Preview: Denver Cup

Site: Magness Arena, Denver
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 2-3, 2009
Participants: Boston University, Rensselaer, Holy Cross, Denver

Game 1: Boston University vs. Rensselaer, 4:35 p.m. MT Friday

Boston University Terriers (11-4-1, 6-4-1 Hockey East)
Head coach: Jack Parker
Leading scorers: So. Colin Wilson (7-14–21), Sr. Chris Higgins (8-8–16), So. Nick Bonino (6-10–16)
Leading netminder: Fr. Kieran Millan (8-1-1, 1.79 GAA, .922 SV%)

Rensselaer Engineers (3-13-1, 2-5-0 ECAC)
Head coach: Seth Appert
Leading scorers: So. Chase Polacek (4-11–15), Fr. Patrick Cullen (7-5–12)
Leading netminders: Sr. Mathias Lange (2-9-1, 3.08 GAA, .910 SV%)

Game 2: Holy Cross vs. Denver, 7:35 p.m. MT Friday

Holy Cross Crusaders (5-11-1, 5-8-1 Atlantic Hockey)
Head coach: Paul Pearl
Leading scorers: Jr. Brodie Sheahan (5-9–14), So. Jordan Cyr (8-5–13)
Leading netminder: So. Adam Roy (4-10-1, 3.59 GAA, .878 SV%)

Denver Pioneers (13-5-1, 9-4-1 WCHA)
Head coach: George Gwozdecky
Leading scorers: So. Anthony Maiani (6-19–25), So. Tyler Bozak (7-14–21), Jr. Rhett Rakhshani (7-10–17)
Leading netminder: So. Marc Cheverie (13-5-1, 2.19 GAA, 926 SV%)

Tournament Outlook

Once again, four conferences are represented in this year’s Denver Cup. The WCHA-affiliated host, the No. 5 Pioneers, again take on an Atlantic Hockey foe — this time in the form of Holy Cross — while Game 1 sees another top-five team in action, as third-ranked Boston University of Hockey East matches up against ECAC Hockey’s Rensselaer. Each of the visiting squads is making its debut in this tournament, which began in 1992, but RPI head coach Seth Appert and DU bench boss George Gwozdecky are well-acquainted — Appert was an assistant on the 2004 and 2005 NCAA title-winning Pioneers under Gwozdecky.

Boston University comes into the Denver Cup tied for second in Hockey East and on a five-game unbeaten streak. However, the Terriers will miss leading scorer Colin Wilson and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk this weekend, with both playing for Team USA at the World Juniors. That puts even more of an onus on the likely starter in net, freshman Kieran Millan, who has compiled the nation’s 10th-best goals against average this season amidst an increasing share of the minutes in goal for BU. Featured on offense will be Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino, both of whom are above their scoring averages of last season for the fifth-best scoring squad in the nation, and a very solid blueline corps led by Matt Gilroy and Colby Cohen.

Rensselaer, meanwhile, looks to this weekend to reverse a season-long slide. The Engineers have just three wins so far, and only one in their last nine games, ending the first half by losing a two-game sweep by a combined score of 10-2 at the hands of Miami. RPI ranks in the bottom 10 in Division I in both scoring offense and defense, though Mathias Lange’s save percentage is only a bit off last year’s number of .916, and he has given up only four goals in his last two games. Still, a huge step up will be necessary against BU in the semifinals if the Engineers want to avoid the consolation game Saturday.

In the nightcap, Holy Cross will play Denver for the first time ever. The Crusaders sit three games below .500 in the Atlantic Hockey standings, and are coming off a wild 9-4 defeat against New Hampshire on Dec. 12 in which the Wildcats scored four straight goals before the Crusaders matched that feat to tie the game, finally setting up a five-goal third period for UNH. Jordan Cyr scored two of his team-leading eight goals in that game for Holy Cross, while Brodie Sheahan leads the team in points. Netminder Adam Roy’s statistics are a bit distorted by suffering all nine goals against in that game, but the Crusaders are nonetheless 50th out of 58 Division I men’s teams in scoring defense and have given up four goals or more nine times. Holy Cross’ defense has improved of late, though, and the Crusaders are 3-4-0 in their last seven contests after winning just two of 10 previously.

Denver seeks its third straight and 14th overall Cup title, this time aided by the services of Tyler Ruegsegger and Rhett Rakhshani, who missed last season’s tournament while at the World Junior Championship. However, the Pioneers will be without number-two scorer Tyler Bozak, out indefinitely with a meniscus tear. Much like last year, when DU carried a four-game winning streak into Cup weekend, this edition of the Pioneers has won seven straight to climb atop the WCHA standings to end 2008, and in Bozak’s absence Denver will look even more to the likes of Rakhshani, Ruegsegger and scoring leader Anthony Maiani to key the nation’s second-best scoring offense. Also important will be goaltender Marc Cheverie, who has stepped ably into the void in the DU net and has been particularly strong of late, with a goals against average just over one and a ridiculous .964 save percentage in his last seven starts.

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