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....