MONTREAL - Freshman Brett Stapley was a University of Denver Pioneers supporter long before he sported the crimson and gold himself.
That's why representing the eight-time national champions at the NCAA Frozen Four this week in Buffalo is extra special for the 20-year-old forward, who is hoping to bring the coveted trophy back to the Mile High City.
"The first game I watched Denver play, I was 12. I came to Denver with our Pee-Wee team. We had a tournament with the North Shore Winter Club," explained Stapley, whom the Canadiens selected in the seventh round, 190th overall last June. "Days before the tournament, we got tickets for a UD game. I think they were playing Miami University and I was like - 'Wow, the atmosphere in this rink is crazy. The hockey is so fast and entertaining.' I started following college hockey a lot after that."
Fast forward to February 2017 when Stapley officially committed to one of the top programs in the college ranks south of the border.
Just a few months later, he watched on TV as they bested the University of Minnesota Duluth to secure their most recent national crown.
Now, the Campbell River, BC native has a prime opportunity to help his school reach the top of the mountain again, beginning with a tilt against the University of Massachusetts in one of two national semi-finals set for Thursday.
"It would be a pretty amazing feeling going from watching them as a kid to watching them win it in 2017 to getting a chance to do it myself," mentioned Stapley. "I remember watching those games a couple of years ago and it looked unreal."
To get to this point, Stapley and the Pioneers won the NCAA West Regional in Fargo, ND by blanking both Ohio State and American International late last month.
Taking part in the NCAA Tournament has been everything Stapley has hoped it would be and more experience-wise.
"It's the most competitive hockey I've ever played right now. It definitely lived up to its hype," said Stapley. "Making it to the Frozen Four is kind of like a cherry on top. There's definitely a rich history here and I want to be a part of that winning tradition."
If Stapley and the Pioneers do achieve their ultimate goal, they would tie the University of Michigan for the most Frozen Four titles in tournament history. That is no small feat.
Looking back - and forward
Stapley registered five goals and 19 points in 31 appearances for the Pioneers this season, along with compiling a plus-nine differential.
After suffering an injury in mid-February that forced him to miss seven games, he was moved from center to wing by head coach David Carle. That didn't faze him one bit, though.
"It's been awesome. I played a lot on the wing in minor hockey and in midget, and also a little bit my first year in Vernon in Junior. I don't mind," said Stapley, in regards to the transition. "I like playing the wing, too. I'll play both."
Overall, Stapley is pleased with his individual progress as the season rolled on.
"I think I've made a big improvement in my skating. I think I'm a lot faster now and a smoother skater," said Stapley. "I'm also a lot more committed to team defense than I was in Junior hockey, just because of the Denver process. It's the way our team pressures pucks and loads after pressuring pucks and the way our team plays defensively. We play a really high-paced, fast game."
All that's left now is to find a way to close out the 2018-19 season in style at the KeyBank Center in Western New York.
"This is probably the biggest it gets for me," concluded Stapley. "Just having that opportunity in front of us, we're extremely excited. I don't think we can end it any better than winning a national championship."