Denver Cup Preview

Site: Magness Arena (Denver)

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 28-29, 2007

Participants: Dartmouth, Northern Michigan, Sacred Heart, Denver

Game 1: Dartmouth vs. Northern Michigan, 4:35 p.m. MT

Dartmouth Big Green (4-4-2, 2-4-1 ECAC)
Head coach: Bob Gaudet

Leading scorers: Sr. J.T. Wyman (6-6 — 12), Sr. Nick Johnson (3-5 — 8)

Leading netminder: Sr. Mike Devine (3-4-1, 2.62 GAA, .912 SV%)

Northern Michigan Wildcats (7-10-1, 5-9-0 CCHA)
Head coach: Walt Kyle

Leading scorers: Jr. Nick Sirota (12-10 — 22), So. Matt Butcher (1-10 — 11), Fr. Mark Olver (5-5 — 10)

Leading netminders: Fr. Reid Ellingson (3-3-0, 2.92 GAA, .893 SV%), So. Brian Stewart (4-6-1, 3.12 GAA, .886 SV%)

Game 2: Sacred Heart at Denver, 7:35 p.m. MT

Sacred Heart Pioneers (6-6-2, 6-2-2 Atlantic Hockey)

Head coach: Shaun Hannah

Leading scorers: So. Nick Johnson (5-9 — 14), Jr. Bear Trapp (4-10 — 14)

Leading netminder: Jr. Stefan Drew (6-5-1, 2.72 GAA, .910 SV%)

Denver Pioneers (14-4-0, 11-3-0 WCHA)

Head coach: George Gwozdecky

Leading scorers: So. Brock Trotter (10-11 — 21), So. Tyler Ruegsegger (8-10 — 18), Fr. Tyler Bozak (9-8 — 17)

Leading netminder: Sr. Peter Mannino (14-4-0, 1.80 GAA, .932 SV%)

Tournament Outlook

Four conferences are represented in this year’s Denver Cup, and a pair of Pioneers meet in the second game. Dartmouth and Northern Michigan meet for the first time in Game 1. Dartmouth is 8-6-2 all-time against the CCHA; the Big Green’s last meeting against a CCHA squad was a 1-1 home tie against Bowling Green Dec. 29, 2004. Dartmouth finished the first half of the season with a 1-0 road loss to Harvard Dec. 1, but the first half wasn’t supposed to end for the Big Green until a Dec. 15 game against Boston University. That contest, however, was rescheduled because of snowy weather. J.T. Wyman is tied for 10th among all D-I scorers in points per game at the midseason point and Dartmouth’s offense is the 22nd-best in the country.

After enduring an eight-game losing streak and a 1-8-0 record through Nov. 9, Northern Michigan has gone 6-2-1 in its last nine games. NMU ended its first half with a tie and a win against WCHA and Upper Peninsula foe Michigan Tech Dec. 14-15 in a home-and-home series, tying at home and shutting out the Huskies, 2-0, on the road. The Wildcats have played three goaltenders this season but really rotate Reid Ellingson and Brian Stewart; Ellingson, a rookie, was the netminder of note for NMU’s season-best three-game win streak in late November. Lead scorer Nick Sirota is 17th in the nation in points per game, tied for eighth in goals per game and tied for first in shorthanded goals.

The second game pits the Pioneers of Sacred Heart against the home Denver Pioneers. Picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Hockey preseason poll, Sacred Heart has exceeded expectations, currently residing in second place behind Air Force in the AHA standings at midseason, three points out of first but with a game in hand. These Pioneers are balanced, with six players having three goals or more but nobody with more than six. Bear Trapp and Eric Boisvert have each recorded points in eight of Sacred Heart’s last nine games. The Pioneers have the second-best combined special teams ranking in Division I, are 16th in power play nationally (18.6) and 13th in penalty kill (87.5). That PK comes in handy, as SHU is fifth overall in penalty minutes, averaging 18.6 per game. Sacred Heart has yet to win a nonconference game (0-4-0) this season.

The other Pioneers will be without Tyler Ruegsegger and Rhett Rakhshani, who are playing for Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship tournament. Ruegsegger is the second-leading scorer for Denver, and Rakhshani was the Most Valuable Player in last year’s Denver Cup. These Pioneers are riding a four-game win streak into their own tournament, having swept Alaska-Anchorage on the road Dec. 14-15. This is a youth-driven team, with 51 of Denver’s 56 overall goals scored by freshmen and sophomores; Tyler Bozak is tied for 10th nationally among freshmen in points per game. Denver has the 14th-best scoring offense in D-I and the second-toughest defense. Denver’s penalty kills is eighth in the nation (88.8) but its power play is 48th (12.3). While the young may carry the offensive play, senior goaltender Peter Mannino has the eighth-best goals-against average nationally and is 11th in the country in save percentage. No. 3 Denver, 51-15-0 against nonconference opponents since 2001-02, has never played Sacred Heart.