Coming into this season, coach George Gwozdecky is optimistic about his team’s chances, and with good reason. While several of his peers lost key components of their teams, Gwozdecky didn’t lose all that much, comparatively. His team is stocked and loaded with depth he hasn’t seen in years.
“Our seniors will give us the luxury depth that we haven’t had in that class for at least three years, if not four,” he said. “Obviously the leadership experience of that senior class will be obviously crucial to the season for us.”
As a result, it’s no surprise that the Pioneers were the unanimous preseason pick to finish the season holding the MacNaughton Cup center ice at Magness Arena. They also want to be “good enough” this season, for Gwozdecky described last year for the Pioneers as being “close, but not good enough.”
Of course, the Pioneers aren’t going to be taking that praise and early expectation to their heads — they know better than that.
“The WCHA poll is something that creates interest,” said Gwozdecky, “but once the puck drops, when the season begins, it means absolutely zero. I think that’s the way we looked at it and the players looked at it and said, ‘Fine, we’ll move on now.'”
The Pioneers didn’t lose a lot offensively last year. Their main loss up front was sophomore Tyler Bozak, who missed half the season with injuries but scored 23 points in the 19 games he did play. They also lost Patrick Mullen, a utility player who filled in up front and on the back line.
However, the Pioneers return a lot, most notably in the form of senior Rhett Rakhshani, junior Anthony Maiani and sophomore Joe Colborne. Rakhshani tends to be streaky, but in Denver’s case, it works out as there are plenty of other players to fill the void. Particular examples include senior Tyler Ruegsegger, juniors Maiani, Jesse Martin and Kyle Ostrow and sophomores Colborne and Luke Salazar.
The Pioneers also have some freshmen forwards coming in they expect to contribute immediately; namely Ostrow’s little brother Shawn and Drew Shore.
On the Blue Line
Except for the aforementioned Mullen and captain J.P. Testwuide, the Pioneers return a large chunk of their defensive corps, particularly sophomore Patrick Wiercioch. Wiercioch was the team’s third-highest scorer last season with 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) and should continue to improve as he gets more experience under his belt.
Wiercioch is joined mainly by senior Cody Brookwell, juniors Chris Nutini and John Ryder and sophomore John Lee.
However, Gwozdecky plans to play his three incoming freshmen defensemen — Matt Donovan, Paul Phillips and William Wrenn — as well to help acclimate them to the WCHA grind.
In the Crease
Denver returns junior goaltender Marc Cheverie who was the team’s workhorse last season. Cheverie played in all 40 contests and performed admirably with a 2.34 goals against average and .921 save percentage.
However, Gwozdecky has said that he will be platooning Cheverie with freshman and U.S. Under-18 Team product Adam Murray for at least the first several games. Although some people might be scratching their heads why, it’s fairly simple — Denver has typically gone with a rotation in the past and it’s going to need someone who can step in if Cheverie goes down (or leaves early).