Wednesday, September 28, 2005

2005-06 SEASON PREVIEW
Overview: The University of Denver Pioneers attempt to become only the second team in history to win three consecutive NCAA Division I Hockey Championships (Michigan '51, '52, '53). Co-captains Matt Carle and Gabe Gauthier led an eclectic bunch of superstars, role players and overachievers into the WCHA fray in 2005-06. This years team will rely on a talented goaltender tandem, the best defenseman in college hockey and two superstar forwards.

Certainly DU's top players can play with anyone, but its been Coach Gwozdecky's ability to squeeze remarkable play out of his role players in the past two seasons that has separated DU from the other college hockey powers. The 2004 National Championship team was built around a relentless trapping defense that blocked shots, tough physical checking and forming a wall around Adam Berkhoel. The 2005 edition, featured an attacking, opportunistic offense that led the country in scoring most of the season. Due to graduation losses and Brent Skinner's NHL defection, this year's team will need a third identity. I see a team more effective in special team situations, even faster than last year but obviously less experienced.


THE FRESHMEN: Like last season, championship hopes will depend heavily on the performance of the Freshman Class. Assistant coaches Steve Miller and Seth Appert have seemingly done it again, recruiting one of the top classes in the country (INCH ranked #6). Incoming recruits T.J. Fast, Brock Trotter, Chris Butler, Julian Marcuzzi, Patrick Mullen & J.P. Testwuide will need to produce for DU to win it all again. Word around Denver is that Brock Trotter (58 pts, USHL Lincoln Stars) has been sensational in early practice. If the form holds, he will get plenty of time on the power play. How far DU gets in the playoffs will probably depend on the play of defensemen T.J. Fast (Calgary, Alberta) and Chris Butler (St. Louis, Mo.) a USHL all-star last seaon. Speedy forward Patrick Mullen (37 points last season for the Sioux Falls Stampede) will get an opportunity to play on one of the four lines. Julian Marcuzzi (N. Vancouver, BC) is a highly regarded defenseman who played for Salmon Arm last season in Canada. Marcuzzi was the #1 rated college bound defenseman to come out of British Columbia last season. Finally, Vail native J.P. Testwuide played for Waterloo last season in the USHL.


THE OFFENSE: Denver graduated a bunch of scrappy goal scorers like Luke Fulghum, Kevin Ulanski, Jeff Drummond & Jon Foster. Nonetheless the standouts return, lead by 2004-05 DU MVP Gabe Gauthier and INCH's ROY Paul Stastny. Both players will be all-WCHA candidates and should vie for the team scoring title. They are excellent two way players and both excell in big game situations. Once again Stastny will quarterback the Power Play. Assistant Captain Ted O' Leary, J.D. Corbin, Geoff Paukovich, Ryan Dingle, Tom May, Adrian Veideman, Michael Handza & Ryan Helgason will be counted upon to replace the goalscorers that graduated last summer. Dingle is very much an under-rated talent and if paired with Stastny again, will surely see his numbers rise. Adrian Veideman is Gwozdecky's super-sub, rotating from line to line, mixed in with a little "D" on the PP. Gwoz tinkers with Veideman almost obsessively, but you can always count on him to play very hard and give maximum effort. Corbin, who is the fastest player on the team, will be counted on for more goals this season.


THE DEFENSE: Denver's usually superior blue line will have some fresh faces this year. Lead by future San Jose Shark Matt Carle and the uber reliable sophomore Andrew Thomas, DU's defense will rely heavily on the Freshmen. If the Freshmen D-men falter, DU will be in for a long season. Denver's recent success has been built about shrewd recruiting and an airtight defensive scheme orchestrated by Coach Gwozdecky. DU's recent playoff successes have been in no small part due to offensive contributions from Ryan Caldwell in 2004 and Matt Carle last season. Freshman T.J. Fast supposedly has an offensive flair that will be needed to replace Brent Skinner. Andrew Thomas will benefit from Skinner's departure and will see his assists totals rise on the Power Play. Zack Blom should see more ice time this season.


THE GOALTENDERS: The goaltenders are first class with Frozen Four MVP Peter Mannino and Edmonton Oilers draftee Glenn Fisher manning the pipes. Mannino (2.19 GAA) led the team with 18 wins and was fantastic throughout the season. Certainly, he won't have the security of a Senior laden defensive corps in front of him this season. Glenn Fisher (2.89 GAA), will be looking to increase his save percentage this season, had a 14-5-1 record. Fisher had some big wins during the season and was named one of DU's two most improved players.


THE VERDICT: All in all, DU has most of the pieces in place to make another run at the title. Certainly the loss of Captain Brent Skinner to the Vancouver Canucks was a huge loss, but Gwozdecky and staff have had the magic touch lately. Carle & Gauthier should be Hobey Baker candidates, an award never won by a DU player. With most of the top players in returning, who's to say they can't win it all a third straight time?

