Big scorers gone but Denver has strength in goaltending trio

Denver will rely on a strong defense, anchored by three good goalies, to build a possible league championship foundation this season.

“We are a very different team this year,” Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said. “We lost three big-time scorers in Beau Bennett, Drew Shore and Jason Zucker. Our strength this year is our depth in goal and on the blue line. That is good, because successful teams are built from the goal line out.”

Junior defenseman David Makowski is one of the stalwarts along the blue line as is senior captain Paul Phillips and sophomores Josiah Didier and Scott Mayfield. The goalie situation is a blessing for Gwozdecky, who has three netminders — junior Sam Brittain, senior Adam Murray and sophomore Juho Olkinuora — with considerable WCHA experience and who have enjoyed success.

“The luxury we have there is very rare and very unique as far as my career goes,” Gwozdecky said. “I have been fortunate to have two good goalies at the same time. But three? That is unusual.”

Olkinuora was brought in a year early to serve as a backup after Brittain underwent offseason surgery. The Finn was soon pressed into service after Murray was injured.

The offense will have a little time to develop. But as usual in Denver, there is plenty of scoring potential on the roster.

Junior forward Nick Shore (13 goals, 28 assists for 41 points) is joined by league and national rookie of the year Joey LaLeggia (11-27–38), now a sophomore defenseman, and second-year forward Ty Loney (10-11–21).

“It will be an interesting year for Joe,” Gwozdecky said. “There are a lot of new faces around him, especially on the power play. People are going to game plan for him and try to shut him down.”

Others must step forward such as seniors Chris Knowlton, Loney and Shawn Ostrow to add more offensive punch.

After one exhibition game, defensemen Dakota Mermis and Nolan Zajac and forward Quentin Shore garnered some praise.

“Right now we are wondering where our offense will come from,” Gwozdecky said. “No one stood out. They would look good for two shifts and then look lost the next two. Then again, none of them stood out in a negative way either.”

DU’s season opens Friday, Oct. 19 at home against Massachusetts-Lowell so it has an extra week of practice to find out. The Pioneers host Atlantic Hockey favorite Air Force the next night.

About the Pioneers

2011-12 overall record: 25-14-4

2011-12 WCHA record: 16-8-4 (third)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Third

Key losses: F Beau Bennett, F Drew Shore, F Jason Zucker

Players to watch: F Nick Shore, D Joey LaLeggia, F Ty Loney, D David Makowski, D Scott Mayfield, G Sam Brittain, G Adam Murray, G Juho Olkinuora

Impact rookie: F Quentin Shore

Why the Pioneers will finish higher than the coaches poll: It will be tough, but Denver could climb the standings if freshmen like Quentin Shore can contribute in a big way and the defense remains as solid as predicted.

Why the Pioneers will finish lower than the coaches poll: If the offense struggles, the defense will keep them in every game, but that may not be enough to beat the league elite which would drop Denver to the middle of the pack.