Denver was the unanimous preseason pick to win the league last season. The Pioneers succeeded in this feat by being consistently good throughout the early part of the year before going on an 11-1 tear (9-1 in conference) to finish out the season.
However, it may have been too much, as the team ran out of gas come playoff time, losing both of its games in the Final Five and failing to make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament.
In the offseason, the team lost quite a bit to graduation and early departures, though not as much as its Wisconsin counterparts. However, in similar fashion to Badgers coach Mike Eaves, Denver coach George Gwozdecky isn’t hitting the panic button quite yet. However, he is cautious, knowing the early tough road ahead for his team.
“There’s no question we have a very challenging first 10 games or so, but I think we’re going to find out a lot about our team throughout that first group of games,” he said.
The Pioneers lost four of their top five scorers, one of whom was a defenseman, and some of those points won’t be easy to recover. Their top three alone — Rhett Rakhshani, Joe Colborne and Tyler Ruegsegger — combined for 132 points.
Gwozdecky, however, prefers to think of the silver lining to the loss of his players.
“I don’t think we have any real high-profile players in the older classes perhaps like we’ve had over the last few years coming into this year so I think it’s a little bit different,” he said. “But I think in some ways we could be better just because we won’t have to be looking to a Rhett Rakhshani to score all our goals or a Joe Colborne to score our goals.
“I think we’ll be a little bit deeper and probably expect more out of all four lines to create offense instead of just one or two.”
On the blue line
The Pioneers lost a large defensive and offensive force in Patrick Wiercioch as well as a steady defenseman in Cody Brookwell.
However, the team has players such as sophomore Matt Donovan, junior John Lee and seniors Chris Nutini and John Ryder to help lead the way.
In the crease
At first glance, goaltending looks to be Denver’s biggest weakness this year. Gone is workhorse Marc Cheverie. In his place are sophomore Adam Murray, who played eight games last season (3-4-1, 3.79 goals-against average, .874 save percentage) and two freshmen to fight for playing time.
Doom and gloom time? Not necessarily, Gwozdecky said.
“Three years ago, we were in the very same situation,” he said. “Marc Cheverie had been the backup to Peter Mannino, played five games and had not shown very well as a freshman and, obviously as a starter his sophomore year, all the questions people had about Marc Cheverie and DU’s goaltending and whatever were answered very quickly.
“I’d certainly like to believe that our goaltending is in good hands.”