Once again I expect to see you & DU at the Frozen Four in Milwaukee....
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2005-06 DU Roster
(Click on player name for complete biography)


#2 Zach Blom (Jr.)
6-0/185
Defenseman
Englewood, Colo.
Wichita Falls Rustlers (NAHL)
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#4 Chris Butler (Fr.)
6-1/185
Defenseman
St. Louis, Missouri
Sioux City (USHL)
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#25 Matt Carle (Jr.) Co-Captain
6-0/195
Defenseman
Anchorage, Alaska
River City Lancers (USHL)
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#3 Steven Cook (Jr.)
6-1/190
Forward
Denver, Colo.
River City Lancers (USHL)
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#21 J.D. Corbin (Jr.)
5-10/185
Forward
Littleton, Colo.
USNTDP
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#19 Ryan Dingle (So.)
5-10/190
Forward
Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Tri-City Storm (USHL)
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#20 T.J Fast (Fr.)
6-0/185
Defenseman
Calgary, Alberta
Camrose (AJHL)
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#28 Glenn Fisher (Jr.)
6-1/190
Goaltender
Edmonton, Alberta
Fort Saskatchewan Traders (AJHL)
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#9 Gabe Gauthier (Sr.) Co-Captain
5-9/200
Forward
Buena Park, Calif.
Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)
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#6 Mike Handza (Jr.)
6-1/210
Forward
Glenshaw, Pa.
Pittsburgh Forge (NAHL)
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#10 Ryan Helgason (Jr.)
6-0/195
Forward
Woodbury, Minn.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs (AWHL)
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#8 Jon James (Jr.)
6-1/195
Defenseman
Arnold, Md.
Chicago Freeze (NAHL)
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#30 Danny King (Jr.)
5-10/170
Goaltender
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Huntsville Wildcats (OPJAHL)
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#29 Peter Mannino (So.)
6-0/200
Goaltender
Farmington Hills, Mich.
Tri-City Storm (USHL)
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#36 Julian Marcuzzi (Fr.)
5-10/205
Defenseman
N. Vancouver, British Columbia
Salmon Arm (BCHL)
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#14 Tom May (So.)
6-3/215
Forward
Eagan, Minn.
Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
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#23 Brock McMorris Red Shirt (Jr.)
5-11/190
Forward
Cherry Hills, Colo.
Topeka Scarecrows (USHL)
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#27 Patrick Mullen (Fr.)
5-10/170
Forward
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sioux Falls (USHL)
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#18 Ted O'Leary (Sr.) Asst. Captain
5-11/200
Forward
Arvada, Colo.
Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL)
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#12 Geoff Paukovich (So.)
6-4/220
Forward
Englewood, Colo.
USNTDP
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#26 Paul Stastny (So.)
6-0/210
Forward
St. Louis, Mo.
River City Lancers (USHL)
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#11 J.P. Testwuide (Fr.)
6-0/210
Defenseman
Vail, Colorado
Waterloo(USHL)
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#5 Andrew Thomas (So.)
6-2/220
Defenseman
Bow, N.H.
Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
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#39 Brock Trotter (Fr.)
5-10/170
Forward
Brandon, Manitoba
Lincoln (USHL)
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#7 Adrian Veideman (Jr.)
6-2/190
Forward
Sicamous, British Columbia
Salmon Arm SilverBacks (BCHL)
___________

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Creating Emotional Bonds Report

Report on School Spirit at DU


"Creating Emotional Bonds"

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Ten recommendations for creating the optimum collegiate spectator experience for DU athletic events


June, 2004

by Tom Douglis '86 & Damien Goddard '88


"Its not exactly breaking news that college sports has several natural advantages over the pros, including pageantry and the infusion of spirit by students and alumni."
-Jon Saraceno, USA Today Columnist

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Athletics as bonding opportunity

Make spectator experience collegiate

Leverage DU visual history

Benchmark fan experience vs. privates

Upgrade Denver pep band

Upgrade student section experience

Enhance fan communications

Establish preliminary funding

Consider implementation realities

Create leadership infrastructure



Introduction

This report is designed to assist the University of Denver to improve student/alumni involvement at athletic events. The alumni authors of this report maintain that a sustained university-wide effort to upgrade school traditions, school spirit and the overall collegiate athletic spectator experience will be a vital link in the all-important effort to generate stronger emotional attachments and bonds within the University community. Ultimately, these bonds create the kind of involved, passionate and supportive students and alumni that the University will increasingly need in the future.

The case for creating more emotional bonds now is compelling. Even as DU continues to rise in academic quality and differentiates itself in the coming years to increasingly compete with more elite private colleges and universities, the overall college enrollment pool will begin to decline in 2008 due to demographic change, making competition for price-elastic students more intense than ever before. A more active and energized bonding experience will be a critical awareness and marketing tool for attracting, retaining and engaging more prospects, students, alumni and community members and imbuing them a higher sense of affiliation with our university.

The authors of the report are mid -1980s alumni of the University of Denver, whose deep passion for our school fostered our leadership approaches to generating school spirit in our undergraduate days (Damien as a student cheer section founder, and Tom as Clarion Sports Editor). We carry this same spirit into action in 2004: Damien once again led our NCAA hockey cheering section at the Frozen Four, and Tom is lead consultant in the University’s overall branding efforts. Both of us were in Boston to cheer on the Pioneers last April, we thought it best to commit our thoughts to paper while the sounds of victory were still fresh in our ears, in order to share it with a wider audience. This is a great moment for the University of Denver, and should serve as a launching pad for a more coordinated effort to bring this momentum home to Denver.

