This is the second of four previews for teams playing in the 2022 Men’s Frozen Four this week in Boston. Click here for all of USCHO’s Frozen Four coverage.
Season record: 29-9-1.
How they got here: Won the Loveland Regional by defeating UMass Lowell 3-2 and Minnesota Duluth 2-1.
Top players: F Bobby Brink (14-42-56), F Cole Guttman (19-26-45), D Mike Benning (14-20-34).
Top goalie: Magnus Chrona (26-8-1, 2.16 goals-against average, .909 save percentage).
Why they’ll win the national championship: Brink could make this Frozen Four his, but not just on his own. Of his nation-leading 56 points, 42 came on assists.
Why they won’t win the national championship: They might not even make the national championship game. Denver gutted out a pair of one-goal games during a regional in which it effectively played on home ice. Now, it travels to the East Coast to meet a Michigan team that just about scored for fun in Allentown.
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In 2004, the last time Denver played NCAA tournament hockey in the Pioneers’ home state before this season, they won the national championship in Boston.
You’ll never guess how this year’s tournament is tracking.
Denver just won two regional games in nearby Loveland, Colo., outlasting UMass Lowell and Minnesota Duluth in a pair of one-goal victories. Eighteen years ago, in Colorado Springs, the Pioneers beat Miami and North Dakota in one-goal games.
Now, the Pioneers are going back to Boston for another Frozen Four, and Denver’s first since 2019, at the end of coach David Carle’s first season.
Carle was 14 during that 2004 season, when his brother, Matt, helped the Pioneers to their sixth national title. This is a different time, however, with a different team, and the younger Carle is excited to see DU build on what it accomplished in Loveland.
“It was great to have our fan base there,” Carle said. “Really appreciate the support and all the people driving up to Loveland. Obviously a tied-in connection with (former DU coach) Ralph Backstrom and his involvement in getting the Colorado Eagles started, and someone we’re honoring, due to his passing last year, on our jerseys, this year with his initials.
“So I think it meant the world to our fan base and the Loveland community and people that played for Ralph in our program to be able to have the regional in Loveland. There’s a lot of symmetry there and obviously all the better that we were able to win two really good hockey games against two great programs.”
Denver was made to work for everything the Pioneers got in Loveland. DU trailed early in its 3-2, first-round victory over Lowell, and Cameron Wright scored the winning goal with just under three minutes left. Carter Savoie scored the winner against UMD with 6:16 left after an initial Sean Behrens shot bounced off both the end wall and Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti, who had been terrific down the stretch this season.
None of the other schools that participated in the 2004 Frozen Four will be there this time around. Can the Pioneers hoist the national championship trophy again in that same arena? Carle is eager to find out, with a grueling but successful regional trip up the road now in the rear-view mirror.
“The efforts in either game were not easy — both tied going into the third period,” Carle said. “We stuck with our game plan and found a way to execute and to get two hard-fought, one-goal games.
“Proud of the group, excited to be heading to Boston with obviously a very high-end group of four teams duking it out in the Frozen Four.”