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Denver powered past Boston University and Ferris State at the West Regional (photo: Jim Rosvold).

In some ways, the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and West Regional were a microcosm of the Denver Pioneers’ season.

After struggling in the first half and ending by losing four straight games against North Dakota and St. Cloud State, Denver went on a tear in the second half, making the Frozen Faceoff for the third straight year. There, it faltered again, losing to St. Cloud and then eking out a lackluster 1-1 tie with North Dakota in the third-place game.

2016 Frozen Four

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

Denver then rebounded with an impressive performance in the regional, crushing Boston University 7-2 and then defeating a pesky Ferris State team 6-3 to advance to its first Frozen Four since 2005, the last year Denver won a national championship.

“We’ve been so hungry since the second half, and I think the first half of the season we took some things for granted,” Denver captain Grant Arnold said. “Since then it’s been, let’s get better every day at practice.”

The game against Ferris State proved a good test of Denver’s strength mentally, as the Pioneers found themselves tied 3-3 late in the third period despite having outplayed Ferris and having substantially outshot them.

“We talked about that, that it would be a hard win and even though we were in control of it, we just thought positively and forged ahead,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery, who alluded to lessons from last year’s regional final loss to Providence.

“I think it’s something we learned from last year in Providence. I learned as a coach how that five-minute [penalty late in the game] affected me and our team. It affected our bench when we went behind 2-1. We were just talking about the next play.”

About the Pioneers

Coach: Jim Montgomery, third season at Denver and overall

Record: 25-9-6, (17-5-2 NCHC, third)

How they got to the Frozen Four: Defeated Boston University 7-2 and Ferris State 6-3 to win the West Regional

Regional seed: Second

Last Frozen Four appearance: 2005

Best NCAA finish: Champion, 2005, 2004, 1969, 1968, 1961, 1960, 1958

Why they’ll win the national championship: The Pacific Rim Line provides a lot of explosive offense, and the defensive corps is strong and tested. That combo has made Denver one of the hottest teams in the country since January.

Why they won’t win the national championship: While Denver has been hot, the Pioneers have sometimes gotten into defensive battles, and Tanner Jaillet hasn’t been at the level of the other three goalies in the Frozen Four. An offensive outage could be costly.

— Candace Horgan

One of the keys to Denver’s second-half success has been the play of its top line. Junior Trevor Moore, sophomore Danton Heinen and freshman Dylan Gambrell caught fire. The line, dubbed the Pacific Rim Line because of their West Coast roots, came up big in the West Regional, factoring on four goals with five points in the game against BU and four goals with seven points against Ferris.

That followed a disappointing performance in the conference tournament in Minneapolis where the line was held to a single assist in a 4-2 loss to St. Cloud State and then a goal with assists against North Dakota.

“I don’t really know what happened in Minneapolis; it just didn’t really happen for us,” said Moore. “We came into this past weekend saying we’ve got to do it. We can’t have a weekend like that this weekend and move on, so we kind of put it on ourselves to really try to outcompete the other teams we played against, and it worked out.”

In the Frozen Four, Denver will face a familiar opponent in North Dakota. The two have gone 2-2-1 against each other this season.

“It’s a fitting Frozen Four — North Dakota-Denver,” Arnold said. “I’ve experienced this rivalry at its highest high, and now I’ll have experienced it at its highest high after this game.

“It’s awesome. It’s a great, great rivalry, and it’s the rubber match for us. In that game, I think you will see everything that Division I hockey is: speed, great coaching, physicality, great goaltending, everything.”

One key for Denver will be its ability to contain the CBS Line of North Dakota’s Brock Boeser, Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz.

“They can make great plays and score a lot of goals in a little amount of time and a little amount of space, so just be aware when they are on the ice is the key thing you can do against them, to take away their time and space as a group,” said Denver senior defenseman Nolan Zajac. “It’s not just going to be one guy; it’s got to be all five guys on the ice. So I think if we stick with that, we’ll be fine.”

Added Montgomery: “You have to make sure that you don’t give them second-chance opportunities by trying to pass through them or turning pucks over. I’d like to match our line right up against them. I think it’d be great for college hockey to see the two of them go head to head.”

  • University of Hockey

    Montgomery wants to match the Pacific Rim line up against the CBS but UND has last change and will probably put their 2nd line on Denver’s top line. It worked against the CCM line vs Michigan and ideally will free up the CBS line to make plays.

    • DU_Fan

      That might work out better for Denver. After TV breaks, DU will probably put the Pacific Rim Line out a lot. Does that mean the CBS line will not get as much ice time?

      • stod_2

        Plenty of ice ice time still left. Not like there are so many tv breaks that they will get to play half the game. I know we always say that the top lines get more ice in the NT and they do, but if we actually put a number of shifts count on it, do you really think they would get any more than maybe 4 or 5 more shifts than normal? I like the UND Johnson line against the pacific rim line from our perspective. Should be a great game.

        • DU_Fan

          Should be a terrific game, can hardly wait. Seems like this year there were fewer TV breaks than the last couple of years during the regional. Maybe it is me, did you notice the same thing? If that stays the same through FF, you are correct only about 4 or 5 extra shifts for the PRL. Think line matches after icings will be key too.

          • stod_2

            Agreed that the breaks seem to be fewer. I honestly don’t have a preference for line matches this year for UND. I do think that the UND staff will try and match their 2 versus DUs #1.

          • DU_Fan

            Call me selfish, but I would love to see the #1’s match up against each other. Think that would be great for the fans, and would not favor either team that much.

          • Alec

            Breaks were the same. TV time outs at the 15, 10, and 5 minute marks, give or take.

          • DU_Fan

            Their were only about 3 breaks in each period at the regional games in MSP, last year there were more.

          • Alec

            Always been three a period as far as I know. But no big deal. When you’re there, they’re annoying no matter how many there are. :)

          • DU_Fan

            Agree, and they seem longer too. :-)

          • stod_2

            I’d be fine with that. Our top line controls the puck a lot it seems no matter who they are on the ice against. Not sure that is really what DU wants. And the fact that Montgomery is saying that’s what he wants makes be think he really doesn’t want that at all.

  • Jmst

    Good article, Candace!

    • Candace

      Thanks!

  • DU_Fan

    Airfare for two, $1200. Hotel for four nights, $680. Two lower bowl tickets, $520. Seeing your team in the Frozen Four, PRICELESS. I will be there, hoping to see three great games!

  • Sparky

    Nice work Candace, yet another nice write up. In these single game situations I think so much is put on the top players…or lines. Sometimes so much attention is put on the obvious that a team’s success often comes from a player or situation that, in hindsight, was not accounted for prior to the puck drop. I suspect I was the only person in CH who thought Blake Hillman was capable of winning the MVP prior to the West regional (not saying I predicted it). My point is, it will not surprise me if a kid like Joel Janatuinen (UND), or Jarid Lukosevicius (DU) ends up netting the game winner. It’s just the nature of things when you are talking about a single game.