While our report centers on hockey, many suggestions could be applicable to other DU sports as well. By looking backwards, peering forward and striving for excellence with this effort, the University of Denver can reap seven primary benefits:


  • Create an awesome home field/court/ice advantage for its athletic teams, resulting in a greater sense of community support, school identity and greater performances

  • Increase the sense of tradition, continuity and affiliation with the university over time

  • The students who lead this endeavor will gain confidence, communication and organizational skills they will use in future business, social and charitable endeavors

  • The students who follow will become more emotionally invested in their university and its welfare, and will become more passionate and committed alumni

  • The University’s image and reputation will rise as it is seen as a special place worth cheering about

  • New prospective students will be favorably impressed

  • Existing alumni will feel passions rekindled and a greater sense of affiliation and obligation to continue (or start) supporting the school
View DU Athletics as a Primary Bonding Opportunity
Athletics are also perhaps the largest and most powerful tool the university has to fuel our “brand awareness” in regions where the University is less visible, to engage our alumni and friends around the country and to bring our “campus renaissance” to new places.
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When the University of Denver made the decision to upgrade its athletic programs to full NCAA Division I status in the late 1990s, it made a substantial investment in facilities,infrastructure, coaches and support personnel. And the results have been dramatic and salutary, with the athletic performance and academic/character success leading to a Sears Cup ranking in the top third of Division I institutions. In short, DU is doing all the right things on the field/ice/court, as well as in the classroom – the two most important areas of any athletic program. This report is written to help the third dimension – what happens in the seats!
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The authors are fully aware that University of Denver athletic events face stiff attendance competition from a multitude of diversions in a growing and increasingly cosmopolitan metropolitan area – seven professional sports teams and four other (larger) Division I schools within a 90 minute drive from campus come instantly to mind, as well as the plethora of ski areas and other recreational and cultural opportunities offered in the state.
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The positioning and marketing of Denver sports should remain the responsibility of those marketing professionals already in place. But we also contend that with a spirit upgrade, the athletic experience will be far richer and more rewarding for all.
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One of the greatest generators of emotional attachment between student and university is the athletic spectator experience. It is one of the few areas where a student can invest and share his/her direct emotional capital with the university over a sustained period, spanning the years between prospect, student and alumnus. While the academic emotional bond often recedes when a student graduates or leaves, the athletic spectator bond is communal, visible and sustainable over time.

Make the Sports Spectator Experience More “Collegiate”
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But hosting large crowds is only part of the challenge. We must engage these crowds in ways that reflect our unique character as a premier private university, not just a local entertainment provider. To excite hockey crowds, the University must approach each game night as a chance to reinforce a University of Denver overall brand experience from a multi-sensory standpoint.
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The current (2003-2004) hockey game night experience, in our view, reflects a desire to stage a “mini-Avalanche” experience, which also closely replicates minor league hockey game nights all over North America. Magness Arena “feels” like a mini-version of the Pepsi Center. This kind of professional sports approach is not unusual in college hockey, but to better stand out in the Denver sports marketplace, DU should do all it can to make our game environment feel more collegiate.
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In a collegiate-based game night experience, as you would find at Cornell, Minnesota or Michigan, for example, an enthused student section and active pep band drive the game night experience with coordinated cheering and spirit. The events become a driving, central force to unify each university’s unique image, rather than simply a minor league hockey image such as that currently projected at DU. By cheering DU cheers and playing University of Denver-related music, a unique reinforcement of Denver’s identity and allegiance would shape the crowd and better bond the fans to the school. School colors should be encouraged in all fans. Every new student should be given a Denver scarf, pennant, hat or hockey jersey as a welcome gift, and incentives should be created for imaginative fan sartorial displays.
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Ultimately, we’d like to generate an experience that makes people feel a part of the DU experience, rather than simply as attendees at a Denver-area sporting event. As the University’s flagship sport, our ice hockey program is once again at the pinnacle of the sport after 35 years of trying to regain its rightful place among the NCAA’s elite hockey programs. And, combining the 2004 national championship aura with the likely coming labor stoppage in NHL hockey, the DU program stands to sell-out most of its home schedule and become the dominant hockey product in the Denver market.
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Visually Leverage DU’s Rich 135-Year Athletic History
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DU has been playing intercollegiate sports since 1867, and we should be more visual with our athletic history beyond just the current glass-case displays at Magness Arena. We should create a uniquely Denver visual experiences through larger banners and large photo murals (as shown below at Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena) and by using our Jumbotron video scoreboard to bring Denver history to life for all fans, with replays of famous Pioneer sports moments.
Benchmark Fan Experience vs. Top Privates (e.g. Cornell)
While we’d all love to see Big 10 (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.) levels of fan support at Denver, we realize that such an atmosphere is unlikely to be cultivated at a small private university like ours, due to the size of the school and the available resources. We do, however, believe that there are attainable models of private school fan support.
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Cornell University enjoys the most fervent and consistent hockey game night support of any private university in the United States. James Lynah Rink is Standing Room Only for every game, with the most active and involved student support anywhere. (Note that our own Athletic Director at Denver, Dr. Dianne Murphy, came from the Cornell Athletic Department where she was Associate Athletic Director.) Since Cornell is an aspirational peer institution for the University of Denver, we thought it would be useful to include some thoughts from their fan base as inspiration for our own. Via the Internet, the authors asked some fervent Cornell fans (“The Lynah Faithful” as they are known, after the name of the arena) to tell us “how they get the arena cheering in a coordinated fashion”
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Upgrade the Denver Pep Band
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Denver needs to take a much more active role with regard to funding, developing and showcasing its pep band at hockey events. While Denver’s band is small and sincere, it is largely passive, appears only rarely at hockey games and has a limited repertoire. In addition, Denver’s fight song, written in the 1920s, should be played more often (at least after every goal) and with much more volume and activity. The words should be taught to all undergraduates continually through orientation, and to the rest of the community via the scoreboards, with contests and prizes awarded for those groups who excel. In fact, there are many unique and proprietary University of Denver songs dating from the time before radio and television that could be re-integrated into university life. Tom has a DU songbook dating from 1917 with over 30 such songs that he would be pleased to share with the leadership of the pep band program.
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We also recommend that every effort be made to fund band travel to key away hockey games, especially Colorado College and any NCAA regional or national competition. Even when such travel is not possible, every effort should be made to obtain a quality substitute band from a nearby college or university, and supply them with Denver shirts and music to our fight song.
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Denver’s Lamont School of Music could be an even greater resource to help develop this important aspect of our game experience, fostering a greater relationship between the arts and sports as key community touch-points. DU should consider small credit hour discounts for Lamont and other non-music students who play in the band and who attend games regularly. This is a “soft dollar” incentive that could provide immediate benefits, in particular, creating more band members. Larger numbers would enable the band to split commitments so that they can play regularly at both basketball and hockey games.

