by Ben Seal
The holiday season may be over, but college hockey’s schedule was full of holiday tournaments this weekend before conference play dominates the second-half race to the finish. While most of the tournaments feature a grab-bag of quality teams and subpar competition, the Denver Cup has traditionally served as a great appetizer for the stretch run. Last season, Boston University took the Cup on its way to a national championship.
The University of Denver played host for the 18th time, and the No. 2-ranked Pioneers twice rallied from two goals behind to overcome fifth-ranked Boston College, which has suddenly emerged as a serious contender in its own right. The Pioneers have jostled with Miami (Ohio) atop the rankings all season long and are gaining steam as the second half begins. Tournament victories, even in early January, can be a barometer of a team’s playoff-tested approach once the postseason begins.
A slow start put the Cup in jeopardy for the Pioneers, but a four-goal period brought them back to win, 4-3, sparked by two goals and an assist from the captain Rhett Rakhshani, who was the tournament’s M.V.P. Rakhshani also had 3 points in Denver’s 7-0 throttling of Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the mini-tournament.
He told The Denver Post that he liked the way the team responded after falling behind early, saying “the most fun thing about it was the team coming together –- coaches captains, everyone -– after the first period.”
Both B.C. and Denver were missing key players to the World Junior Championships in Saskatchewan. Eagles forward Chris Kreider and Pioneers defenseman Matt Donovan each scored goals for the United States in a quarterfinal win over Finland on Saturday. The Americans took down Sweden on Sunday to advance to Tuesday’s final, where they will meet Canada, which is looking for its sixth straight gold medal. Canada won the teams’ first meeting, a 5-4 shootout thriller on New Year’s Eve.
Once Donovan returns to Denver and league play resumes, the Pioneers look primed to continue their success into the spring. The senior Rakhshani — a future New York Islander -– is tied for sixth in the country with 27 points and gives Denver a potent offensive threat. At the unofficial midpoint of the season the Pioneers already have eight players with double-digit point totals.