(Photo courtesy of The Ranch Events Complex, treventscomplex.com)

When I heard the news that former Colorado Avalanche defenseman Brett Clark would be taking over Ryan Tobler’s recently vacated assistant coaching position with the Colorado Eagles, I was ecstatic.

A great guy who has spent the past handful of years imparting his wealth of professional wisdom as a development coach for Avalanche prospects, Clark now has the chance to shape the immediate future of the organization while spending time behind the bench.

I also happened to be watching the underdog University of Denver Pioneers men’s hockey squad attempt a literal coup in the semifinal game of the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff tournament against No. 1 seed North Dakota. And although the Pios gave up the tying goal in the waning minutes of the third period and lost just after killing a penalty in overtime, the entire contest was perhaps one of their best of the season.

So what do these two hockey items have to do with one another, you ask?

The answer is Loveland, Colorado. Or more specifically, Budweiser Events Center.

I had all but forgotten, in between this whole trying-not-to-die thing and bites of MacKinnon Krunch, that the home of the Eagles will play host to the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament West Regional at the end of the month (and also next year and in 2026).

This is great news for hockey in the state, though it comes with the small caveat that—as of right now—host school DU doesn’t have a confirmed seat at the table.

The Pioneers struggled mightily this year, battling their own demons and COVID-19 throughout the shortened season to finish fifth in the NCHC with a 9-12-1 record. Winning the Frozen Faceoff would have secured the team a spot in the West Regional.

Now? The school will have to wait and see.

The NCAA’s selection show is on Sunday, March 21, at 5 p.m. MT on ESPNU. So students and fans alike will have to social distance with bated breath until then to learn whether the Pioneers will get a chance at their ninth national championship.

What’s that? The University of Denver wasn’t in the Top 15 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll or in the Top 20 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll as of March 15, you say?

Well that is problematic, but it doesn’t signal a complete disqualification.

According to the NCAA, of the 16 teams participating in the tournament, “6 conference champions will receive automatic qualification with the remaining best 10 teams being selected on an at-large basis by the Division I Mens Ice Hockey Committee.”

There’s nothing like transparency and accountability to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

However, USCHO.com expands on this vague notion of “at-large” selection by suggesting that the governing body’s totally understandable PairWise Ranking system, as well as certain criteria and input from an advisory committee comprised of collegiate coaches, will have a role in the tournament’s final field.

So here’s to hoping that St. Cloud State’s Brett Larson liked what he saw from his team’s two victories over DU this season and Denver’s two superb games in the end-of-season shindig.

Maybe legacy will factor in?

Otherwise, this could be like when Pepsi Center—yes, now called Ball Arena—hosted the Frozen Four in 2008 all over again. Both the Pioneers and the Colorado College Tigers lost in the regional tournaments and fans in Colorado had to watch Boston College take home the title.

I didn’t go, but I shudder at the memory nonetheless.