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At Cornell, Wisconsin, Michigan or Yale, the pep band is a huge part of the game night experience. Active, loud and full of spirit, these bands (and many others like them at other schools) fill arenas with the sound of college. At these schools, fans know the words and actually sing fight songs, and they have a real meaning in connecting the generations of fans with a common bond across the decades through auditory triggers.


Upgrade the DU Student Section Experience
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The first question is what organizational form should the Student & Alumni cheering sections take? There may still be some remaining brand equity and recognition in the Bleacher Creature name and organization, but of course, there are no bleachers in the Magness. Perhaps it is possible to remove a few rows of seats and replace them with bleachers? The original seats could be placed in storage and reattached at a future date. Marketing the “bleacher seats” to your most rabid fans would symbolize the importance of fan participation. There would be “status” attached to the seats and the alums (at least from the ‘80s) would snap them up. The fans in the bleacher seats would lead the cheers and it would be a great reminder of the old DU Arena. It is not inconceivable that the bleacher seats could become popular and that more could be added in the future.
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We should work to get T-Shirts donated to the student section from one (or more) of our corporate sponsors. Prize giveaways would primarily go to those students who wear the shirts, school colors or spirited costumes to the games. Bright colored shirts are better for television recognition (Michigan Basketball student wear yellow). As a point of reference, Budweiser donated the shirts to the Bleacher Creatures in 1986.
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We should consider always holding a major pep rally before the Homecoming game. This could include a “meet the team” element, prize giveaways (game-worn jerseys, etc.), teaching cheers and instructing students on desired fan attire. Additionally, Damien would enjoy the opportunity to share his cheer section skills by helping to “train” interested potential student cheer section leaders for that game and for the season as a whole.
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We can look back on own experiences in shaping the DU student cheering in the 1980s, when Damien’s “Bleacher Creatures” initiative made Denver’s old arena balcony one of the top student sections in the WCHA. Restoring that kind of organization today must be student-driven to be effective, but with some guidance and effort, it can be helped along by DU alumni and the administration.
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Theme nights are a great way to build unity and excitement. Toga nights, 70’s nights, Halloween, or movie theme nights (music from the theme or movie clips are played during timeouts -- Austin Powers, Old School, Caddyshack, etc.) are fun for the students and fans and, interspersed with old DU sports moments could be effective in generating a more animated student section.

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Building Local Alumni support

We think it would be a good idea to sell authentic DU hockey jerseys via special order with the year of graduation and “Alumnus” as the name on the back. (e.g.‘88 or ‘72). This might be difficult, but making an effort to seat the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s alumni in block sections would build camaraderie and probably would be helpful in generating school spirit.
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Road Trips

DU fans had a great time in Boston in 2004. This NCAA experience suggests that the University should consider sponsoring annual trips to other games, such as bus trips to Colorado College games. Such trips may lose money if every seat isn’t sold, but the longterm benefits of implementing these road trips should outweigh the small costs. In addition, Boston area alums should be encouraged to organize and rally for 2004 games at Boston College and Northeastern, Chicago/Milwaukee area alumni should rally in Madison, Wis., and Minnesota-based alumni should do the same in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
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What else can be done to make the games more fun for the students?

  • General admission student seating ensures the most avid fans get the best seats
  • Let the students vote for some of the music during timeouts (online, in cafeterias, before the games?)
  • Feature the students on the Jumbotron during timeouts
  • Encourage them to come up with other creative gimmicks and ideas. In other words, give the students a stake in the team and the activities.
Enhance Fan Communications
Email, Blogs, Websites, E-vites, Message Boards & Electronic Newsletters. Nothing is more effective and inexpensive than starting an email newsletter to get your message and excitement out to fans. This newsletter could be handled by DU alumni volunteers, at no cost to the university, and could be coordinated with a new DU hockey fan web site, where information, cheers, and giveaways could be coordinated. These newsletters do not have to be directly affiliated with the university and usually are more effective if they promote free speech and progressive ideas. Collecting emails addresses of students can be done in front of the classroom buildings, at the season ticket campout, cafeterias & residence halls and can be tied into promotional giveaways. Fan & alumni emails can be collected before the games perhaps between periods.
Establish Preliminary Funding Avenues


In 1986 most of the Bleacher Creature money came from corporate sources and local businesses:• 250 shirts were donated by Budweiser• Advertising was sold on the cards placed on the bleacher seats• Advertising was sold in the DU Hockey News• Students kicked in some money• The Student Senate sponsored the bus trip to CC.• At the 1986 Final Four, DU gave Damien a budget ($500) to create fanexcitement. In 1987, the money came from the Student Senate (student activity fee)• Utilized DU purchase orders to order novelties via mail order

Potential Funding Sources for 2004-2008• Corporate sponsors• Local businesses• Student Senate• Trustee approved funds• Alumni donations• Seat license fees• Fundraisers• Special DU budgets• Hockey seat surcharges
Consider Implementation Realities

1. Willpower - Does the University of Denver want to proceed with this project?

• Administration Yes / No
• Athletic Department Yes / No
• Faculty Yes / No
• Trustees Yes / No
• Hockey Team/Coaches Yes / No
• Students Yes / No
• Alumni Yes / No

