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DENVER — In front of a good-sized crowd of fans Tuesday at Magness Arena, the Denver Pioneers celebrated their season and eighth national championship, one which culminated last week with a 3-2 defeat of NCHC rival Minnesota Duluth at the United Center in Chicago.
The event included Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, DU Chancellor Rebecca Chopp, and the entire Denver team and coaching staff.
Denver coach Jim Montgomery, in a meeting with the media, said of the crowd in Chicago, “I remember talking to Mr. Dan Ritchie and he said that he thought it was the biggest Denver contingent ever outside of Denver.” The team was happy with the celebration at Magness.
Denver captain Will Butcher, hoisting the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Championship Trophy high above his head, led his teammates onto the ice, where they walked on a red carpet to a setup at center ice.
“It came yesterday and it was a feeling I can’t really describe for you,” said Butcher of realizing his team had won the championship and he had won the Hobey Baker Award. “We were all just sitting around and talking about the national championship game and every moment, what each guy was thinking. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Defenseman Tariq Hammond, who broke his ankle in the third period of the championship game against Minnesota Duluth, was assisted out in a wheelchair by freshman Michael Davies, whose shot was deflected by Jarid Lukosevicius in the second period for Denver’s first goal.
“He’s got to go see a specialist again; he’s going to have surgery as soon as the swelling goes down,” said Montgomery. “He needs to have surgery to correct and fix the broken bone in his ankle.”
“I’m feeling pretty good; obviously my ankle hurts a little bit,” said Hammond. “Just being part of what’s going on right now and seeing everyone so happy, it’s just crazy to be a part of it. It kind of feels surreal that we won a national championship.”
Hammond, who is facing a three- or four-month recovery post surgery, a surgery expected this Friday, also talked about Montgomery’s assertion in the post-championship presser that Hammond would be wearing a letter as either a captain or alternate captain.
“It’s crazy to me,” Hammond said. “Being a leader on any team is a special privilege. Learning so much from our captains this year is a big part of that. They’ve done a great job, so if I have the opportunity to do that I have big shoes to fill. Our whole team has so much experience right now that everyone is a leader on our team. One guy isn’t going to lead the team, it’s going to be our entire team as leaders.”
Chopp, Hancock and Hickenlooper all gave speeches during the celebration, and all three were challenged with Lukosevicius’ name, stumbling over the pronunciation. Host Conor McGahey, a DU alum, finally told them and the assembled fans the right way to say it. Hancock took a selfie with the team, getting them to all gather in a circle around Hammond, and Hickenlooper ended his speech by pronouncing April 11, 2017, forever “Denver University Hockey National Champions Day.”
In his speech, the proclamation also talked about Montgomery earning his 100th win this season and Butcher taking home the Hobey Baker Award and Tanner Jaillet winning the Mike Richter Award. He also tweeted that out with a picture of him at the podium at center ice.
Butcher gave a speech thanking is teammates and was celebrated for winning the Hobey Baker Award, and the event ended with a speech from Montgomery, who thanked the team and fans and then specifically called to star forwards Henrik Borgström, Dylan Gambrell and Troy Terry, saying, “Let’s do it again next year!”
Terry, who also won the World Junior Championship with Team USA earlier this season, acknowledged it was a special season for him.
“Yeah, it’s definitely helped me confidence-wise as a player just to be able to do that stuff,” he said. “I’ve been pretty luck to play on some great teams, and it’s been a pretty special year. The World Juniors was really cool, winning that was pretty special, but this one was a lot more personal to me. It’s pretty incredible.”
Borgström, who was named a first-team All-American during the Frozen Four, talked about the weekend as something that he still felt light about, and joked about his new short haircut.
“It feels good; now that I have my new haircut going on it feels even better,” said Borgström. “It feels really amazing. Two days after this happened, I feel like I’m on the air. I’m so glad, so happy for us. Maybe next week I’ll figure out what we did last weekend. It was a good tournament for sure.”
Borgström also talked about the images of him chasing Montgomery’s child around the ice during the on-ice celebration Saturday, and the one of him picking Montgomery up in a bear hug.
“That was nice; JT is always after me, or I don’t know if I’m after him, that was really fun,” said Borgström. ”I thought they were happy. It was really nice someone got pictures of that.”
Both Terry and senior Evan Ritt, who grew up in Colorado, talked about what it meant to them as locals to help Denver win its championship.
“I grew up going to Pioneers’ games; I watched them in ’04 and ’05, and as a little kid playing hockey I know how much it means to the community here, the school and all the alumni,” said Terry. “It meant a lot for us.”
“It’s crazy; a lot of people have reached out to me,” said Ritt. “I’ve thought about this question, what does it mean to be a Colorado guy, and I just thought about when I grew up, I watched the ’03-04 and ’04-05 teams and it was the coolest thing watching them win. I didn’t ever expect to make it here and you don’t really understand what all goes into winning at this level until you make it here, and it’s been really cool to be a part of this with this group of guys. I think that’s the best thing for me, is being with a group like this.”
Montgomery also talked about next season a little and trying to add to Denver’s championship total and catch overall leader Michigan with nine.
“Obviously, it’s the next goal to try and add and continue to add,” he said. “Denver has a great history of going back to back, so maybe we can do that.”