Denver Pioneers hockey is dominant, locally and nationally – The Denver Post

The current captain for the University of Denver hockey team and the potential next one are becoming immortal figures for the program with national championship-or-bust aspirations.

Senior Will Butcher, the captain, has a 14-2 career record against Colorado College, and sophomore Colin Staub, a Colorado Springs native with remarkable leadership qualities, scored Saturday in his eighth consecutive victory over the Tigers.

The Pioneers have defeated CC 12 consecutive times. Indeed, the Tigers are 7-19-2 and in rebuilding mode, but they upset No. 1-ranked Minnesota Duluth on the road and blanked North Dakota at home this season. Butcher and Staub realize their Gold Pan series dominance is a giant success story.

“I don’t think many alumnus can say they were 14-2 in their four years at Denver against CC, being the huge rivalry that it is,” Butcher, DU’s best defenseman and 2013 Avalanche draftee, said Sunday. “That last game, (senior Matt) VanVoorhis kept reiterating that it will be huge for our senior class to go 14-2 in our career. We just went out and had that on our minds. It’s a great story and legacy to leave behind.”

Butcher and Staub are 22, with Staub nearly 10 months older. Butcher joined DU as a true freshman, but Staub played three years of junior-A after high school. Staub was a last-minute Denver addition in 2015 after being rejected by Air Force because of a degenerative eye disease.

“It’s definitely worked out,” Staub said of his college hockey career after Saturday’s game at the Broadmoor World Arena. “I grew up playing in this building every now and then, and it was always such a big deal. It’s nice to get a goal here. It’s one of the things I wanted to do — to score a goal here. So it’s nice to get that now, and it’s nice to beat CC.”

Nationally, Denver (20-6-4) remains No. 2 in the PairWise Rankings behind conference rival Minnesota Duluth, but Boston University is a distant third. With the weekend sweep over CC, the Pioneers leapfrogged UMD atop the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings. The Bulldogs, who were idle last weekend, trail DU by a point in the NCHC with three weekends and six games remaining.

If the season ended today, top-seeded DU would host No. 8 CC in a best-of-three conference playoff series at Magness Arena. The NCHC is in its fourth season of existence.

“We’ll see how it pans out,” Butcher said. “Our goal is obviously to win the Penrose Cup (NCHC regular-season champion). That’s been a goal since the beginning of the year, especially as a senior class; we haven’t won a Penrose Cup since we started in this league. It’s a huge goal of ours. We’ll see who we end up playing in the playoffs.”

Denver’s success undoubtedly stems from fourth-year coach Jim Montgomery, who has slowly built each of three previous teams into NCAA Tournament participants. DU lost in the first-round of the tournament in 2014, advanced to the quarterfinals in 2015 and made it to the 2016 Frozen Four before losing in the final minute of regulation to North Dakota in the semifinals.

Montgomery’s current team has the best record through 30 games of his three at DU.

“Monty knows how to read his guys really well,” Butcher said. “That’s a tribute to him as a coach. He schedules practice the right way. The first 30 minutes is high tempo, getting the heart rate going, and then he’ll pull back — especially in the second half of the year, doing more situational drills and those sort of things. He’s a very good coach, partly because he was a great college player as well.”

Added Staub: “We definitely started excelling very early on, much earlier than we did last year. The biggest thing is, we have more growth, some things to improve on. I don’t even think we’re playing our best hockey right now. That’s a very exciting thing for us, and something to keep looking forward to.

“So we have our sights set on a lot of things this year — especially that championship at the very end.”

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