Since the heartbreak in Tampa, the Pioneers have been set out on a mission of redemption to claim their eighth title in program history. On April 8, a year’s hard worth of hard work and buying into the “process” preached by Head Coach Jim Montgomery earned the Pioneers college hockey’s grandest prize; the 2017 national championship.
With the 3-2 victory over the their “fiercely respectful” National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) rivals, Denver (33-7-4, 20-4-3 NCHC) clinched its eighth national title in program history over the Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs (28-7-7, 15-5-4 NCHC).
“We stuck to the process all year and we knew it was going to come if we kept playing with the process. And that’s what we did,” Denver’s lone scorer, sophomore forward Jarid Lukosevicius said.
Requiring 24 minutes to initially light the lamp, it only took 16 seconds for Denver to double its lead. Lukosevicius would score all three goals in the second period.
Lukosevicius’ two goals were 16 seconds apart, becoming the first player to score a hat trick in championship history since Montgomery did so in his national championship for the University of Maine in 1993. Lukosevicius also now holds the record for scoring the fastest consecutive goals in championship history.
Lukosevicius’ first goal was a tip-in off a freshman defenseman Michael Davies (St. Louis, Missouri) wrist shot taken from the point. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Squamish, British Columbia native cashed in his second goal of the night stationed low in the crease, from a pass from classmate Troy Terry (Denver, Colorado).
Duluth scored on the powerplay in-between Lukosevicius’ trio of tallies. Senior forward Matt Marcinew (Calgary, Alberta) was assessed for hooking. The Bulldogs soundly dismantled Denver’s penalty kill, scoring 32 seconds with the man-advantage. Adam Johnson centered the puck to Alex Iafallo, who was all alone down low and beat junior goalie Tanner Jaillet (Red Deer, Alberta) far side with a one-timer cutting, Denver’s lead in half.
Fortunately for the Pioneers, Lukosevicius’ hands were still hot. As Denver picked up momentum, Terry fired a shot at Duluth goalie Hunter Miska in transition. Miksa deflected the puck to the back door where Lukosevicius was properly positioned to score his 16th goal of the season.
Intensities heightened between teams with the obvious championship at stake. Late hits were exchanged, one costly where junior defenseman Tariq Hammond (Calgary, Alberta) was crunched against the boards. Hammond immediately whineced in pain and was required to be wheeled off in a stretcher, not returning until the post-celebratory events.
“I was overcome with emotion when I saw him come back out. But I’m not surprised,” Montgomery said. “He has the heart of a champion. He’s an incredible teammate. And he’s definitely wearing a letter next year, probably our captain next year. And he was emotional. But he just kept saying: We did it, we did it.”
Duluth struck back late in the third period, as Riley Tufte buried a rebound off of a shot initially taken by Blake Yount, cutting the Bulldogs’ deficit down to 1. UMD’s final efforts weren’t enough to thwart Denver’s success, as Jaillet made 16 third period saves in the win.
Denver graduates nine seniors who entered their DU careers simultaneously as coach Montgomery began his coaching helm.
“It’s a little bit romantic that it’s my fourth year,” Montgomery said. “So I feel like I’m graduating with them. But incredible, because their commitment has been unreal to the program, especially in the last 18 months. And what they learned from Grant Arnold, who was an incredible captain for two years, it helped me change the culture into a selfless [one]and about the team first and not about individuals. It was mind boggling, and then what they did to add to it as a group was incredible.”