Denver in familiar setting at Frozen Four

  • Colin Staub of the Denver Pioneers, right, celebrates his goal against American International College with teammates Saturday, March 30, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional finals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Colin Staub of Denver, right, shoots on American International College goalie Zackarius Skog Saturday, March 30, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional finals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Denver Pioneer players celebrate their 3-0 win over American International College Saturday, March 30, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional finals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • American International College goalie Zackarias Skog rejects a Denver shot Saturday, March 30, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional finals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Denver goalie Filip Larsson, right, stops the puck for a save against American International College, March 30, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 regional finals in Fargo, N.D. AP File

  • Denver Pioneers defender Les Lancaster, right, is whistled for a tripping penalty against Shawn McBride of American International College Saturday, March 30, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional finals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Les Lancaster of Denver Pioneers, second from left, celebrates a goal late in second period with teammates Friday, March 29, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional semifinals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Les Lancaster of Denver Pioneers, left, celebrates a goal late in second period with teammate Cole Guttman as Ohio State defender Wyatt Ege is at right Friday, March 29, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional semifinals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Coin Staub of Denver , right, celebrates a goal late in the third period with teammates against Ohio State Friday, March 29, 2019 in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey Regional semifinals in Fargo, N.D.. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2019 8:38:59 PM

BUFFALO, New York — Six Denver University hockey players have national championship rings from 2017, the last time the Pioneers reached the Frozen Four.

There is no “last time” for UMass. This is the furthest the program has ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament in only the Minutemen’s second appearance.

Denver barely has any firsts left. The Pioneers have won eight national titles, tied with North Dakota for second-most all time. They can tie Michigan for the lead with a ninth.

“The special part about Denver is every year we expect to be in these moments,” Denver coach David Carle said.

The Pioneers (24-11-5) qualified for the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and 29 overall. They’ve made 16 Frozen Fours, including three out of the past four. Even though Denver has 18 underclassmen, the six players who helped rai​​​​​se the trophy in Chicago have led through the distractions.

“I think it’s very valuable. A few guys that have been there know what it’s like, know the distractions that are around it, know how to kind of get their attitude ready for the game,” junior forward Tyson McClellan said. “That’s kind of what we focus on most, is kind of sharing that we need to worry about our own game, not let anything kind of get in the way.”

Denver went 5-5-1 against NCAA Tournament teams this season. The Pioneers won the West Regional championship with two shutouts, beating Ohio State 2-0 in the first round and AIC 3-0 in the regional final. The Pioneers haven’t allowed a goal since the first period in the third-place game against Colorado College in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff — the conference’s tournament.

“You want to be a better team in April than you are in October. In November I think our team has done that, particularly defensively. I think that’s been the biggest growth in our game,” Carle said. “It’s not surprising with the youth of our team. I think there was a lot of room for growth in those areas.”

They have the seventh-stingiest defense in the country at 1.98 goals allowed per game. Denver shut out eight opponents this season behind the goalie duo of Devin Cooley and Filip Larsson. They both rank in the nation’s top 10 in both save percentage and goals against average.

Cooley stops 93.4 percent (fourth) of the shots he sees and allows 1.85 goals per game (sixth), while Larsson allows 1.87 per game (10th) and saves 93.5 percent (third) of shots.

When Denver needs a big goal, the Pioneers turn to Jarid Lukosevicius. The senior forward is tied for the NCAA lead with seven game-winning goals. He won the 2017 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player.

“He’s just the most competitive person that I’ve ever met. We sometimes get into battles whether we’re playing board games, what we do around the house,” sophomore Ian Mitchell said. “His passion rubs off on everyone else on the team. His desire to win really put his imprint on Denver hockey, very special.”

He leads the Pioneers with 19 goals, while junior Liam Finlay has 36 assists. Denver’s leading assist deliverer, Emilio Peterson (24), didn’t practice Wednesday, and Carle said there was a “small chance” he would play against the Minutemen.

“They’re a very skilled, fast team. We’re just going to have to shut them down offensively. They have a lot of key pieces we’ll have to be aware of at all times,” UMass defenseman Cale Makar said. “It’s just a factor we need to be prepared for.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.



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