SHOW­DOWN AT DU Pi­o­neers host Min­nesota Du­luth

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei Terry Frei: tfrei@den­ver­post.com or @TFrei

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.”

Elsa, Getty Im­ages file

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.

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