Defending NCAA champ Pioneers expected to retain conference crown

The Penrose Cup is awarded to the team who has the most points in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference at the end of the season, and the NCHC media voted the University of Denver as the favorites to repeat after cruising to a national title last season.

The Pioneers received 30 first-place votes on the ballots; finishing with 240 overall points to claim first place. St. Cloud University ranked second with 180 points. The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks received 172 points landing them behind the Huskies for third.

Along with most of their championship team returning, the Pioneers’ newest players — including Griffin Mendel, Ian Mitchell, and Kohen Olischefski — are already considered superior to last season’s freshman class.

Griffen Mendel

Considered the best of a highly-skilled freshman group, Mendel spent last season with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees; establishing himself as one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in that league. Mendel has the capability to shut down other teams’ top lines, and is expected to become an important piece for the Pioneers this season. For a large player, Mendel possesses exceptional skating ability that he uses to quickly close the gap on opposing forwards. He also possesses a lethal shot from the point — expect the Pioneers to utilize it.

Ian Mitchell

Mitchell, a well-rounded defenseman who has the ability to score in bunches, still has plenty of room to grow — but the sky is the limit under the tutelage of Pioneers head coach Jim Montgomery. The opportunity to learn from Montgomery, and eventually, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville — Mitchell was picked by the Hawks in the second round of this spring’s draft — gives Mitchell the opportunity for a productive professional career.

Kohen Olischefski

Playing for the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs for the past two years, Olischefski’s accumulated an impressive 124 points in 113 games for the Chiefs. The Chiefs would advance to the BCHL finals, where they would ultimately fall to Griffin Mendel and the Penticton Vees. At six feet tall and 163 pounds, Olischefski possesses abilities that may be able to elevate the Pioneers’ offense to another level. Although he still has room to grow from a physical standpoint, it will be interesting to see how Olifchefski contributes towards a forward group that’s touted as the deepest in the nation.

Although the services of captain Will Butcher will be missed — the former Colorado Avalanche draft pick eventually signed with the New Jersey Devils — the Pioneers are certainly not lost after winning last season’s championship. Reinforcements like Mendel, Mitchell, and Olischefski will ensure that the Pioneers’ high expectations are justified.

The Pioneers kick off their season on Sunday, Oct. 1st, when they welcome the University of Lethbridge to Magness Arena.