2. Capital

Start-up capital needed for 2004-2005 hockey season: $5,000-$10,000 Preliminary purchase intentions:• Balloons• Pioneer power packs• Candy for kids (builds family/fun -- perhaps handed out by Ruckus)• Banners• Face paint• Novelty items• Printing• Website• Drums• Other giveaway items• Fund pep rallies• Subsidize student and/or pep band bus charter to CC games• “Thunder sticks” and other noisemakers

Create Leadership Infrastructure

Encouraging DU fans to cheer at the games is the easy part. The greater challenge is setting up an infrastructure to allow the excitement to build into something great for the university.
A number of DU entities could be involved in the creation of this program, for example:• Athletics/Sports Marketing• Hockey Coaches/Staff• Friends of Pioneer Athletics• Administration• Alumni and Parent Relations• Office of Communication and Marketing• Admissions/Enrollment Management• Lamont School of Music/Pep Band• Cheerleaders/Mascot• Office of Student Life• Student Senate• DU Programs Board• Student Media• Corporate sponsors/local businesses• Interested individuals• Student leaders
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Conclusion:
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We hope this report is some assistance to the University in its quest to improve student/alumni involvement at athletic events. We believe an upgrade in school spirit, a return to school traditions and an improved collegiate athletic spectator experience will be invaluable in forming stronger emotional bonds between students, alumni and the University.
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This report is, of course, intended as a preliminary guide only, and we understand that the suggestions herein will be modified, enhanced or deleted depending on the wishes of the administration. At the same time, we hope this report has communicated at least a fraction of ou own passion for enhancing the DU spectator experience for the benefit of everyone connected with our community. We look forward to your support!

GO PIONEERS!


Feel Free to add comments , ideas and suggestions below.

The History of DU Hockey

Denver Pioneers: 55 Years of Overcoming Obstacles

by Tom Douglis/Special to USCHO

(Left) Legendary DU Hockey Coach Murray Armstrong


In the days following the University of Denver's 2004 NCAA Championship victory over Maine, writers and pundits attributed the success of Denver's hockey program to a variety of factors. Words like "goaltending," "grit," a "loosey-goosey attitude" and "senior leadership" were tossed around in abundance. Some even called it a "Cinderella story" after the lowest seeded team of the Frozen Four skated away with the championship trophy.

Such comments, while perhaps true, also sell the program short. The real story of the Denver Pioneers' resurgence, after a 35-year absence from the pinnacle, is a much deeper one that reflects a proud program's determination to overcome years of obstacles — some real, some psychological, but all of them difficult. Ten such obstacles mark the evolution and development of the Pioneer program across history.

Obstacle One: Starting from Scratch (1949-1951)
To understand Denver's place in college hockey, we must turn back the clock some 55 years to the birth of the program, just after World War II. At that time, there was no ice arena in town, no native pool of players to draw upon, and little hockey history in the area. The first big obstacle would be just starting a hockey program and making it viable.

The University of Denver, a private university founded in 1864 (before Colorado was even a state), was already over 80 years old with functioning football, baseball, basketball and track programs. Denver athletic director Ellison Ketchum saw the opportunity to raise the visibility of university athletics by upgrading the facilities on campus. Ketchum managed to acquire a donated WWII surplus Naval drill hall that had stood in Farragut, Idaho, from the U.S. War Assets Administration. The U.S. government paid for the dismantling and shipping of the facility to Denver, where it was re-erected on campus as the new University of Denver Arena. It would stand for nearly 50 years as the home of Pioneer hockey. (A similar war surplus facility was also re-erected at RPI, which is now Houston Fieldhouse.)

In 1949, under coach Vern Turner (the former rink manager of he Broadmoor Ice Palace in Colorado Springs) the new DU Arena hosted the first Pioneer team to lace up the skates. Since DU lost its inaugural game to the University of Saskatchewan, 17-0, and then lost its next eight games by a combined 108-10, few imagined that the program would reach respectability, let alone prominence. The Pioneers went 4-13 that first year, with all four wins coming over a club team from the University of Wyoming. But the next season, the team went 11-11-1, beating varsity teams like Princeton, Toronto, Minnesota and Michigan. Denver hockey was on the map.

Obstacle Two: Building a Legend (1952-1969)
In 1952, Turner left, and Denver hired 24-year old Neil Celley, a 1948 US Olympian who had just graduated from the University of Michigan, as its new coach. Celley had scored a hat trick against Denver the year before, and now was coaching the Pioneers against many of his former Michigan teammates. Celley stayed five years and racked up a .646 record before giving way to the legend called "The Chief."

By 1956, Denver had become a competitive program in what was to eventually become the WCHA, but the arrival of ex-NHLer Murray Armstrong as coach would make DU the dominant team of the era. Armstrong arrived on campus and guaranteed a champion in three years. He actually did it in just two.

Armstrong, who had been coach of the famed Regina Pats junior team in Saskatchewan, established a virtual pipeline of talent from western Canada to Denver, a pipeline that still exists to this day, albeit in a different form and intensity level. In Armstrong's era, it was legal to recruit major junior players from Canada to NCAA hockey, and many of Armstrong's Canadian players were much older and more experienced than their US-born counterparts on other teams. Within two years of arriving in Denver, Armstrong won his first of five NCAA titles with his 1957-58 team, which beat North Dakota 6-2 in Minneapolis — the first NCAA Championship tourney outside Colorado Springs, site of the first 10 NCAA Tournaments.

