Puck Preview: Denver

Submitted by Brian on March 22nd, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Ah, hell, let's do the whole regional.

BONUS CORNELL CONTENT: check out MGoUser ecormany's scouting report of the Big Red. He's a Cornell season ticket holder. Also kdrake offers some impressions from the Cornell-CC series.

crWJ09mayqze3wf4sYl6V0VYo1_400[1]The Essentials 

WHAT Michigan vs Denver(?)
WHERE Green Bay, heart of the CCHA
WHEN 9:30 Eastern Saturday
LINE College hockey lines, junkie?

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.


Drew Shore

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:

  Denver Michigan
PP For / G 4.1 3.7
PP Ag / G 4.3 4.2
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.



March 22nd, 2012 at 2:59 PM ^

As a Colorado College season ticket holder, I watched DU in person twice this year, and also viewed them numerous times on TV throughout the year.  Here are a few things I noticed.

  1. Dirty – DU is a very dirty team.  They frequently hit after the whistle and throw cheap shots throughout the game.  Against CC especially, they made a concerted effort to hit the goalie during play or after the whistle any time they were close to him.  The dirty play was amplified against CC as they are rivals, but even against Minnesota, they were very dirty.
  2. Goalie platoon – Brittain has been excellent in the two games I have seen him play.  Olkinuora has been streaky.  I have seen him play really well in one game and then give up a couple real easy goals in the next.  The past couple weeks the two goalies have been switching every other game.   If the pattern continues, Brittain is Ferris, and Olkinuora is Michigan.
  3. Offense – the majority of the offense develops around the Shore brothers and Zucker (all graduates of Pioneer, fyi).  All three are very quick with great vision and puck handling abilities.  As a team, they crash the net hard after shots and (as mentioned earlier) are not afraid to take out the goalie in the process.


March 22nd, 2012 at 4:17 PM ^

I just hope I can find a live feed overseas for this game. I know it will be on ESPN3/ESPNU but that guarantees nothing. It seems like every sport besides college hockey can be found streaming online.


March 22nd, 2012 at 5:25 PM ^

I am a rare poster on Mgoblog, but the check the site daily.  That being said, I felt compelled to write something to have this taken down.  It just doesn't feel right.  With all the 1st round losses we have succumb to as a 1-seed (well, only one comes to mind really), I just think this can be saved somewhere on a desktop until it is hopefully needed.  Especially with our recent loss to Ohio, feels wrong to have this up.  That is all...




March 22nd, 2012 at 5:37 PM ^

in Red's 6 prior appearances as a regional #1 seed, Michigan has gotten to the Frozen Four 4 times, lost in the second round once and lost in the first round once (Air Force, 2009).  Those same 6 #1-seeds produced 0 NCAA championships and so obviously no Championship Game appearances.  Red is pretty bad at losing.






March 22nd, 2012 at 8:28 PM ^

I love the puck previews, but this is way premature!  There is absolutely no reason to post this, the last thing we want is a jinx!  This is single-elimination playoff college hockey for crying out loud!  TAKE THIS GODDAMN POST DOWN NOW!  And hopefully put it back up Saturday.


March 22nd, 2012 at 10:01 PM ^

Denver Media report is that Zucker is a game time decision (likely out) and there are up to 5 normal guys that Denver could be without.  The past few weeks of the season have not been kind to the Pioneers, and even if they get through Ferris, I don't see how they get full strength. 



March 23rd, 2012 at 12:39 AM ^

Last time Cornell was in Green Bay, they lost 1-0 in triple OT to Wisconsin, back in 2006.

So if anyone wants to be an ass to the cornell fans, start up a "triple overtime" chant before the game. And then watch it come true....