After seeing his No. 18 Denver team fall 4-2 against Nebraska-Omaha last Friday, Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery felt the time had come to send his players a message.
Montgomery said Denver’s skaters had relied too much on No. 1 goaltender Sam Brittain this season, and there’s certainly some truth to that. No netminder in the NCHC has had to make more saves than the 520 shots Brittain has stopped this season, yet the senior goalie also leads the league in save percentage at .929 and shutouts with two.
Denver’s setback last Friday, though, gave Montgomery reason enough to shake things up, and that change came in the form of Brittain taking a place on the bench for the rematch the following night.
Making Montgomery’s decision all the more profound was that the only other Denver goalie that made the trip, freshman Evan Cowley, had made only one prior appearance this season in a 3-2 loss to Alaska-Anchorage on Oct. 19.
Both Brittain and Cowley were NHL draft picks by the Florida Panthers, however, and Brittain’s understudy came up huge last Saturday for the Pioneers by making 33 saves en route to a 4-1 win over the Mavericks.
After Cowley picked up his first collegiate win Saturday, Montgomery justified his choice to put the seldom-used freshman in for the last of the two teams’ four regular-season meetings after UNO had won the first three.
“He had a great week of practice, and we’ve always said that if you practice well, you’re going to get an opportunity to play,” Montgomery said.
“Part of it was we thought our team was relying too much on Sam, and we needed to play with a little more vinegar out there and a little more sandpaper, and I think we did that. But Evan had to make several big saves and he controlled rebounds extremely well for us.”
Denver scored first in both games last weekend against UNO, but whereas the Pioneers faltered Friday thanks in large part to two goals from Mavericks forward Josh Archibald, DU’s defense did a much better job of clamping down in the rematch.
UNO tied Saturday’s game at 1-1 when a short-handed goal from defenseman Nick Seeler 3:19 into the second period canceled out DU defenseman Nolan Zajac’s opening goal at 15:55 of the first. After Seeler’s strike, though, the visitors did a much better job in their own zone than they had the night before, and DU won the game thanks to three unanswered goals, including a pair of insurance tallies in the third period.
Perhaps a big reason why Cowley performed so well Saturday was that, although he’d had such little playing time, after Montgomery told the freshman he’d be in net for the series finale, Cowley made a point of treating that game like he would any other.
“I’ve played in [situations like this] before, and [the preparation] is nothing new,” Cowley said. “You just try to stick to your routine and I think I’ve done a good job of getting into routines and sticking to that this year and making sure I was prepared, so it was just a normal game day and I treated it like any other.”
If his performance Saturday was an indicator of what the Pioneers have to look forward to once Brittain departs at the end of this season, Montgomery is right to feel his goaltending situation is going to be in good hands.
“We have a lot of confidence in Evan Cowley,” Montgomery said. “He just proves how good our goaltending is going to be for the next several years to come.”
All eight NCHC teams are set to join Western Michigan for the Broncos’ annual Ice Duchenne weekend.
Four years ago, Louie Facca, son of WMU associate head coach Rob Facca, was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. Duchenne’s is a disease that results in the degeneration of muscle and affects the brain, heart, legs and lungs.
Duchenne’s, which is the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed during childhood, affects one in every 3,500 boys worldwide. There is no known cure for the disease, but aggressive therapy and treatment have proved to slow the effects of the disease.
In May, Louie’s grandfather Bob will walk approximately 2,500 miles from Quebec City to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to increase public awareness of Duchenne’s and to raise money to spur research.
This year, Western has teamed up with Jesse’s Journey, a Canadian foundation set up by John and Sherene Davidson after their son, Jesse, was diagnosed with Duchenne’s. John pushed Jesse across Ontario in his wheelchair in 1995 before John trekked across Canada alone in 1998 and raised $2 million in donations.
This weekend, players from each NCHC team will join the cause by wearing “No Bad Days” logo decals on the backs of their helmets.
Fans in Kalamazoo for WMU’s series this weekend against Nebraska-Omaha can donate at Lawson Ice Arena. Any donor that gives $500 or more will receive an autographed Detroit Red Wings jersey signed by former Broncos player Danny DeKeyser.
Anyone interested in donating to the cause can do so online here.
— WMU Hockey (@WMUHockey) February 17, 2014
NCHC suspends CC’s Hansen
Colorado College has battled its way out of last place in the NCHC and is looking to close the current 10-point gap between itself and sixth-place Western Michigan, but the Tigers will be a man short this weekend following a suspension ruling that came down from the league Tuesday morning.
Freshman forward Matt Hansen will sit out both of CC’s games this weekend against archrival Denver. He was given a five-minute major penalty and game disqualification at the end of last Saturday’s home game against Western Michigan after swinging his stick and striking the head and neck area of the Broncos’ Thomas Nitsche.
Nitsche also was penalized during the incident, picking up a two-minute minor for roughing and a five-minute major for cross checking. All of these penalties were handed out after the game’s final horn.
Hansen hasn’t been among CC’s top-contributing freshmen this season, appearing in only 10 games with just one goal and one assist to his name. He had, however, picked up only two penalty minutes this season before the incident with Nitsche.
CC will be able to bring Hansen back for the Tigers’ game at Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 28.
Players of the week
Offensive player of the week — Mark MacMillan, North Dakota: The junior forward picked up the league’s award despite having two goals against Miami last weekend overturned on video review. That didn’t matter much in the end, though, as UND swept the RedHawks at home. MacMillan scored twice Friday in a 3-2 win before ending his weekend with two goals and three assists.
Defensive player of the week — Nick Mattson, North Dakota: Mattson had a monster weekend against Miami and maybe the best of his career with UND, picking up three points and ending the series against the RedHawks with a plus-5 rating over the two games. In UND’s 9-2 win Saturday, Mattson scored back-to-back goals in the second period to put the hosts up 8-1 and also blocked three shots in the game.
Rookie of the week — Jaccob Slavin, Colorado College: The freshman defenseman was a big reason the Tigers picked up four of six points last weekend against Western Michigan. Slavin ended the series with three assists, four blocked shots and nine shots on goal. He also helped the hosts kill all seven of the Broncos’ power-play opportunities on the weekend.
Goaltender of the week — Ryan Faragher, St. Cloud State: The Huskies needed their junior goaltender to come up big against No. 16 Minnesota-Duluth, and Faragher did just that. He ended the series against the in-state league rival with 75 saves on the 81 shots he faced, good for a .926 save percentage and 3.00 GAA in the series. The Huskies got a pair of wins despite being outshot both nights.
USCHO covers the NCHC all week long on the NCHC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.