Armstrong's teams (often ex-Regina Pats coming down to Denver in waves) soon became a dynasty. The 1959-60 Denver NCAA Champions beat the eventual gold medal 1960 US Olympic team and also tied the vaunted Russian Olympic Team prior to the Squaw Valley Olympics. Indeed, the 1960-61 Pioneer squad was one of the greatest college teams of all time with a 30-1-1 record. In postseason play, the Pioneers outscored their opponents, 35-6, including a 12-2 win over St. Lawrence in the NCAA Championship game, still the largest margin of victory in history. The Pioneers of that era had a spectacular offense led by all-Americans Jerry Walker and Bill Masterton and an equally dynamic defense also led by all-Americans Marty Howe, George Konik and Grant Munro with another all-American, George Kirkwood, in goal. (Masterton would go on to the tragic distinction of being the first and only player to die on the ice during an NHL game, as a member of the Minnesota North Stars, and the NHL still awards a trophy in his name every year to the player displaying the most courage and perseverance.)

In the early 1960s, there was little local competition for the winter sports dollar. There were no big-time professional sports in Denver, and the ski areas were just getting started, so Pioneer hockey was the top winter entertainment in town. The DU Arena was packed with 5300 fans for every game. More importantly, Denver hockey's success had now replaced football as the dominant sport at the University, making it far easier for the school to drop football in 1961, and put football's $100,000 budget into other sports. Homecoming was now a hockey weekend, and that tradition remains to this day. At the same time, a growing rivalry with Colorado College was becoming the dominant social event of the winter season. Denver fans would stay overnight at the swanky Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs where tickets were included in the room price (the old Broadmoor World Arena was on the grounds of the hotel) while well-heeled CC fans would come north from Colorado Springs to stay at the Brown Palace Hotel. DU Hockey reigned supreme in the Denver sporting scene for years after, until a certain new AFL football team called the Denver Broncos began to gain converts, initially using the University of Denver's old stadium for preseason and early-season games.

Denver was NCAA runner-up in 1962-63 and 1963-64, and NCAA third place in 1965-66, and returned to the NCAA pinnacle with back-to-back championships in 1967-68 and 1968-69. The Denver teams of the late '60s were led by two-time all-American defenseman Keith Magnuson, who is a member of the all-time NCAA team and was voted best defenseman in the history of the WCHA by the Hockey News. The fiery redheaded Magnuson went on to NHL fame in Chicago and tragically lost his life in a car accident on Dec. 15, 2003. This years' Pioneer championship team wore a uniform patch commemorating Magnuson, and more than one Pioneer fan commented that when Maine forward Ben Murphy had a breakaway in the 2004 Championship game and mysteriously "tripped" over the blue line with no visible player nearby, that it was Magnuson who "hip-checked him from above". Magnuson's intensity and love for the college game was infectious, and he fired up this year's Denver squad with a preseason pep talk as he had done many times with other Denver teams after his playing days were over. His legacy as "Mr. Pioneer" will never be forgotten.

But the late '60s Denver dynasty wasn't just Magnuson. It was all-Americans like Jim Wiste, George Morrison and stars such as Cliff Korroll, Craig Patrick and goalie Gerry Powers that again brought Denver hockey to national dominance. However, the 1969 4-3 NCAA Championship victory over a superb Cornell team (led by the great Ken Dryden) was the last time the program would be a NCAA champion until 2004.

Obstacle Three: The Dynasty Starts to Collapse (1971-1973)
At first, there was no reason to believe that the Pioneer program was in decline. Those early '70s DU teams had stars like Peter MacNab, Bruce Affleck, Rob Palmer, Rich Preston, Mike Christie, Vic Venasky and Ron Grahame, all of whom went on the NHL. In the early 1970s, Armstrong's Pioneers returned to the NCAA Frozen Four three times in a row, but were turned back each time. Boston University knocked Denver out in 1971, Cornell gained revenge on Denver in 1972, and Wisconsin did the honors in the 1973 final. While the team's NCAA dynasty dreams were collapsing on the ice, the DU Arena roof literally collapsed, too. The repairs would take a year, and the roof had to be shored up with 14 seven-ton steel trusses. The roof repairs forced the team to play its 1972-1973 season at the Denver Coliseum, an old rodeo arena some 10 miles from campus. But collapsing NCAA Frozen Four appearances and arena roofs were nothing compared to the obstacles ahead....

Obstacle Four: The Denver Way vs. the NCAA Way (1974-1978)
By the mid 1970s, there was an ongoing debate in college hockey regarding the status of Canadian Junior A players, who were increasingly seen as professionals by the NCAA. Denver, whose 20 years of previous hockey success was predicated on these Canadian junior players, was a flag bearer for schools with no native talent pools. But some coaches, such as Minnesota hockey godfather John Mariucci, did not want their own players — just out of local high schools — to be playing against Canadians in their mid-20s. As a result of this feud, the WCHA had fractured and Denver and Minnesota would not play each other in league play throughout the entire 1960s into the early 1970s.

Though this Canadian junior issue was complex, by the mid 1970s, the NCAA wanted a resolution. The NCAA asked Denver (and other schools) to declare certain players who had played Canadian major junior to be "ineligible," and in return, the NCAA would "restore" those players' eligibility — thus grandfathering the current players with an eye toward eventually stopping the practice altogether.

Denver wanted nothing to do with such a plan. Denver Chancellor Maurice Mitchell and coach Armstrong stood up to the NCAA, refusing to call their own players "cheaters." The NCAA then slapped Denver with serious sanctions for refusing to "whitewash" their players. Soon after, the legendary Murray Armstrong retired, ending his 21-year career at DU with five NCAA Championships in 10 NCAA appearances.

