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Denver’s players don’t have Frozen Four experience, but coach Jim Montgomery (right) does as a champion in 1993 with Maine (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

In 2004, Denver ended the school’s 18-year Frozen Four drought and won a national championship for the first time since 1969.

The Pioneers won it all again a year later, but this year’s squad is the first team to make it back to the Frozen Four since. Denver made it to Tampa by winning the West Regional and will face conference rival North Dakota in the national semifinals.

2016 Frozen Four

Follow all of USCHO's coverage at Frozen Four Central.

While no player on Denver’s roster has Frozen Four experience, third-year coach Jim Montgomery does. Montgomery won a national championship with Maine in 1993, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period of the title game against Lake Superior State to turn a two-goal deficit into a one-goal victory.

He was the tournament’s most outstanding player and runner-up to linemate Paul Kariya for the Hobey Baker Award as the Black Bears finished 42-1-2.

While he has the experience, Montgomery said he hasn’t delved into his playing days too often with his players.

“They would probably make fun of my clothing and how bad my hair was, when I had hair,” he said last Sunday after Denver defeated Ferris State to win the West Regional. “I think a lot of them have watched it on their own, just out of curiosity and stuff.”

The 1993 Black Bears, however, are helping the 2016 Pioneers. Mainly with everything that Montgomery gleaned from his coach, Shawn Walsh.

“Preparation, ability to communicate and to think about the next play,” Montgomery said of what he took away from Walsh’s coaching style. “He was amazing at getting everyone to believe they could overcome anything. I try to draw back on that, about how positive he was all the time.

“I’m not always positive like he was and in big moments like this, the coach needs to be positive no matter what’s going on.”

Walsh isn’t the only person from whom Montgomery draws inspiration.

“I steal everything from [San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg] Popovich to all the great coaches that I follow,” he said. “There was a golfer a couple years ago that won the Masters, I’m forgetting his name right now, and he said ‘every time I was over a putt, it was about staying in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about my two- or three-shot lead.’ It was something I stole and have been using here for four years.”

A common theme for Denver is to follow “the process,” a phrase that was uttered multiple times by Montgomery and players Grant Arnold and Quentin Shore during the news conference after defeating the Bulldogs in St. Paul, Minn.

“We preach the process, and that’s all that matters with this team,” Arnold said. “It’s not about the scoreboard. It’s about our process and if we execute on our process, we’re going to come out victorious.”

Arnold is a philosopher of sorts when he talks about Denver, as evidenced by when he spoke about going to Tampa for the Frozen Four.

“It’s an amazing feeling, especially as a senior,” he said. “I think about the tough losses that our class has had. I think about the seniors from last year and all of the alumni around the country. Denver is a family. I think about our school and I think about everyone. It’s an awesome accomplishment for us.”

So what exactly is “the process?”

“That’s a good question. You’re making me think deeply, and I’m not Jack Handey,” Montgomery said. “To be honest, the process for every year is the same. It’s about growing and developing players into roles, seeing who has chemistry with who and who can execute on special teams.

“I’m not too concerned with losses in October because I think that allowing people to fail early allows them to gain confidence later in the year, and I think that’s the way you develop a hockey team.”

The process in Montgomery’s first three seasons at the helm for Denver after taking over for George Gwozdecky saw the Pioneers win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in 2014 and go 24-14-2 in 2014-15, falling one game short of the Frozen Four.

This year’s team is 25-9-6 and will face North Dakota for the sixth time this season. Each team won twice during the regular season and the teams tied in the Frozen Faceoff’s third-place game.

Shore was hesitant to delve into the matchup with UND on Sunday, saying that the team has been trying to focus more on itself and not the opponent.

Montgomery took the spotlight off his player, providing a little comic relief and taking a potshot at the state of North Dakota.

“North Dakota’s going to have to deal with the 100-degree weather change; we don’t have to,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to be a lot better hydrated than they are.”

  • Jmst

    Missed a lot of the story in my opinion. And maybe it’ll be coming eventually?

    Would have liked to hear about how Denver turned it around in the second half. Hottest team in the country arguably. Pacific Rim Line. 8th year senior Nolan Zajac who by all accounts should have been at UND (to this day still stings). etc. etc.

    I do like the last quote by Montgomery. Good sense of humor….trying to keep it light.

    • DU_Hockey

      Agree with you, all Zajacs usually wore green. Montgomery proved a lot of people wrong. including myself, by having guts to put Gambrell on first line in January. He was very steady and didn’t panic after UND and SCSU blowouts in December, reminded me of Gwozdecky.

  • Blueline892910

    Denver’s gain and Maine’s lost…sadly JM would be a welcome asset @ UMaine, but never happened as the process with UMaine did not see fit to look into a real Program Builder and instead Denver wasted no time and put the seal of Progress in the hiring of JM. With that said JM and Maine would not be at this years Frozen 4, but the Program would have been far better off and going in the right direction…INSTEAD of spinning there wheels and going backwards and DOWN from a Top Hockey Program to a bottom feeder for Hockey East and a Bottom 10 teams in all of Div.1 Hockey(60 Teams).

    • DU_Hockey

      Probably best Frozen Four Final ever in 2004. Both teams left everything totally on ice.