stomach pain. “When I was there, even at the hospital, I was thinking, ‘Well, they’ll fix me up here and I’ll be back tonight.’ Slowly, as I understood the injury more, I saw the timetable. If I knew it would be the end of the season for me, it would have been a pretty sad moment.”

Ostrow estimates that he was whisked into surgery roughly 10 minutes after staggering into the emergency room. When Ostrow stated that he simply couldn’t stand the pain any more, it was a telling moment for the team’s medical staff, given that Ostrow had not missed a single game in nearly four full seasons with the Pioneers.

It is little wonder that head coach George Gwozdecky immediately noted the void — both on and off the ice — his team had to overcome with the high-scoring forward sidelined.

“That leadership figure is very important. Probably every bit as important as his game,” Gwozdecky says. “Prior to his surgery, he was playing the best hockey he’s ever played as a Pioneer. You certainly saw us, in many ways, affected by not having him on the ice.”

After missing six games, Ostrow returned last weekend to provide the sort of leadership spark every team craves at this stage of the season. Ostrow admittedly was still getting his legs under him during his first game back, a 3-2 loss against St. Cloud State on Friday, but he shook off the rust to deliver a signature play during Saturday’s win.

With the Pioneers protecting a 2-1 lead and attempting to kill a St. Cloud power play, Ostrow took advantage of a Huskies turnover to score his team-leading third shorthanded goal of the season. The goal allowed Ostrow to become the 93rd member of DU’s 100-point club, and the tally also proved to be the winning goal, giving Ostrow 10 winning goals since the beginning of his sophomore season.

“Saturday he was dynamic. He was arguably the best player on the ice,” Gwozdecky says. “That play that he made short-handed was all heart and work and effort. What a great way to score your 100th point.”

Only one hurdle remains for Ostrow and the rest of DU’s seniors.

While the group has been part of teams that have won the WCHA regular season title (2010) and the league’s tournament crown (2008), the group also has made three trips to the NCAA tournament without recording a single win. A solid postseason start this weekend against Minnesota State could provide a springboard to a better showing in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s so important to be hot and really be growing as a team going into the playoffs,” Ostrow says. “We for sure want to take this weekend and get a win — first and foremost — Friday night and get on a roll from there. When it comes down to the NCAA tournament, our seniors have put a lot on it because we want to finish at the top. But we’ve talked about it so much, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it now.”

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