Assistant coach Marshall Johnston, a former Denver star from the early '60s and later an NHL'er, stepped in as head coach. Johnston's 1977-78 Denver team stormed out to a 33-6-1 record, a No. 1 national ranking and a WCHA title, but was not eligible for the NCAA tourney due to the NCAA sanctions. Boston University, under hot goalie Jim Craig, would win the NCAA title, but many believed the best team the country never had the chance to prove it.

Obstacle Five: Denver declines on ice and off (1978-1985)
After the NCAA sanctions disappointment, the Denver program went into a long tailspin, never regaining a higher WCHA finish than fourth until 1985. Midway through the slide, in 1981, Johnston moved on and was replaced by LA Kings and former Denver assistant Ralph Backstrom, who had won five Stanley Cups in his playing days with the Montreal Canadiens. The grim years in the late '70s through the mid 1980s were mirrored by a decline of the university as a whole, which had lost its financial footing amid declining enrollment due to demographic change and poor planning. In the late '70s, the University downgraded most of its sports programs from Division I to NAIA or NCAA Division II. Hockey was the only men's sport that remained NCAA Division I.

As with many college teams of that era, Backstrom liked freewheeling offensive hockey, and his teams piled up the goals, but often gave up just as many (or more) at the other end of the ice. The resulting inconsistency kept the Pioneers mired in mediocrity for most of his tenure as coach.

The one big exception was in 1985-86, when a big and bruising Denver team, led by DU career points leader and playmaker Dallas Gaume and goal-scorer Dwight Mathiasen, went 34-13-1. That Denver team won three grueling WCHA playoff series in a row, carried a No. 1 ranking for most of the year, and was buoyed by fervent student and community support. After beating Minnesota for the WCHA title, the '86 Pioneers took a memorable curtain call for the 5,200 fans that stood in appreciation of winning the WCHAs for the first time since 1978. However, after an emotional home NCAA quarterfinal total goal series win over Cornell (and Joe Nieuwendyk), the Pioneers were spent. They limped into Providence for the Frozen Four tired, injured and worn down from a host of distractions, particularly from NHL teams who coveted a number of the non-drafted Denver players. Harvard rolled over the Pioneers 5-2 in the national semifinal, and Minnesota beat a depleted Pioneer lineup in the third place game, 6-4. Denver would not see the Frozen Four again for 18 years.

Obstacle Six: Campus Crisis and Laying New Groundwork (1987-1994)
In the late 1980s, the University of Denver was in crisis. It had borrowed money to meet payroll and had ended 1989 with a working capital deficit of $12 million. Applications were declining, and the buildings and grounds had deferred maintenance then estimated at $45 million. A new Chancellor, ex-Westinghouse Broadcasting CEO and Harvard MBA Daniel L. Ritchie, was brought in to literally save the school. Ritchie would serve (and continues to serve today) without pay, and used both his financial acumen and heavy donations from his own pocket and from well-connected friends and alumni to aid the university. As DU began to turn around, the hockey program changed along with it when Frank Serratore was brought in as coach after Backstrom left in 1990.

Serratore's energy and passion changed the intensity and tone of the program. Serratore and his hard-working staff actively began recruiting American and European players as well as working the historic western Canada pipeline. The DU Arena, which was aging badly, got some more patchwork renovations and while the Pioneers struggled on the ice, the groundwork was being laid for a dynamic new era in Pioneer Hockey. Serratore never got to finish what he started and was fired after four seasons in 1994 with a .357 winning percentage, but the cupboard was not bare when new coach George Gwozdecky arrived from Miami (Ohio) in 1994.

Obstacle Seven: Adjusting to another New Coach
Using Serratore's recruits, Gwozdecky's 1994-1995 team played excellent hockey, finished second in the WCHA and returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1986, whipping New Hampshire 9-2 before losing a close 4-2 decision to Maine. In 1996, the program built more momentum by setting a new Denver college hockey attendance record with over 16,000 on hand to watch Denver defeat archrival CC 3-2 in the Denver Cup tournament final at the old city-run McNichols Arena. DU Hockey was back on the map.

And so was the school. By the mid 1990s, improving enrollment and fundraising allowed the University to embark on an ambitious strategy to add massive improvements to the campus. Hundreds of millions were raised, and a new athletic center, a new business school, a new performing arts center, new science buildings, residence halls and a new law school building were planned (and eventually built), signifying a new era in the history of the university. Academic standards were raised, enrollment surged, and as the new millennium beckoned, things were turning around for the hockey team, too.

Gwozdecky's troops, now with his own recruits, returned again to the NCAAs in 1997, beating Vermont 6-3 in the NCAA regional semi, only to lose an excruciating 4-3 heartbreaker in overtime to Boston University on a Chris Drury goal. That season also marked the last for the venerable old DU Arena. Those who attended a game there will remember the steep bleacher balcony at one end, and a gaudy early '70s rainbow design painted on the wall at the other end with 5,200 wooden seats and just two sets of restrooms for the entire building. It fell to the wrecker's ball not long after the final WCHA playoff victory over Minnesota Duluth.
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Obstacle Eight: Homelessness and Michigan (1997-1999)
Just as the Pioneers were regaining their edge, they lost their home arena and would not have a home on campus for the next two seasons. Games were played in four different arenas around the state according to availability — McNichols Arena and the Denver Coliseum in Denver, and at the Air Force's Cadet Ice Arena and Colorado College's World Arena in Colorado Springs. Understandably, the team lost most of their fan base, especially as Denver now had four major pro teams and plenty of other diversions.

