The University of Denver hockey program opened its preseason training camp with growing buzz surrounding the incoming freshman class.
The Pioneers selected four NHL draft picks. The remaining five players were highly sought after domestic recruits. Could they live up to the hype?
“Early on, we heard this freshman class was going to be good,” senior captain Cole Guttman said. “But they exceeded my expectations.”
DU embarks on its quest for a ninth NCAA championship on Thursday afternoon in its semifinal showdown against Michigan in Boston. His appearance in Frozen Four is not without significant contributions from new players, and more specifically, six freshmen who have played at least 30 games: defensemen Sean Behrens and Shai Buium and forwards Jack Devine, Carter King, Carter Mazur and Massimo Rizzo.
This contingent accounted for 145 points, or 30% of the team’s total production. The future of DU hockey is now.
“This group came with a purpose and they want to leave their mark. It’s exciting,” coach David Carle said. “They integrated into the team. They are no longer freshmen. They are key members of our group.
What happened this season started in the summer. DU conducted a six-week training camp program with dorm-style living in an effort to bring the players, especially the freshmen, closer together as a team. The Pioneers were coming off a 10-win season and were motivated to bring their legendary program back to national prominence.
“We had these 6:30 a.m. practices, which definitely built character,” said Rizzo, a 2019 Hurricanes seventh-round pick. “Then we went to class together and we eat together. We’ll hang out later because there’s not much else to do. When you spend all those six weeks together, it’s easy to become close friends.
The season started with three freshmen who became the main cogs in DU’s efforts: Mazur (22 assists/14 goals), Rizzo (23 assists/11 goals) and Behrens (26 assists/3 goals). Freshmen quickly gained the trust of veteran players.
“We knew they were going to be important parts of our team. Now we see how really good they are and how important they are to our team,” said Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Brink. “It’s really difficult. They are younger than most players. But they make up for that with their skills and work ethic. They fit perfectly.
DU’s ability to recruit elite talent has kept it among college hockey’s Blue Bloods. Carle has contributed to these efforts for more than a decade, dating back to his days as a student assistant coach. The secret of the program to get the best players?
“The recipe hasn’t changed, I’ll tell you, in the last 15 to 20 years,” Carle said. “People want to come here and they want to win. They want to play in times like this. This is a big part of what we talk about as part of the recruitment process.
That championship message came to fruition for the Pioneer’s latest signature class. A win over Michigan sends DU to the championship game on Saturday.
“That’s why I chose to come to Denver,” Mazur said. “It’s something you always dream of as a kid. You want to play in a national championship.