It's a pioneer. It is also Sinbad. This description is not about his comedy, obviously. It's about how he played basketball at Denver with a silly looking afro.
Record. 25-13-4, 16-8-4 WCHA. I'm not sure how a WCHA team with that record falls to a three seed, but that's Ferris State's problem before we can complain about it. FWIW, KRACH is in near-lockstep with the Pairwise when it comes to ranking Ferris and Denver.
The Pioneers finished third in the WCHA—a game and a half ahead of streaking one-seed North Dakota—with a +17 goal differential. After beating Wisconsin in three games to open the WCHA playoffs they won OT games against Michigan Tech and UMD, the second in double OT, before getting clubbed by North Dakota in the final 4-0. Take that with a grain of salt. By the end of that game Denver was down to three defensemen one night after going to double OT.
In keeping with the regional's ALL THE OVERTIMES theme, three of Denver's last four games have been playoff OTs. Michigan is coming off consecutive weekends with playoff double OTs. Ferris State got bounced by Bowling Green thanks to two overtime losses two weeks ago. And ten of Cornell's last 21 games have gone to OT. Prepare for fetal position hockey this weekend.
Outside of the league, Denver had one very impressive win and one bizarre loss. They beat BC in Boston to open the year, then lost to BU the next night. They beat Princeton in late November, then lost to Miami. They beat eventual one-seed Union 3-1 and smoked Air Force 7-1. They hosted Alabama-Huntsville… and split, giving the Chargers one of their two wins on the year.
Previous meetings. None. How about…
Common opponents. Both teams have wins against BC. Michigan, of course, got clubbed by Union at the tail end of their November fail; Denver beat them. Michigan went 2-1-1 against the Redhawks Denver lost to, and Michigan swept Denver's first round opponent. Denver will obviously be 1-0 against Ferris if this preview becomes relevant.
Dangermen. This is hard to judge given Denver's extensive but murky injury issues:
DU coach George Gwozdecky on Sunday said his six injured players — forwards Jason Zucker, Chris Knowlton and Beau Bennett, and defensemen Paul Phillips, Josiah Didier and David Makowski — are all “day-to-day” and questionable for Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Ferris State.
The Denver Post's Mike Chambers guesses that Zucker and Didier will be fine, Bennett will return, and that Makowski will play but only on the power play. Bennett and Makowski have been out since December; Zucker and Didier picked up injuries in the WCHA title game.
As a result of the injuries, Denver fans are feeling a bit of pessimism. One emailer:
I've see a few of their games this year and I am not holding my breath for this team to go deep in the tournament. The scoring dries up at times and the defensemen had issues clearing the puck earlier in the season. More than likely the goalie won't be determined until the day before and they both are pretty solid (either Brittain or Olkinuora). The Shore brothers and Zucker are the biggest scorers on the team, so losing Zucker would hurt if he can't play. Philips is a solid defensemen, but he might be out as well. This team is kind of wounded right now and young.
Uncertainty aside, this team has some elite scorers on it the likes of which have ceased to exist in the CCHA. If Denver fans think their team sees scoring dry up they'd be appalled by the CCHA: Denver is 9th nationally in goals for, with Michigan one slot behind them.
The top two lines are centered by the Shore brothers, Drew and Nick. Drew drives the bus for Denver with 21-31-52 and a +21. Given the plus minus ratings it looks like Denver has run a blender through its lines all year. Luke Salazar and Ty Loney are currently Shore's linemates. Salazar has 12-17-29, a +18, and just one minor penalty on the year; Loney has 10-11-21 and appears to be the gritty guy who provides grit and stuff.
The second line is explosive offensively but has struggled to keep its head above water. Nick Shore has 13-28-41 and is a –1 on the year; Zucker has 22-24-46 and is just +6. Some of this may not be their fault, as Denver has been missing two of their best defensemen for most of the year.
Defense. Injury clouds the picture even more here. Denver was down to five defensemen after the Didier injury against North Dakota; while they will get players back for the tournament how many will make a big difference. It sounds like Didier should be fine, Phillips still out, and Markowski limited.
That would mean Denver rotates through five guys on the blue line with occasional shifts to the returning Markowski; on a hypothetical second-night matchup they would be more tired than Michigan's guys, inevitable overtimes held equal.
In the absence of the injured, freshman Joey LaLeggia is the main man. He's +15 on the year and has 11-27-38. Those are astounding numbers given that he's only got three power play goals. LaLeggia's brilliant freshman season saw him named the CHN rookie of the year. He's not a big guy—just 5'10"—but he's been a rock for the Pioneers.
John Lee appears to be LaLeggia's partner. he's the muscle in the pairing at 6'2" but is also a good skater; he was a fifth round pick of the Panthers in 2007. If you're adding that up, yeah: he's 23. Veteran. Scott Mayfield is a penalty-prone stay at home guy with massive size (6'4") and an excellent draft pedigree (a second rounder). He may be deployed in an effort to slow down Brown and/or Guptill depending on how long the fracturing of the top line lasts.
Sam Brittain is 60-40 to be the guy
Goalie. Denver has three different goalies with double-digit games, something I don't think I've ever seen before. Junior Adam Murray, the least impressive statistically, only got his starts thanks to an injury to sophomore and Panthers draftee Sam Brittain. Once Brittain returned he and freshman Juho Olkinuora split starts. Both have impressive save percentages (.931 and .924, respectively). Despite Brittain's slight edge in that category his GAA is a couple tenths worse than Olkinuora (2.39 and 2.18). You'll note that neither of those is very high.
Denver fans aren't sure who will get the call this weekend. Based on recent play Brittain has the edge. He stopped an alarming 67 shots in the double OT win over Duluth; the next night Olkinuora was bombed for four goals on 18 shots before getting pulled for Murray in the third. I'd guess Brittain gets Ferris State and will maintain that spot in the event of a win that isn't 6-5.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
PP For / G
PP Ag / G
The numbers are blowout for Denver. Their power play is 11th, clicking at 22%. Michigan's is 46th at 15%. Michigan has a better penaltky kill at 85%, but Denver is middle of the pack at 82%. Stay out of the box.
Michigan vs Those Guys, Hypothetically
Single elimination hockey. Is insane.
Take care of the puck. Bob Daniels on the Pioneers:
“After watching tape on DU, we realize we have to be careful with turnovers. They’re a team I think, full of predators. They have so much skill up front that any type of turnover, could be very dangerous. We’re going to turn pucks over, but we want to make sure we’re very careful where they occur.”
- Ferris State Head Coach Bob Daniels
If you're thinking of Michigan's recent tendency to cough up horrible turnovers, you're not alone.
Hope the relatively chipper injury report is a front. If Zucker's out that's a big boost.
Wear them down if at all possible. Denver's shorthanded on the blue line and will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. If the first one is close or the inevitable overtimes are unbalanced, a steady diet of dump, chase, cycle could have the Pioneer defensive corps sucking wind in the third. A corollary…
Survive an offensive onslaught in the first period or so. Hypothetical Denver matchup is a rare one in which the other team has a clear edge in offensive talent. Michigan will have to ride it out and get to the part of the game in which they're fresher.
For the love of God stay out of the box. Obviously. Michigan prefers games like the ones they had against Notre Dame where penalties are rare animals.
The Big Picture
Michigan of course has to beat Cornell to find themselves against Denver. From there, win or disintegrate into component atoms.