Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Denver

The Denver series in Troy last year was a watershed moment for an RPI team that was about to go through some difficult times. The offense seemed to go into a serious funk starting with the two games against the Pioneers that started a stretch of six straight games in which the Engineers, pegged to be offensively capable, failed to score three goals. Against DU, they managed just 42 shots in 125 minutes of gameplay and scored only twice, but some of that was attributable to a strong Denver defense, one which will return largely intact in 2014.

Denver
Nickname: Pioneers
Location: Denver, CO
Founded: 1864
Conference: NCHC
National Championships: 7 (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2005
Coach: Jim Montgomery (2nd season)
2013-14 Record: 20-16-6 (10-11-3-2 NCHC, 6th place)
Series: DU leads, 12-1-1
First Game: January 29, 1954 (Denver, CO)
Last RPI win: October 20, 2006 (Denver, CO)
Last DU win: December 13, 2013 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: October 17-18, 2014 (Denver, CO)

Key players: D Josiah Didier, sr.; F Daniel Doremus, sr.; D Joey LaLeggia, sr.; F Zac Larraza, sr.; F Ty Loney, sr.; F Matt Tabrum, sr.; F Grant Arnold, jr.; F Gabe Levin, jr.; F Quentin Shore, jr.; D Nolan Zajac, jr.; D Will Butcher, so.; G Evan Cowley, so.; F Matt Marcinew, so.; F Trevor Moore, so.; D Nick Neville, so.; D Matt VanVoorhis, so.; F Tariq Hammond, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
Toward the end of the season, it appeared a number of Denver streaks were in serious jeopardy: a streak of 20-win seasons dating back to 2002, a streak of seasons over .500 dating back to 2001, and a streak of NCAA tournament appearances dating back to 2008. As the regular season concluded, the Pioneers had a record of 16-14-6 and were headed on the road for the NCHC playoffs.

After losing Game 1 of their series with Nebraska-Omaha, things looked bleak. But then, DU rattled off four consecutive wins - two over the Mavericks, then a victory over Western Michigan in the NCHC semifinals and a 4-3 victory over similarly upstart Miami (who'd actually finished last in the NCHC during the regular season) to guarantee that all three streaks would stay intact as the Pioneers earned the NCHC's first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. There they fell 6-2 to Boston College to extend another streak - DU's fourth straight NCAA loss.

Unlike other years, where the NCAA difficulties piled up and led to George Gwozdecky's ouster, this was a loss that came on the end of a season in which DU's fortunes went from rough to golden in a two-week span, a much better turn of events than the opposite (as any RPI fan can tell you these days).

The biggest blow to the Pioneers in the upcoming season is the loss of goaltender Sam Brattain, who was a key figure in Denver's success last year, but the presence of one of the nation's best blue line corps in the nation in front of him was an important element as well, and basically all of that will be at the disposal of a team brimming with seniors and juniors. Brattain's replacement will be one of three options - two sophomores and a freshman - but count on Cowley, an NHL draft pick who started three games last season, being the likely starter.

Offensively, the Pioneers bring back 100% of the scoring output they got from their forwards last season, a unit now chock full of juniors and seniors. Overall, it makes Denver a well seasoned team from top to bottom with the exception of their net, an issue mitigated by the strength of their defensemen.

DU had a young team last year that congealed at the end to pick up some hardware and gain some additional NCAA experience. As RPI found in Troy, they still presented a very strong challenge mid-season against a team with offensive concerns, which means the concerns the Engineers still have coming into the year are going to need to be addressed quickly or it's likely to be a rough weekend for Seth Appert's homecoming in the second weekend of the schedule.

1 comment:

  1. Minor correction-- Tariq Hammond is a Defenceman. Incoming forward is Danton Heinen, highest scoring rookie in the BCHL

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