A summer attitude adjustment has helped Denver become a power
Once a week Denver practices end on a sour note. After the last
two-on-one has been run, the Pioneers and their coaches line up
at center ice behind a ripe lemon for a shootout treated with
funereal seriousness. The players and staff take turns on
breakaways until all but one has put a puck past the goalie.
That last man earns a hideous yellow helmet, which he must wear
throughout the ensuing week of practice, and the lemon, which he
must consume before leaving the ice. "I got it once, and it's no
joke," says senior center Chris Paradise. "Nobody wants that
These days the possibility of sartorial unpleasantness plus a
bitter snack is the only downside to playing in Denver. After a
first-round exit in last season's Western Collegiate Hockey
Association playoffs, the top-ranked Pioneers (27-6-1) have
regained the powerhouse status they enjoyed while winning five
NCAA championships between 1958 and '69. The combination of the
country's best goaltending duo--junior Wade Dubielewicz (15-2-0,
NCAA-best .946 save percentage) and sophomore Adam Berkhoel
(12-4-1, .917)--and a fast, physical defense has given Denver a
one-point conference lead over St. Cloud State entering this
weekend's regular-season-ending action. "The expectations these
players have of one another are huge," says coach George
Gwozdecky. "When they see something less, there's no yelling and
screaming, there's embarrassment."
That attitude has its roots in last year's season-ending playoff
sweep by Wisconsin. Soon afterward the Pioneers' rising seniors
urged their teammates to scrap their summer plans and to stay in
Denver to train together. The majority of the players bunked in
off-campus housing while working as instructors at Gwozdecky's
youth hockey camp until 4 p.m., enduring late afternoon
weight-training sessions and playing shinny games at night.
"We'd be dead tired, working 10-hour days and working out," says
senior captain Bryan Vines, a defenseman. "Then we'd be up at
6:30 the next morning to run before camp started. Seeing that
commitment, you knew big things were going to come."
Big things have come from the Pioneers' defensemen, in
particular the pairing of 6'1", 180-pound junior Aaron MacKenzie
and 6'2", 171-pound sophomore Ryan Caldwell, who also work the
point on different power-play units. The defense has been
virtually impenetrable in late-game situations: The Pioneers are
24-1-0 when leading after two periods and have surrendered only
17 third-period goals.
Last month Denver's administration extended the contract of
Gwozdecky, whose name had been mentioned in connection with
vacancies at Michigan State and Wisconsin. "This isn't a city
like some others in which hockey is the only game in town," says
Gwozdecky. "But I wouldn't have stayed if I didn't think this
program would soon be perceived in the elite group. Everything
that could attract a great hockey player is in place here."
Expanding the NCAA Field
A Fair Shake in The Postseason
Last month the NCAA competitions cabinet approved a measure
that, once it expectedly passes two more committee hurdles, will
bring the national tournament field from 12 to 16 teams
beginning next year. That increase will acknowledge the growth
of the college game (from 40 Division I teams in 1988, when the
field grew from eight to 12 clubs, to 60 today) and the paucity
of at-large bids. "The increase of 20 teams would be reason
enough to expand," says Jack McDonald, athletic director at
Quinnipiac University and chair of the Division I men's hockey
committee, "but the revenue our tournament generates has been
going up steadily, and that's opened a lot of eyes."
Expansion will eliminate the imbalance built into the existing
format. The 12 tournament teams are divided into two six-team
regionals, with the top two seeds in each receiving a
first-round bye. Seeds 3 through 6 must win twice in two days
(the second game against a rested club) to advance to the Frozen
Four, a daunting task that only 13 of 80 such seeds have
accomplished since the single-elimination format was adopted in
1992. It's likely the new format will eliminate byes and have
four regionals with four teams each.
Expansion will increase at-large bids from seven to 10 while
accommodating automatic bids for the NCAA's newest leagues, the
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and College Hockey
America (CHA). "The MAAC and the CHA have lived by Division I
rules, and they deserve the bids," McDonald says. "Not that they
have national championship-caliber teams, but they deserve
access to the national championship."
Here's a Powerful One-Two Punch
It was expected that goaltending would be responsible for any
success Cornell might have this season, but nobody could have
predicted that the Big Red's first regular-season ECAC title
since 1973, which was clinched with a 2-2 tie last Friday
against St. Lawrence, would come thanks to a pair of netminders.
Senior Matt Underhill (10-4-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average,
fifth in the nation) was the known quantity, but freshman David
LeNeveu (9-2-1, top-ranked 1.58 goals-against average) has
bulled his way into a costarter's role. "It's a no-brainer: A
kid that talented can't sit on the bench," Underhill says of
LeNeveu. "He's technically sound--if you try to recall a big
save he's made, you can't, because he's always in the right
Though he's had success with the platoon--Underhill usually
starts on Fridays and LeNeveu on Saturdays--coach Mike Schafer
says he'll ride one goalie through the postseason, but he hasn't
decided which one. "They're both future pros, and they're
equally able to do the job," Schafer says. "How do you keep
everybody happy? Keep winning."
COLOR PHOTO Pioneers defensive anchors MacKenzie (20) and Dubielewicz kept St. Cloud's Doug Meyer in check in a 5-2 win.
COLOR PHOTO: JAY HEATH PHOTOGRAPHY
COLOR PHOTO: ST. CLOUD STATE
who should win the Hobey Baker Award?
C NEW HAMPSHIRE
The 5'9", 170-pound native of Milton, Ont., was through Sunday
third in the NCAA in scoring (26 goals and 35 assists) and led
Hobey online fan balloting. The senior had averaged 1.37 points
per game in his career.
C ST. CLOUD STATE
The 6-foot, 200-pound native of Fort St. John, B.C., was through
Sunday first in the NCAA in scoring (32 goals and 32 assists) and
second in online fan balloting. The junior had averaged 1.38
points per game in his career.
THE VERDICT: Both are explosive, but Hartigan, who had an
NCAA-best six shorthanded goals, can change a game. He's our