Triumph on Ice

The men’s hockey team captures its 9th national championship.

There’s a beautiful full-circle view from Cloud Nine. And the University of Denver men’s hockey team owns every degree of it. 

They took up residence at that cumulus address Saturday, April 9, in Boston, Massachusetts, claiming their just-shy-of-10th NCAA national championship by taking down—with a wham-pow score of 5-1—the formidable Minnesota State Mavericks. 

That title game will live long in memory, not least because the Pioneers spent much of the night shooting uncharacteristically cold. For the first two periods, Minnesota State led 1-0 and was outshooting the Pioneers, 18-8. It was largely goalie Magnus Chrona’s 27 saves that kept the team within striking distance.

The dynamic changed in the final period, when the comeback kids scored goal after goal, making hockey history and earning the DU athletics program its 34th national championship. 

With this victory at Beantown’s TD Garden, the Pioneers tied Michigan for the most national championships in college hockey. And with this feat, the Pioneers made 32-year-old David Carle, a DU alumnus and the Richard and Kitzia Goodman Head Coach, the youngest head coach to win a national championship since 1963.

“I am so proud of what our team was able to accomplish this year,” Carle told the DU Newsroom just after the big win. “We are all so proud to be Denver Pioneers today.”

Karlton Creech, vice chancellor for Athletics, Recreation and Ritchie Center Operations, was just as pleased. “The pride the program takes in putting on that Denver sweater is an honor to witness every time they step on the ice,” he said. “We’re so thankful for the outpouring of support from former student-athletes, the DU alumni base as a whole, the current DU campus community and all of our fans.”

Chancellor Jeremy Haefner, in Boston for the Frozen Four showdowns, expressed delight in the squad’s dazzling display of teamwork and tenacity. Back in Denver, at an April 12 celebration for the team in Magness Arena, he summed it up this way: “What a run! What a season! What a team!” 

And what an effort. As team captain Cole Guttman put it, “Everyone put everything on the line to get here.” 

Fans from all over Colorado—from all over the country, for that matter—couldn’t have been more delighted. They whooped it up at watch parties from coast to coast and clogged Twitter feeds with Denver hockey’s hooray tweets. When the team landed at Denver International Airport, their plane received a two-truck water-gun salute from the Denver Fire Department. And at the Magness Arena victory fête, chock-full of students and alumni, fans entertained the team in the traditional way: by singing along to John Denver’s “Country Roads.” 

In step with the festive spirit, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis proclaimed April 12 Denver Pioneers Ice Hockey Championship Day, and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette read aloud from the tribute she entered into the Congressional Record. And just as he did when the Pioneers won their eighth national championship in 2017, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock dropped in to snap a selfie with the team.

The squad started the season ranked No. 13 in the country, but by mid-January, the victories were piling up, and the Pioneers broke into the No. 5 slot. From there, it was a steady skate to the NCHC Tournament Semifinals at the Frozen Faceoff, where a loss to Minnesota-Duluth temporarily dimmed their glow. With the highest-scoring offense in the league and an enviable win-loss record, the Pioneers advanced as an at-large team to the 16-squad NCAA Tournament. They ensured their spot in the Frozen Four by winning their initial two games, the first against UMass Lowell and then by avenging their loss to Minnesota-Duluth. (For anyone counting, 2022 represented the team’s 12th appearance in the national title game and 18th visit to college hockey’s ultimate event.) 

By the time the team took to the ice for the title contest, players and fans alike were stoked by a semifinal win against the Michigan Wolverines, a hockey powerhouse with nine national championship trophies in its case.  

That game marked the first time the two programs had played each other in 20 years, and the Wolverines, with a pack of first-round draft picks, presented a formidable challenge—so formidable that the three periods ended with the score tied 2-2, though the Pioneers had fought Michigan tenaciously, outskating and outshooting the Wolverines 26-13. 

Sophomore Carter Savoie was the night’s savior, bringing the winning goal nearly 15 minutes into overtime and catapulting the Pioneers into the final game. The rest is history.  

Looking ahead, Carle, who has been head coach since 2018, sees the team’s triumph as the first step toward a 10th national championship. But first, he permits a little time to savor 2022’s glory. 

“They’re legends,” Carle said of the team’s 26 members. “A part of Denver hockey for the rest of their lives. They’ll walk together forever as champions. For that, we’re so happy for them and so proud of them.”

Photos by Damian Strohmeyer, NCAA Photos and Wayne Armstrong

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