They paraded out one by one, the gray hairs becoming less prominent and the memories less dusty with each successive tribute.
By the time the ceremony concluded Saturday night at the University of Denver’s Magness Arena, college hockey’s past and present had collided during a special tribute, much to the joy of the Pioneers’ giddy fans.
The Pioneers unveiled their 2004 National Championship banner prior to their 6-1 sweep-clinching rout of St. Cloud State, also unfurling new banners for each of the school’s previous five national championships.
It was the perfect time for some housekeeping, as DU’s most recent championship banner had been gathering dust in the rafters since 1969. Captains of the each championship team, or their representatives, marched on to the ice before the match carrying their respective championship trophy and standing under their team’s banner as they unfolded from the ceiling.
“The banners are gorgeous. They did a phenomenal job on them,” said Scott McConnell, a senior on last year’s championship squad who represented the 2004 club with Kevin Ulanski, a current DU senior and alternate captain who also was an alternate captain last season.
“To have the guys from the past come and be a part of this event is unbelievable. It makes you feel proud to be part of something very, very special.”
Ed Zemrau began the triumphant parade, carrying an ancient trophy that looked somewhat like a bloated spittoon. Zemrau was the Pioneers’ captain in 1958 when they won the first of five national championships under legendary coach Murray Armstrong.
Zemrau was followed by John MacMillan, captain of the 1960 champs, and Jerry Walker, an alternate captain for the title-winners from 1961.
“To be on the ice with those guys, who you read about in the program and stuff like that, it doesn’t happen too often,” Ulanski said. “I took as much of it in as possible. Those banners are unbelievable. The things that were up there before, I don’t think you can really call those championship banners. These show everybody who walks in our building what this school has accomplished — it makes it a little more important every time you step on the ice and look up and see those.”
Perhaps the most emotional old-school representatives preceded the 2004 club members, as players from DU’s back-to-back championship teams of 1968 and 1969 hit the ice. Both teams were led by the late Keith Magnuson, whose shocking death in a traffic accident last year provided an inspirational force behind the 2004 club’s national championship drive.
Former co-captains Cliff Koroll and Jim Wiste represented the 1968 club, while Tom Miller represented the 1969 team in place of Magnuson. The trio then stood aside as Ulanski and McConnell carried the 2004 trophy on to the ice and watched the final banner take its place in the rafters.
“It was pretty emotional — I had a couple tears I shed with those great memories,” DU coach George Gwozdecky said. “To get all those guys in from out of town and get all those banners done properly, it was a great ceremony. For those that saw it live or on TV, they will remember it for a long time.”
Each of the old-time players visited the Pioneers’ locker room before the game, providing speeches that helped inspire DU to three first-period goals. Always one to preach to his players about the rich history of the DU program, Gwozdecky gladly presented jerseys to the older players, which they wore on the ice for the ceremony.
“I couldn’t think of any other way,” Gwozdecky said. “I was always very aware of the history of this program, but I think somewhere along the way some of it was loss. Some of the pride, some of the tradition, some of the understanding of what it meant to play with that DU jersey on was lost. One of our goals was to regain that pride, and we’ve made some great strides. To watch the six banners unfurl and the pride those guys showed on the ice, it was pretty special. ”