Rookies Help Denver Reload
There are, at the very least, two sides to every story, and in Denver last summer, the story seemed to focus predominantly on just one — departures of storied head coach Jim Montgomery alongside forwards Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry, Dylan Gambrell and Logan O’Connor, all of whom have played in the NHL already.
The other side of the story, though, was what came in — an influx, in parallel with the exodus, that has shaped the story of Denver’s 2018-19 campaign thus far. And that part of the story goes far beyond the promotion of longtime assistant David Carle to head coach. It’s the story of a freshman class that has kept the Pioneers in the top 10 in the Pairwise, and just two points out of second place in the NCHC, as the second half of the season begins.
Entering this weekend’s series at Wisconsin, Denver’s freshman class has combined for 19 goals and 39 assists. That 58-point total trails only Quinnipiac for the most points among rookies in college hockey this season.
Emilio Pettersen, fresh off a 6-point performance with Norway at the World Juniors to close out 2018, isn’t just tied for the team lead in scoring — his 17 points are tied for second among all NCAA freshmen. For the majority of the season, Pettersen — a Calgary Flames prospect — has played on the Pioneers’ top line, alongside fellow rookie Cole Guttman and senior Jarid Lukosevicius, whose 11 goals pace the team and are tied for 10th most in the country.
The top line has accounted for 44 percent of the team’s goals this season.
And last weekend, one night after defeating Merrimack, Lukosevicius (two power-play goals) and Pettersen (two assists) led the way in Denver’s 4-1 win at Mass.-Lowell to extend the Pioneers’ unbeaten run to three games.
Soon before beginning their careers at Denver, the Pioneers’ freshman class was of course faced with the news that Montgomery was leaving for the Dallas Stars. Practically, though, that didn’t change much of anything at all.
“That didn’t change my decision-making process,” said freshman forward Brett Stapley, a Montreal Canadiens prospect whose nine assists are tied for second-most on the team. “I knew DC [David Carle] very well because he was the one who mainly recruited me. So I trusted him, and again, it didn’t change my decision-making.”
The freshmen arrived to campus early. They took summer classes, worked with elite strength and conditioning coach Matt Shaw, and began to adjust to their new surroundings.
Carle, of course, helped with the transition, too.
“He brings a lot of great things to the table,” said Guttman, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick. “He lets you play your game. He doesn’t hold you back. He lets you be creative within the systems. As a young, skilled team, that’s benefitted us a lot.”
“The other thing is, playing us right away,” Stapley added. “It didn’t stunt the development of our game. We just got thrown right in the mix right away, and that helped us the most.”
Pettersen and Guttman — along with rookie defenseman Slava Demin, a Vegas Golden Knights draft pick — have played in all 16 of Denver’s games this season. Stapley and Tyler Ward have played in 14. It’s an open opportunity for all of them.
Said Stapley, “I have no doubts that our freshman class can [make a mark] — we have the opportunity in front of us, if we keep working hard as a group and pick each other up whenever things don’t go our way, play through all the adversity — I absolutely believe in every single one of those guys.”
Pettersen, in particular, has turned heads — and not for the first time. Once an online sensation for his YouTube highlight reels as a 10-year old, the Mangerlund, Norway, native is arguably the most talented playmaker on the team.
“He’s a great player,” Stapley said. “He’s really fast and reacts quickly to all sorts of things. It’s been fun to have him on our team so far. His dedication, his commitment to the game, is some of the most I’ve seen in my career so far. Having a guy like that, it makes it easier on the rest of us.”
“It’s been really fun playing with him,” said Guttman. “His skill is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Seeing some of the plays, the passes, he makes — it’s been really fun to play with him, fun to watch. We connected pretty well from the start. We’re both learning. We’re obviously both adjusting to the systems, but we’re coming along, and it’s been really fun.”
During the first half of the season, Montgomery and the Dallas Stars came to Denver’s practice. “Monty” assumed his old position, temporarily, on the bench, while the players soaked in advice from the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
It was, simultaneously for Denver’s young team, a nod to the past and a glimpse into the future. The Pioneers (10-4-2) — with 20 freshman and sophomores — have the fourth-youngest team in college hockey.
Now, as the second half gets underway, Carle’s freshmen class continues to form the foundation for Denver’s success this season.
And at this rate, they’ll be the foundation for seasons to come, too.
Originally published at https://www.collegehockeynews.com/news/2019/01/04_In-With-the-New.php