The 2013-14 season marks a new era for Denver Pioneers hockey. Not only has the team joined the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), for the first time in 19 years, the man behind the bench is not George Gwozdecky.
Gwozdecky, who was dismissed by the school this past April 1st has since landed on his feet as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lighting. In to replace Gwozdecky, is Montreal, QC native Jim Montgomery. Montgomery played four years at the University of Maine in the early 90s; winning a national championship in 1993 alongside Paul Kariya.
After retiring from professional hockey in 2005, Montgomery took up an assistant coaching position with Notre Dame. He held a similar position at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for the next four seasons. A head coaching opportunity opened up in 2010 in the United States Hockey League with the expansion Dubuque Fighting Saints. Montgomery led the club to championships in two of the past three years before moving on to Denver.
Fast forward to Friday night and the hometown Pioneers were greeted to stands that were only about half full. Despite Montgomery's accolades, it's clear that the firing of George Gwozdecky has made an impact on attendance.
Montgomery started a line featuring Larkin Jacobson, Daniel Doremus, and Matt Tabrum. Joey LaLeggia and Josiah Didier were the starting defensive pairing with senior Sam Brittain between the pipes.
Will Butcher was paired with David Makowski throughout the game. Butcher was patient, preferring to let his defensive partner Makowski control the ice offensively for the Pioneers. Makowski, a free-agent, is looking to top his 27 point season from a year ago. Expect NHL teams to be scouting the St. Louis, MO native.
The Pioneers were aggressive in the offensive zone in the first period; thanks to four penalties on the Merrimack Warriors. A point shot on the power play from Nolan Zajac was tipped by Daniel Doremus; to lead to the only goal scored in the game.
The second and third periods were more evenly played. Each club had 11 shots in the second frame. Butcher received time on the second PP unit. He also started out on the PK for Denver for the Warriors first PP attempt.
Joey LaLeggia was a bit careless in the second period with a couple of turnovers. Warriors starter Sam Marotta came up with a huge glove save on Matt Tabrum in the latter portion of the second period. Sam Brittain had a 25 save performance.
Some postgame comments from Will Butcher:
Describing the experience of his first regular season game:
"Oh, I thought it went pretty well. I was actually pretty nervous out there to start the game, but I got into kind of a groove so to say after the first period or so I got the jitters out of me. I can't believe we won the game, it was an unbelievable experience."
On being paired with David Makowski:
"We just feed off of each other, when he goes up I stay back, when I go up he stays back. I think the coaches saw that we had good chemistry right off the bat in practice. I like playing with him, he is a great guy; really contrasts my game really well."
On what changes to make against Merrimack on Saturday:
"Definitely try to get up into the play a little more. Help the guys put more pucks in the net besides one. I think we will have to score more than one goal tomorrow to win the game."