SHOWDOWN AT DU Pioneers host Minnesota Duluth
The weekend matchup of teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally at Magness Arena isn’t a first for the University of Denver hockey program. It’s a second. The No. 2 Pioneers (11-2-3) will host No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (10-2-2) on Friday night and Saturday night, and more will be at stake than national rankings. The Bulldogs have a one-point lead on the Pioneers at the top of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings, and DU comes in with a 14-game unbeaten streak.
The previous 1 vs. 2 series matchup at Magness Arena, which debuted in 1999, was in February 2002, when No. 1 DU and No. 2 St. Cloud State split.
“It’s really energizing,” DU coach Jim Montgomery said. “This is what you play for at any sport. You want to be involved in playing number one versus number two, going head to head to see who’s the best. It’s awesome. But for us, the most important thing is where we are in the standings in the NCHC. It would be nice to be sitting at the top at the Christmas break.”
DU is coming off a home-and-home sweep of archrival Colorado College. UMD has had two weekends off since beating Nebraska Omaha 3-2 on Nov. 19. Senior forward Adam Iafallo, from Eden, N.Y., is the Bulldogs’ top scorer, with nine goals and 19 points, and senior forward Kyle Osterberg has eight goals and 14 points.
“It’s going to be a great week of hockey,” said senior defenseman Will Butcher, the Pioneers’ leading scorer, with three goals and 17 points. “We’re looking forward to it. Our team’s playing really well right now. There’s still room for improvement. It’s still early and there are some young guys who don’t follow what we call the process 100 percent of the time, so once we get there, and our details are great and we’re following the process, we’re a hard team to play against.”
As for the Bulldogs, Butcher said, “They have a lot of older forwards who are scoring a lot of goals, so we’re going to have to be great defensively, and it all starts with Tanner (Jaillet) in net.”
Butcher was the Avalanche’s fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft, has attended several of the team’s development camps and in some ways seems to have many physical and stylistic similarities to Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie. But Colorado hasn’t yet made a serious run at signing him. In the meantime, he’s a senior leader for DU.
“He’s been exceptional,” Montgomery said. “If there’s somebody nationally who’s been more important to his team’s success than him, that kid’s having an unbelievable season. I think he’s a Hobey Baker (Award) candidate.”
DU’s leading scorer this season is senior defenseman Will Butcher, a former Avs draft pick who has three goals and 17 points. “He’s been exceptional . ... I think he’s a Hobey Baker (Award) candidate,” says DU coach Jim Montgomery.