Despite not having a home rink, Gwozdecky's boys had a 26-13-2 season in 1999, led by all-American Paul Comrie — good for a third place finish in the WCHA regular season. At the WCHA Final 5 in St. Paul, Minn., the Pioneers upset top-ranked North Dakota with a 4-3 victory in overtime. Winning the WCHA tourney guaranteed Denver an NCAA bid to the East Regional, in Worcester, Mass. where they faced perennial powerhouse Michigan. The Pioneers jumped out to an amazing 3-0 lead on the Wolverines, but Michigan coach Red Berenson called a timeout to settle down his team. Michigan stormed back to score five consecutive goals, and the Pioneers suffered a meltdown of sorts, which some suggest was caused by the repeated playing of "The Victors," (the Michigan fight song) after each goal — and in between.

Obstacle Nine: Making the New Arena into Home ... and facing Michigan again (1999-2002)
In place of the old DU Arena, the newly revitalizing University made a multi-million commitment to the hockey program by building a $75 million multi-purpose sports center named after Chancellor Ritchie, with the new 6,000 seat Magness Arena as its centerpiece, named after cable TV pioneer (and major donor) Bob Magness. The building had not only a hockey arena, but an Olympic sized pool, a 3,000 seat gymnasium, a field house, and a huge fitness center as well as a 215-foot tall gold-leaf covered bell tower, complete with a 75 bell carillon. As part of this initiative, all Denver sports would return to Division I in 1999 (only hockey and women's gymnastics were Division One through the 1990s — all the rest were Division II). The new commitment was needed, as nearly all the WCHA schools had either built or were in the process of building new arenas. Moreover, it signified to everyone that the University of Denver was serious about committing the resources necessary to compete at the highest level. Top recruits began to sign with Denver and light could be seen at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

During the first two seasons at Magness Arena (1999-2001), the Pioneers struggled to win back their fan base, and with ninth and sixth place finishes respectively, there wasn't a lot to cheer about. But when expectations were lowered for the 2001-2002 season, the Pioneers would shock the college hockey world by winning 20 of their first 22 games en route to a 32-8-1 season, a WCHA regular season and WCHA playoff championship behind the 1-2 goaltending punch of all-American junior Wade Dubielewicz and sophomore Adam Berkhoel. Defensively deep and offensively balanced, the Pioneers were the top-ranked team for most of the year, and expectations were high that this top-seeded team would finally break through to the Frozen Four.

But once again, the Maize and Blue of Michigan lay waiting, this time as host of their own NCAA regional in Ann Arbor, Mich. Just like 1999, the Pioneers jumped out to a lead — 3-2 entering the final period. And just when Michigan began to tire, the 7,000 home fans cramming Yost Ice Arena lifted the Wolverines to a come-from behind victory, as Michigan first tied the game and then won it on a Jed Ortmeyer goal with less than 2 minutes left in regulation. The Pioneers' dream lay shattered. ...

Obstacle Ten: Overcoming the Psychological Trauma of Michigan (2002-2004)
The second Michigan meltdown of 2002 may have had a deep psychological effect on the Pioneer squad that followed. Picked for first place in the WCHA for 2002-2003, with much of the talent coming back, the Pioneers struggled with the weight of expectation all season long, losing a number of games late, and ended with a 21-14-6 overall record and a disappointing seventh place WCHA finish.

As the 2004 season dawned, was team was ready for a fresh start and was only expected to finish fifth in the WCHA. Despite some very promising road performances, the 2003-2004 edition struggled at home in league play for much of the season, and injuries would cut deep into Denver's depth, especially on defense. But on the last night of January, the Pioneers tied North Dakota 1-1 in Grand Forks, allowing the team to believe in itself. In the final 16 games they played, the Pioneers would only lose twice more, en route to that elusive sixth NCAA title, sweeping Minnesota and Colorado College, and beating Miami (Ohio), North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Maine in the NCAA playoffs to do it.

The team would be led by a special senior class including the big-game shutout goaltending of NCAA Tourney MOP Adam Berkhoel, the warrior-like leadership skills of all-American Captain Ryan Caldwell, and the courage of forward Connor James, whose gutsy return to the lineup in Boston after a recently broken leg to capture all-tourney team honors may be a college hockey equivalent to Toronto Maple Leafs legend Bobby Baun's broken-leg Stanley Cup game winner in 1964 or Willis Reed's injured-knee performance in the 1970 NBA finals for the New York Knicks.
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Others have pointed out contributions by the other Denver seniors — the 110% energy of opponent-irritating forwards Greg Keith or Lukas Dora, or the timely giant-killing shot and penalty killing skills of Max Bull. Some even cite the spirit of seldom-used forward Scott McConnell, the grandson of the great coach Badger Bob Johnson, whose greatest contribution to the team may have been the black eye he suffered in a tone-setting, preseason fight with his best friend and roommate, Ryan Caldwell.

Some also say it was the Pioneers' loose, "lets-just-have-some-fun-here" attitude — a deliberately planned strategy designed to contrast with, and prevent a recurrence of, the disaster of Denver's last Frozen Four experience in 1986, when the uptight, distraction-laden and worn-down WCHA Champion Denver squad fell with a thud at the hands of Harvard and Minnesota in Providence, R.I.

Gwozdecky will tell anyone that will listen that this team was not a Cinderella story — that it was a simply a talented, hard working, relatively healthy team peaking at the right time, hammering home the best record in college hockey over the final 16 games of the season. Of course, he's correct. But then again, he also knows this program is all about overcoming obstacles.

Tom Douglis is former editor of College Hockey Magazine and former public relations coordinator for USA Hockey. In his undergraduate days at the University of Denver, he was sports editor of the student paper, the Denver Clarion, and covered Pioneer hockey for four seasons.