Sports & Recreation / Spring 2017

Pioneers net first NCAA hockey championship since 2005

DU hockey fans around the country cheered on the night of April 8 as the Pioneers defeated the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 3-2 to bring home DU’s first NCAA hockey trophy since the team won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. Photo: Jeff Haynes

Call it a victory 12 years in the making: DU hockey fans around the country stood up and cheered on the night of April 8 as the Pioneers defeated the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 3-2 to bring home DU’s first NCAA hockey trophy since the team won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.

“There’s no better moment than this,” head coach Jim Montgomery said after the game at the United Center in Chicago. “I’m so happy for our student-athletes and our entire team—how hard they competed, how hard they stayed together, and how much they trusted each other and the process.”

Around Denver and around the country, alumni and other DU fans celebrated throughout the week as the Pioneers beat Notre Dame to advance to the final game, and as Montgomery, team captain Will Butcher and goalie Tanner Jaillet received individual NCAA honors. Montgomery was named NCAA hockey coach of the year, while Butcher, a defenseman, received the 2017 Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s highest individual honor. Jaillet, meanwhile, claimed the 2017 Mike Richter Award for outstanding goaltender.

“This is great for the University, great for our fans, great for the city of Denver,” Butcher said after the April 8 final victory. “It’s hard to put into words what this win means. I love each and every one of the guys on this team, and I am so proud of them.”

The final game showcased the star power of sophomore forward Jarid Lukosevicius, who scored all three goals in the match — the first hat trick in a national championship game since 1993, when coach Montgomery, then a center at the University of Maine, scored three times against Lake Superior State to win the national title.

DU’s victory had its share of heartbreak as well — only a few minutes into the third period, junior defenseman Tariq Hammond had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher after suffering an ankle fracture.

“It’s terrible when you see a teammate and a brother go off like that,” Butcher said. “The guy has battled the whole year and in this game especially. It was very tough, but we stuck with it.”


Call it a comeback

Twelve months earlier, the NCAA Tournament was not such a victorious scene for the Pioneers. The team made it to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005, only to suffer a heartbreaking 4-2 loss to the University of North Dakota. Devastating as that disappointment was, it lit the fire for a 2017 championship trophy.

“After that loss, it seemed like everybody was focused from that day on to become better and become committed to excellence,” Butcher said.

Cue a season in which the Pioneers could seemingly do no wrong, compiling a 33-7-4 record, winning 20 of 27 conference matchups, staying at or near the top of the polls all season, and winning two games against in-state rival Colorado College in December to keep the Gold Pan Trophy in Denver for the third consecutive year.

The only major misstep? A loss to former Frozen Faceoff foe North Dakota on day one of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. But even that defeat was a step on the road to victory.

“It was a competitive, back-and-forth battle that we can learn a lot from as we get ready for the NCAA Tournament,” Montgomery said after the loss. “The Fighting Hawks are a hard-checking team that skates well, which is exactly the type of team we’ll be facing at our regional next weekend. Hopefully this setback will be of benefit to us in the long run.”


A victory for all Pioneers

Catalyzed by that setback and still looking to avenge their 2016 tournament defeat, the Pioneers entered the 2017 championships strong and confident, scoring a decisive 6-1 victory over Notre Dame in the semifinals before battling Minnesota-Duluth for the title.

Excitement was high on campus, with a snowy sendoff party on April 4 and a championship celebration the Tuesday after the victory. That event featured appearances by Chancellor Rebecca Chopp, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who declared April 11, 2017, University of Denver Hockey National Champions Day.

“The University of Denver has grown, in the last five or six years — if it’s not hockey, it’s lacrosse; if it’s not lacrosse, it’s skiing,” Hickenlooper told the crowd assembled inside Magness Arena. “You guys are national contenders at a level that I don’t think anybody could have imagined even 10 years ago. And the community here — the fans — make it possible.”

On social media, the #skatefor8 campaign — as in eighth national championship — generated thousands of comments, likes and posts, including congratulatory messages and videos from the Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies and Colorado Avalanche. Even alumna and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the online applause, tweeting her approval and commending the team for a “Great Frozen Four.”

Alumni gathered for watch parties in 14 cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Boston, San Diego, Los Angeles and New York. The Chicago watch party served as more of a pregame celebration, with nearly 300 DU fans — including Chancellor Chopp and the children of coach Montgomery — making the 10-minute trek from the Park Tavern to the United Center for the game.

Among those fans was alumnus Cody Sherrill (BSBA ’07), who was an undergraduate during the back-to-back hockey championships in 2004–05.

“When Hammond got hurt with 16 minutes left and Minnesota was coming at us with everything they had, my whole body was shaking. I was so nervous,” he says. “It seemed like the clock was going so slow. When that final buzzer went off, it was pretty exciting.

“There was so much energy in the crowd,” Sherrill continues. “Minnesota had more fans there, but DU represented really well. A lot of people traveled in for the game, and a lot of people in Chicago went as well. It was pretty special to see in person.”







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