Fresh off winning the NCAA championship, the Denver Pioneers hockey team is raring to go for another successful season with plenty of players from their championship team returning as well as plenty of new talent.
The Pioneers kicked off the 2017-18 campaign with a rematch of the 2017 national semifinal, as they visited Notre Dame in a two-game weekend series. After beating the Fighting Irish 6-1 in the Frozen Four semis (and then Minnesota-Dultuh in the final), the Pioneers went to South Bend and left with a win and tie to get the year started right.
The Pioneers’ home opener is a two-game weekend series against Lake Superior State beginning Oct. 20.
The true tests begin in the second week of November, as the Pioneers will face St. Cloud State (Nov. 10-11), North Dakota (Nov. 17-18), as well as a road trip for a Frozen Four finals rematch against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (Dec. 1-2).
Following those three highly anticipated weeks against top contenders for the NCAA crown this season, the Pioneers will have a home-and-home series against Colorado College, with the series beginning on Friday, Dec. 8 at Magness Arena.
It won’t take long for the Pioneers to cross paths with these dangerous teams again though, as they will have to go through them once again in the final weeks towards the end of the regular season.
Players to watch this season
The Pioneers have plenty of experience returning for the upcoming season, including the return of prolific goal-scorers Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry, and Danny Gambrell. Those three represent Denver’s top-three point scorers from last year’s championship team.
Along with the return of the offensive firepower, the Pioneers have the services of Mike Richter Award winner Tanner Jaillet in net.
As you can tell from this video from the first game of the two-game weekend series against Notre Dame, Borgstrom is already in mid-season scoring form.
Henrik Borgström didn't miss a beat
Posted by Denver Men's Hockey on Friday, October 13, 2017
There are high expectations for Borgstrom, who finished tied for second on the team with 43 points last season. However, there are plenty of other players who will make an impact for the Pioneers for this upcoming season. Some are new, and some are old — but they all improve a deeply talented Pioneers roster.
Although he is often in the shadow of Borgstrom and Terry, Finlay gives the Pioneers an edge to their game that is vital to their success. Finlay has the specialty to play aggressively on the penalty kill, forcing the opposition out of their comfort zone, and creating opportunities for the Pioneers.
When it comes to European players, a large concern is how long it might take these particular players to be able to adapt to the new style of play. This will be no different for Heikkinen, but he will have a fellow countryman to help him out — as Borgstrom went through the same trials a couple of seasons ago.
He may need time to become used to the North American style of play, but Heikkinen is a highly touted forward who will allow the Pioneers offense to continue to be deadly.
After finding plenty of success in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Penticton Vees, the Pioneers expect Mendel to replicate this same level of success as he starts his career in the NCAA.
During his time with the Vees, Mendel developed a reputation as one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the league, which the Pioneers are expecting him to replicate in his first season at the NCAA level.
The former Colorado Thunderbird will be looking to have plenty of success as he heads into his first year as the backup goalie for the Denver Pioneers.
Known for his prolific positional awareness in the crease, Rasmussen also possesses the ability to have a mixture of exceptional cross-crease movement, and overall athleticism that allows him to come up with timely saves throughout the season. Along with his obvious physical abilities, Rasmussen possesses tremendous poise and balance within the net, as well as the mental ability to remain calm in nearly all situations — a valuable ability to possess when heading into a brand new league.
With plenty of talent in place, the Pioneers are the early favorites to repeat as NCAA champions. They entered the preseason atop both national polls and remain there after a successful opening weekend against the Fighting Irish.
The Pioneers open their home schedule with a pair of games this weekend against Lake Superior State.