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College Hockey:
Denver Cup

Magness Arena, Denver, Dec. 27-28

Yale vs. Nebraska-Omaha, 4:05 MT Saturday
Niagara at Denver, 7:05 MT Saturday
Consolation, 4:05 MT Sunday
Championship, 7:05 MT Sunday

Television: Denver games on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain (DirecTV Ch. 645).

No. 5 Denver (11-6-3)

Players to Watch: F Gabe Gauthier, Soph. (8-19–27); F Connor James, Sr. (6-14–20); G Adam Berkhoel, Sr. (10-5-2, 2.65, .919).

Noteable: Denver returns home after a strange weekend, for what should be an emotional tournament. Coach George Gwozdecky missed the Pioneers’ last game to attend the funeral of former Denver star Keith Magnuson, who was killed in a car accident outside Toronto while returning from the funeral of another former NHL player. Magnuson was an all-America defenseman and member of Denver’s back-to-back national championship teams in 1968-69. … If not for the tragic circumstances, Gwozdecky might otherwise be glad he missed the last game, one which Denver led Minnesota State 7-1, before allowed seven straight goals. Through injuries and ejections, Denver finished the game with two “pure” defensemen. Three goals were scored in less than a minute during a major power play. Denver defenseman Matt Laatsch was given a major for checking from behind, and was ejected. He will miss the opener against Niagara. … Denver remains decimated on defense. Junior Jussi Halme was out because of a broken jaw suffered in Friday’s game, and senior Ryan Caldwell was out because of a head injury and remains questionable. Defenseman Matt Carle is with the U.S. World Junior team and sophomore Scott Drewicki recently withdrew from school. … Gabe Gauthier is second in the nation with 27 points.

Nebraska-Omaha (4-11-3)

Players to Watch: F Scott Parse, Fr. (8-8–16); F Andrew Wong, Sr. (5-7–12); G Chris Holt, Fr. (3-7-1, 3.07, .908).

Noteable: The Mavericks, participating in their first holiday tournament since 2000, come in with a five-game winless streak (0-3-2). … UNO and Yale have never met. … Brent Kisio is the son of former NHL forward Kelly Kisio. His brother plays for Minnesota State. … Freshman Scott Parse came from nowhere to be the team’s leading scorer. … All four Mavericks wins have come on Fridays. … UNO is last in the CCHA in scoring.

Niagara (9-7-1)

Players to Watch: F Barrett Eghoetz, Jr. (13-11–24); F Jeremy Hall, Fr. (11-7–18); F Chris Welch, Sr. (6-12–18).

Noteable: The Purple Eagles are coming off a win over Massachusetts-Lowell, in a game they trailed 5-0 before scoring six unanswered goals. … Niagara is unbeaten in league play, 6-0. … Sophomore Jeff VanNynatten has emerged as the team’s No. 1 goalie, though his last game was a rough one against Lowell. Freshman Allen Barton won that game in relief, and was named CHA Defensive Player of the Week, in part for those efforts. … Junior Barrett Eghoetz, the team’s leading scorer, has been mentioned in some circles as a possible Hobey Baker Award finalist. He’s tied for fifth in the nation in scoring, and tied for third in goals.

Yale (5-8-0)

Players to Watch: F Joe Zappala, Soph. (9-5–14); F Ryan Steeves, Sr. (5-7–12); D Joe Callahan, Jr. (4-5–9).

Noteable: Yale has allowed an astonishing 67 goals 13 games (5.1 per game). The Bulldogs started the season 1-6, and allowed 43 goals in the six losses (7.2). The defense has been good enough to win its last three league games, with a 7-2 loss to Boston University mixed in. … Josh Gartner, the son of NHL Hall of Famer Mike Gartner, emerged last season between the pipes, but has struggled along with the rest of the defense. He’s 3-3 with a 4.68 goals against average. He’s been in net for all three of the Bulldogs’ recent ECAC wins. Coach Tim Taylor still was not sure who would start in net, however, as he headed West. … Denver leads the all-time series with Yale, 6-0. The teams last met in the final of the 1996 Denver Cup. … Sophomore Joe Zappala has the winning goal in four of the team’s five victories.

Quoteable

Denver coach George Gwozdecky: “It’s a big tournament for us. Even though it’s only been around for 12 years, it’s a tournament that is important for us. It’s important that we play well, it’s important that we do everything we can to defend our championship. It’s annually given us a real good jump start to the second half of the season. And in the city of Denver, it’s a big, big tournament where people look forward to attending it and watching teams that they don’t usually get to watch in our conference. It’s important from that standpoint
as well.”

Niagara coach Dave Burkholder: “For our young program, just in our eighth year of hockey, period, we’re honored and very thankful to the University of Denver and Coach Gwozdecky for inviting us to the Denver Cup. I know it’s one of the most prestigious holiday tournaments with a lot of history. The way Denver’s playing — one of the hottest teams in the country — we’re very excited to measure ourselves against one of the best teams in the country. We’ve played a very tough schedule this first semester … So it’s a very exciting time for our alumni and administration. Being a TV game, we’re going to get a lot of fans in western New York to watch. Hopefully, we’ll show well.”

Yale coach Tim Taylor: “We want to build on the success we had right before exams. We were playing pretty well, but just when we start playing well and really wanting to play games, we have the exam break. Now we have to play again without the proper preparation, so it isn’t the best of scenarios but we’ll make the best of it and have a great experience.”

Gwozdecky: “In a one game, nonconference tournament and with the other teams
all having breaks, I think everyone is looking at wiping the slate clean after the first part of the season and starting fresh the second part of the season. It’s always been a good tournament from that point of view, and we’re looking forward to a terrific tournament with teams representing four different conferences.”

Taylor: “[Goalie Josh Gartner] had a good weekend against Union and RPI, and certainly against Union the second night he played the way he was playing last year when we were clicking He’s going to get another look in that role. … There’s no doubt we’ve struggled. It hasn’t been easy this year. But we played our best hockey right before we broke for exams. I think some of our younger players are settling into place, and our veterans are assuming roles more comfortably.”

Analysis: Denver is obviously the prohibitive favorite here. Perhaps Yale is in good shape, considering their porous defense yet Nebraska-Omaha’s scoring woes. Or, maybe it means UNO can break out and get some confidence. That’s why these things are fun. A Denver-anyone final, though, could get ugly, especially with the Pioneers’ trying to last week’s ugliness out of their heads. If it’s Denver-Yale, the scoring could resemble the ’80s.


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