The University of Denver hockey program opened its preseason training camp with a growing buzz surrounding the incoming freshman class.
The Pioneers brought in four NHL draft picks. The remaining five players were highly sought-after national recruits. Could they live up to the hype?
“At the start, we heard this freshman class was going to be good,” senior captain Cole Guttman said. “But they’ve exceeded my expectations.”
DU embarks on its quest for a ninth NCAA championship Thursday afternoon in its semifinal showdown against Michigan in Boston. Its Frozen Four appearance doesn’t happen without significant contributions from the new guys, and more specifically, six freshmen who played in at least 30 games: defensemen Sean Behrens and Shai Buium and forwards Jack Devine, Carter King, Carter Mazur and Massimo Rizzo.
That contingent has accounted for 145 points — 30% of the team’s total production. The future of DU hockey is now.
“This group has come in with a purpose and they want to leave their mark. That’s exciting,” coach David Carle said. “They’ve integrated within the team. They’re not freshmen anymore. They’re key members to our group.”
What has transpired this season started back in the summer. DU conducted a six-week training camp program with dorm-style living with the goal of bringing players, especially the freshmen, closer as a team. The Pioneers were coming off a 10-win season and motivated to vault their storied program back into national prominence.
“We had those 6:30 a.m. workouts, which definitely built some character,” said Rizzo, a 2019 Hurricanes seventh-round draft pick. “Then we went to class together and we’re eating together. We’d hang out later on because there’s not much else to do. When you’re spending all those six weeks together, it’s easy to become close friends.”
The season began with three freshmen emerging as main cogs in DU’s scoring efforts: Mazur (22 assists/14 goals), Rizzo (23 assists/11 goals) and Behrens (26 assists/3 goals). The freshmen quickly earned the trust of veteran players.
“We knew they were going to be huge pieces of our team. Now, we’re just seeing how good they really are and how important they are to our team,” said Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Brink. “It’s really tough. They’re younger than most of the players out there. But they make up for it in skill and work ethic. They fit right in.”
DU’s ability to recruit elite talent has kept it among the blue-bloods of college hockey. Carle has aided in those efforts for more than a decade going back to his time as a student assistant coach. The program’s secret to landing top players?
“The recipe hasn’t changed, I’ll tell you that, over the last 15 to 20 years,” Carle said. “People want to come here and they want to win. They want to play in moments like this. That’s a lot of what we talk about within the recruiting process.”
That championship message came to fruition for the Pioneers’ latest signing class. A victory over Michigan sends DU to the championship game Saturday.
“This is why I chose to come to Denver,” Mazur said. “This is something you always dream of as a kid. You want to play in a national championship.”
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