CHICAGO — Going into the national championship game, Jarid Lukosevicius wasn’t on Denver’s short list of candidates to be named Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player.
That list began with Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher … and continued with Mike Richter Award winner Tanner Jaillet … and went on to first-team All-American Henrik Borgstrom.
Frozen Four 2017
More coverage of the 2017 NCAA men's Frozen Four at Frozen Four Central.
Not that Lukosevicius was the proverbial pylon on Denver’s top line with Terry and Gambrell, able to score points simply by having a stick and a pulse. Lukosevicius was a respected member of the Pioneers, a sophomore who had blossomed to contribute 13 goals and 16 assists after totaling a pedestrian 10 points as a freshman.
His development gave Denver coach Jim Montgomery the confidence to leave Lukosevicius on the top line when he shuffled his lines going into the NCAA tournament.
Nonetheless, Denver’s lineup was sufficiently star-studded that Lukosevicius faced long odds earning an honor as prestigious as Most Outstanding Player.
But a natural hat trick in the national championship game is impossible to ignore. Especially when those three goals were Denver’s sole offense in a heart-pounding, title-winning 3-2 win over Minnesota Duluth.
“You’re asking me hard questions,” he said, laughing, to the assembled media after the game. “This is my first press conference.”
Lukosevicius admitted that his last hat trick was all the way back in midget hockey, adding, “I didn’t even get one in juniors. I wasn’t that good. I wasn’t sure what Monty [Montgomery] saw in me.”
Montgomery saw a lot.
“What I saw was a guy who knew how to score goals and had really good hockey sense,” Montgomery said. “We needed to upgrade our goal-scoring ability, and you never turn away goal scorers.”
But it wasn’t a matter of instant success. There were lessons to be learned and dues to be paid.
“He didn’t understand in his freshman year the work ethic that you need,” Montgomery said. “In his sophomore year, he stayed all summer in Denver. He worked out with our strength and conditioning coach. He was a beast.”
There was also a position change to be made after Trevor Moore signed with the pros in August. Montgomery told Lukosevicius that he was moving from right to left wing. He’d need to learn the differences in playing the off wing.
“Every day you’re on the ice,” Montgomery told him, “take hard passes on your backhand. And you need to shoot every puck you see because we need a goal scorer.”
The position change stuck, and the sophomore moved onto the top line.
“Give him credit because he relished the role and he was hard to play against,” Montgomery said.
Even so, Lukosevicius’s teammates were the ones in the limelight, collecting awards, not him.
Not until the biggest game of the year. When the ultimate piece of hardware was at stake.
Arguably, his teammates did the lion’s share of the work on the goals while Lukosevicius, for a change, got the glory.
His first goal came on a deflection of a Michael Davies shot from the point. The second came on a rebound after Terry’s spinning moves faked a defender into the cheap seats. And the third came off another Terry strong move out of the corner, resulting in a rebound to Lukosevicius 10 feet in front.
“Gams [Gambrell] and Troy did an unbelievable job,” Lukosevicius said. “They forechecked their butt off. I wouldn’t have scored any of those goals if it wasn’t for those two. I just happened to stay in front of the net because I knew that they were going to shoot pucks or bring the puck to the net.
“I was in the right place at the right time.”
Indeed. But isn’t that the name of the game? Putting yourself into the right position and then putting it away when the opportunity arises?
“They’re not easy goals he scored,” Montgomery said. “Everyone says he might have had an open net, but he buried them and he was in the area where it’s tough to score goals. You need players like that, especially on your first line when you have playmakers and dynamic skaters like Gambrell and Terry.”
And especially when you need a hat trick to win a national championship.