The University of Denver hockey season begins next week with the Pioneers confident in pursuit of adding a ninth national championship to their exceedingly large trophy case.
It won’t take long to find out if the No. 5 Pioneers are legit. Their opening schedule is stacked.
“No doubt, it’s tough,” DU coach David Carle said. “We’re grateful and excited for the opportunity to get into it. Having meaningful games right away is awesome.”
The NCAA hockey season, slated to start in early October before the coronavirus pandemic, finally returns in a “pod” format in Omaha where DU and fellow National Collegiate Hockey Conference teams will converge to each play 10 games apiece over the first three weeks of December.
On Dec. 2, DU opens the season against No. 3 Minnesota Duluth (the defending NCAA champions). Two days later, the Pioneers face No. 1 North Dakota.
“Everyone is eager to play and everyone is extremely excited,” said senior DU forward Kohen Olischefski, the Pioneers’ captain this season. “We know it’s going to be a challenge. This format is something we haven’t seen before with a lot of games in a short period of time. Our conditioning and our fitness are our biggest point of emphasis right now.”
The Pioneers also know the entire season — which includes home-and-away games against regional foes starting in January — might be on thin ice. A DU player tested positive for COVID-19 about two-and-a-half weeks ago, Carle said, which required seven additional players to “get shut down for a temporary amount of time.”
The Pioneers are now back at full strength.
“That’s been our one major hiccup,” Carle said. “Our team has been doing a great job, but obviously, sometimes it doesn’t matter how great of a job (you’re doing). With a contagious virus, it still might get you. I give our guys a lot of credit. We’ve done the right things away from the rink to make sure we are on the ice as much as possible.”
Added Olischefski: “It’s just been a lot of laying low, making sacrifices and decisions that are for the better of the team. We’re just trying to stay safe and healthy right now. Obviously, positive tests put a big wrench into things.”
The Pioneers have reason to be confident. DU returns 63% of its goal-scoring from a year ago and four defensemen with at least 25 games played. Add in a trio of instant-impact graduate transfers — D Bo Hanson (St. Lawrence), F Steven Jandric (Alaska Fairbanks) and G Corbin Kaczperski (Yale) — and the Pioneers believe they have the talent and depth to compete with anyone.
“The pace at which we do things has been the most impressive,” Carle said. “We need that with the style of play we like. We need all four lines to be able to do it. I like our depth at all three positions. We’re a confident bunch.”
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