Caitlan Gannam | Clarion

The 2017 National Hockey Champions, the overall No. 1-ranked DU Pioneers returned home to Denver, Colorado and hosted presentation of the championship trophy along with a victory celebration in Magness Arena on April 11 at 6 p.m.

“I don’t want this feeling to end,” Head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Whether I don’t sleep again for two weeks, it doesn’t matter, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

An estimated crowd full of 1,700 full of students, faculty, staff, alumni and DU community members gathered to commemorate the historical moment in program history and congratulate the team on the stellar accomplishment of beating the University of Minnesota-Duluth 3-2.

“I think it’s just icing on the cake. We had such a great year the whole year,” Senior captain and Hobey Baker Award recipient Will Butcher said. “The guys were so focused and ready to go. To come out and win a national championship, the eighth for our program means a lot, especially for our senior class. Those guys have worked so hard, it’s been a great four years, there’s nothing better that we could have imagined.”

Memorabilia was distributed to fans in attendance including a Denver hockey championship shirt and a poster with a picture of the team and the trophy. A video detailing the Pioneers journey to success followed by autographs from the student-athletes and coaching staff.

Senior forward Evan Ritt grew up and Lakewood, Colorado and scored in the Frozen Four semifinal against the University of Notre Dame on April 6 in the Pioneers 6-1 win before advancing to the final against Duluth. The experience is still surreal for Ritt, who used to have a far different perspective of the ice than the one he’s embodied these past four years.

“When I grew up I watched the ‘03-’04 and ‘04-’05 teams win and I didn’t really ever expect to make it here,” Ritt said. “You don’t really understand what all goes into winning at this level until you make it here. I think that’s the most special thing for me, is just being with a group like this [senior class]and being in Colorado just adds to it.”

Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock were also in attendance. Hickenlooper declared April 11 DU hockey national championship day during his speech as he congratulated the team.

While hockey continues its celebrations, Denver’s powerhouse of athletics continues to its send programs to their national tournaments.  

“I think it speaks to the amazement to every since day one I’ve been here of how we lead this athletic department here to me,” Montgomery said. “Always someone is going to a national tournament. We’re getting ready to pat each other on the back and help push each other to get better. I’m really proud of Melissa Kutcher[-Rinehart] and everything that gymnastics has done. When they’re done we’re going to start pushing the lacrosse team towards their national championship.”

Slideshow: Caitlan Ganam | Clarion