Two games, for all the marbles. That’s what the Denver Pioneers are looking at as they get ready to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Thursday night. It all comes down to this.
Every DU fan remembers last year’s trip to the Frozen Four, which ended in disappointment. But what it did for this team is give them a whole lot of motivation for this season. Head coach Jim Montgomery explained it as, “We needed a blueprint of how to act and behave in order to be elite, and that’s what last year gave us.”
“It was a bad taste losing that game to North Dakota last year in the semifinals,” team captain Will Butcher said during Wednesday’s press conference. “So I think starting off in the off-season, for this coming year, was big for us just because I think the guys put in that extra mile of work with our strength coach, Matt Shaw, and off the ice, the guys were just great. We kind of came together and just said next year is going to be our year. That's kind of been a goal from the beginning of the year.”
After a season that started with back-to-back losses, the Pioneers were ranked a top two team in the nation for the majority of the season and never seemed to waver. As the expectations for this hockey team kept rising the players have tried to stay away from the hype and stick to the process.
“I think a lot of us try to stay off social media and reading into those things,” senior Evan Janssen explained. “We just try to focus on ourselves. We always preach how you've got to stay in the moment. We've been doing everything that we've done all year, which we call the process.”
What lies in front of them is an incredibly talented Notre Dame team. Although they’re a four seed and the rest of the teams are one seeds, they possess one of the best goaltenders in college hockey, Cal Petersen, and one of the best forwards in college hockey, as well, in Anders Bjork. They’re also coached by Jeff Jackson, who has a ton of experience in Frozen Fours and also a strong connection with coach Montgomery.
Montgomery took an unpaid assistant coaching job with Jackson’s Irish in order to get himself into coaching, “I think I was very lucky that in my first year coaching in hockey I got to work for and coach with Jeff Jackson. I learned A-Z how to run a program at a high level. It was the best decision I’ve ever made is going there as a volunteer but I wanted to learn from someone that is great, and Jeff Jackson is.” Montgomery said.
Now they’re set to go head-to-head where the steaks can only get one game higher. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. MST.