Jeremy Bracco's departure is now in the past; in the immediate future for the Eagles is their biggest test of the young season so far, a top 10 matchup with the Denver Pioneers tomorrow night at Kelley Rink. To help preview the Pioneers, we enlisted the services of LetsGoDU, a blog covering all things Pios. Nick from LetsGoDU answered our questions about Denver and we returned the favor for their site.
To the Q&A!
1. So, what about DU is different from the last time these two teams met back in March? And what has stayed the same?
The first and probably the most obvious difference is DU's loss of its senior leadership in its 7 graduating seniors last year. Gone are the likes of Joey LaLeggia, Josiah Dider, Danny Doremus, and other obvious on-ice leaders. This class was the last large link to the George Gwozdecky era; an era in which a physical, dump-and-chase brand of hockey dominated the Crimson and Gold. When Coach Jim Montgomery came in three years ago, he made it clear that he wanted to change the DU on-ice strategy to a more relentless, fast-paced style. There are now just four Gwozdecky-recruited players on the 2015-16 roster. We're finally really seeing what Coach Montgomery was talking about with "relentless Pioneer hockey." You're going to see a very different type of Pioneer hockey this weekend than you saw in the Providence regional last season.
2. Who are some players BC fans will want to keep an eye on Friday night?
Danton Heinen will lead the list of all players to watch for, especially in Boston. I'm sure most, if not all Boston hockey fans know the name. He's the Bruins' 2014 4th round pick and he really broke out last year as a freshman and led all NCHC rookies in scoring. He was probably the best player on last year's roster not named LeLeggia. Also be sure to watch for (likely) linemate Trevor Moore. He was the only player on the roster who challenged Heinen in the scoring department last year. He actually ended up scoring more goals than Heinen. Because of Heinen and LaLeggia, many didn't hear about him. He's poised for another great year. We don't know who's starting in net for either game this weekend, but regardless of who is tabbed for Friday night, you'll be in for a treat. Both Evan Cowley and Tanner Jaillet have had great starts to the year. Cowley has faced more shots on the season while Jaillet posted the 16 save shutout against Michigan State. Demko vs either one of DU's goalies will be a treat and all who attend the game should be excited for this matchup.
3. I have to ask, what happened in DU's loss to Air Force? Like BC's loss to RPI a few weeks back, was it just a weird, "that's hockey" sort of game?
That loss was an odd game. There was a significant "luck" aspect to the game for the Falcons. They seemed to get all the lucky bounces. I don't think any of Air Force's 5 goals on the night went in "clean." They all just had weird bounces. That being said, Denver was a team that didn't know each other very well. There are a lot of freshmen and a few upperclassmen who haven't seen much ice team in the past few years. Coming into the season, we knew there would be a kind of "feeling out" process for this team. I don't think anyone thought it would result in a loss to Air Force, but alas, that's hockey. I think this Air Force team has what it takes to surprise a few people. They know how to block shots and get in passing lanes. I was very impressed with their defensive effort. It was clear that DU made the needed overnight adjustments to earn a split of the home-and-home series the next evening.
4. What are some general impressions about the team's performance so far this season? What style of play should BC fans expect to see on Friday night?
As I mentioned above, you're likely going to see a very fast-paced style of hockey. What this team might lack in size it more than makes up for in speed and skill. Freshman Troy Terry is a perfect example of that. He stands at just 5' 11", 167 lbs, but the kid is about as slippery as they come. His hands are some of the best I've ever seen. I'd say the 3rd period will be the period to really watch. That was where DU really separated themselves from Michigan St in both games and game two against Air Force. One of last year's team's biggest strength was along the blue line and this year, it's one of the pleasant surprises. They've bent but haven't really broken at all this year. Now, this weekend will be its first real test, so it will be interesting to see if they can rise to the occasion.
5. BC's penalty kill has been outstanding so far this season; Denver's power play has struggled at 1-for-14. With special teams likely to be a key factor in a game between two excellent teams, what approach do you expect from DU on the power play?
DU has surprised many with its struggles on the PP. That being said, I wouldn't say that the PP has been particularly ineffective. They've been great about gaining and building important momentum on those opportunities. I remember two or three PP's against MSU that the puck didn't leave the zone. No one touches the puck for long on the PP. They share the puck and get the puck deep if there's nothing there. Both Air Force and Michigan State had surprisingly stingy PK units. There were a few situations against both teams when the Pios scored just after the PP ended. The idea behind the Pios' PP is to get someone out of position before taking a shot. They've run into a couple of really hot goaltenders so far this year and it sounds like Demko will be no different. BC's PK will likely have some statistical success, but that doesn't mean that DU's PP unit won't be able to generate great, momentum-building possessions.
6. With DU ranked up near the top of the national polls right now, are you expecting a run to the Frozen Four this year? Or are your expectations in check early in the season?
I don't know if I speak for everyone when I say that I was a bit surprised to see DU ranked so high to start the year. Any time a team loses the senior talent and leadership that DU lost last year, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. For that reason, I don't read too far into early season results. There is certainly no shortage of talent on this team and there is no reason why the Pios can't make a run to the Frozen Four. Assuming these two teams don't meet in the regional for the third year in a row, I think there is a very good chance we'll see a DU-BC rematch in Tampa.
7. Any predictions for this weekend trip in Boston? (Denver plays BU Saturday night after the BC game Friday.)
As far as this weekend is concerned, I think it's tough to give an educated prediction. The safe pick would definitely be a split for the Pios. This is this team's first legitimate test of the year. Air Force and Michigan State aren't exactly going to set the world on fire this year. DU has had a lot of success recently against BU, so I think Saturday's matchup will end up in the Pios' favor. Friday is more of a toss-up. DU-BC has provided a lot of great on-ice theater in recent years and I think Friday night will be no different. It easily could be a Denver sweep, but realistically, I think it will be a weekend split.
Thanks again to Nick from Let's Go DU! for answering our questions!