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Denver has eye on home ice in Frozen Four

Thursday, 01.17.2008 / 9:00 AM / On Campus

By James Murphy - NHL.com Correspondent

By Monday, Denver was six points behind first-place Colorado College in the WCHA standings.
Riding a seven-game win streak and ranked No. 3 in the country, Denver rolled into Madison, Wis., last weekend to take on their slumping WCHA rivals. But after taking the first of a two-game set 3-2, the Pioneers were broadsided by the Badgers with an embarrassing 7-2 loss. By Monday, Denver was six points behind first-place Colorado College in the WCHA standings and had been leapfrogged by the Tigers in the national rankings, falling to No.4.

“You don’t like to see that happen, but I think maybe our team needed that right now,” Head Coach George Gwozdecky said.

“Sometimes when you get decked, and we got flattened, it’s a good thing because you can take for granted what got you to where you are. So this can hopefully remind our team of that and get us back to where we need to be in terms of preparation.”

With 13 freshmen on the team, the veteran head coach might be a bit more nervous that his team may not bounce back from such a loss and possibly head into a tailspin, but Gwozdecky knows that he still has a strong core of veterans that have done and will continue to do their best to prevent that from happening.

“We have been very impressed with the way the freshmen have responded on this team, specifically up front, but there’s no way they could’ve done so without the help of the veteran core on this team,” Gwozdecky said.

Gwozdecky referenced senior defenseman and captain Andrew Thomas, assistant captains Chris Butler (defense, junior), J.P. Testwvide (defense, junior), Tyler Ruegsegger (forward, sophomore), and the remaining seniors on the team, goaltender Peter Mannino, defenseman Zach Blom, and defenseman Tom May. As Gwozdecky, pointed out, the mentoring and leadership of these players has been essential to the rapid development of the freshmen and younger players on the team. Another key ingredient was the seniors’ early taste of success, winning the 2005 national championship, followed by the bitter taste of two straight seasons in which they have missed the NCAA tournament.

“The key to the development of our core of freshmen was that they come in here and be comfortable and understand what we’re trying to build here,” Gwozdecky said.

“This senior group knows what it takes to win a championship, but they also know what it feels like to lose as well. One of the best experiences is obviously to have great success like they did in their first season, but losing can be a learning experience if you want it to be. This group knows that. They know this isn’t easy. You don’t just put your jersey on and win.”

Mannino, who won the Frozen Four MVP in 2005 and enters this weekend with a record of 17-5-0, a 1.95 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage, agreed with his coach and has made a point to emphasize the importance of every practice and game.

“Especially in college, every game is so important because you’re battling for position with fewer games,” Mannino said.

“The seniors on this team tasted what it was like to win it all but we’ve also learned what it feels like to not even make it to the tournament. The juniors and sophomores have been part of the last two years, not making it and they know now too, how hard it is. I mean, you look at last year and I think we missed the tournament probably because of only one game. If we had one more win, we probably would’ve made it.

“So we try our best to pass on our experience to the freshman class and make them realize that nothing can be taken for granted and even though it sounds like a cliché, every game counts and each practice matters. You always have to be prepared and give your best.”

Mannino believes that the freshman contingent has grasped that philosophy and has been impressed with their work ethic.

“This is a great group of freshmen because not only are they talented but they’re good character guys too,” the undrafted Mannino said.

Tyler Bozak was second on the team in scoring with 21 points, and has become a key ingredient to the Pioneers’ offense.

“They always seem willing to learn. They don’t ask why something happened but how do I do it better or correct it? You can tell they want to improve.”

One freshman who has apparently soaked in the wealth of knowledge and experience the veteran players have to offer is freshman forward Tyler Bozak. Heading into Friday’s game at Air Force, Bozak was second on the team in scoring with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists), and has become a key ingredient to the Pioneers’ offense. Bozak credits the veteran players and seniors for immediately teaching him what it takes to win on a consistent basis and allowing him and the other freshmen to fit in.

“I really didn’t know what to expect when I got here, but the veteran players really made all of the freshmen feel comfortable and helped us understand what we have to do to win,” said Bozak, who is also undrafted.

“This has become a good room to be a part of and those guys did a great job of making us welcome and feel a part of what we’re building here.”

What the Pioneers hope to be building toward is a repeat of the path that led them to the 2005 National Championship. Except this time, the road doesn’t lead to Columbus, Ohio; it leads across town to the Pepsi Center in Denver, where the 2008 Frozen Four takes place. The Denver players are well aware of the fact that they have the chance to play for National Championship in front of their fans, but for now they’re focused on a trip to Colorado Springs on Friday and then a game with Bemidji State in their own barn, Magness Arena, on Saturday.

“We know we have the chance to play for the championship here but we’re doing our best to not let it be a distraction,” Mannino said.

“We need to continue to achieve the daily and weekly goals we set, and look to the next game.”

If they can do that successfully, the 13 freshmen on this team may be able to repay the four seniors in the same fashion they came in, with another national title.

Campus Notes – In anticipation of Selection Sunday, which is two months away, the first PairWise rankings were released this week, and Colorado College and Michigan were tied for first. Denver was third and Miami and New Hampshire were tied for fourth. The PairWise Ranking is a system which attempts to mimic the method used by the NCAA Selection Committee to determine participants for the NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament. The PWR compares the top 25 teams in the RPI Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), judging them by four criteria: record against common opponents, head-to-head competition, record against other top 25 teams if the team has faced at least 10 top 25 opponents, and the RPI. For each comparison won, a team receives one point. The final PWR ranking is based on the number of points (comparisons) won against top 25 teams. Ties are settled by the RPI. …Wisconsin filed a formal protest Monday with the WCHA regarding an apparent goal scored in the waning moments of Friday's game at Denver that was disallowed following a video replay review. Badger forward Matt Ford appeared to score a goal with less than a second left in regulation to tie the game at 3-3. Though television replays showed that Ford scored with 0.9 seconds remaining, referee Randy Schmidt ruled that the puck did not cross the line prior to the end of the period, allowing Denver to escape with a 3-2 win. The league acknowledged the error Saturday in a formal statement. …ECAC Hockey and the American Cancer Society announced this week that they have teamed up to help fight cancer with the creation of Pink At The Rink. This newly created variation of a traditional Coaches vs. Cancer program will provide critical outreach, while raising funds in support of the American Cancer Society's life-saving cancer research, education, advocacy, and community service efforts. The main premise of the program will have ECAC Hockey women's hockey teams wearing specially designed pink jerseys on consecutive weekend home series – Feb. 8-9 and Feb. 15-16. These game-worn jerseys will then be auctioned on-line at a newly created Web site (www.ecachockeycoachesvscancer.com) that is targeted to be launched Jan. 22. The game-worn pink jerseys will be personalized for each institution and showcase ECAC Hockey Coaches vs. Cancer and ECAC Hockey logo patches. “All of ECAC Hockey is extremely excited about the inaugural Pink At The Rink project,” said ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell. “With the efforts of our league administrators, coaches, student-athletes, on-ice officials, and fans alike, we are confident of the benefits that will result from the program in supporting a cause that hits to close to home for many of us.”

NHL.com Top Ten

1. Michigan (20-2-0)

2. Miami (21-3-0)

3. Colorado College (16-6-0)

4. Denver (17-5-0)

5. New Hampshire (13-6-1)

6. North Dakota (14-5-4)

7. Michigan State (12-8-1)

8. Notre Dame (18-7-1)

9. Northeastern (11-5-2)

10. Massachusetts (9-5-5)


 

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