Many college hockey fans might look at the Denver Pioneers’ 2012-13 roster, notice the absence of Drew Shore and Jason Zucker, and think that DU might be trouble this season.
Those that think that will, in all likelihood, be proven wrong.
Sure, Shore and Zucker, both of whom forwent their remaining years of college eligibility to join the professional ranks, will be missed. The duo provided 44 of DU’s 139 goals last season, but there’s still plenty left in the Pios’ tank.
DU’s best returning talent, however, plies its trade mainly at the Pioneers’ own end of the ice.
This year’s team will be led from the net out, starting with preseason WCHA goaltender of the year Sam Brittain. The junior sat out much of last season with a knee injury, but he inspired his teammates after returning to the ice, improving with every start and posting a 2.36 goals against average and .932 save percentage in 12 appearances.
DU fans will also rest easy knowing head coach George Gwozdecky’s team possesses the deepest stable of netminders in the WCHA. Brittain is backed up by sophomore Juho Olkinuora (2.18 GAA, .924 SV%), who had been recruited as an emergency goaltender but more than repaid the faith Gwozdecky put in him last season after Brittain fell injured.
However, Olkinuora and sophomore forward Larkin Jacobson were suspended four games each earlier this week for separate violations of team rules. It therefore remains to be seen whether Olkinuora remains in the No. 2 spot or if senior Adam Murray, who made 14 appearances last season, steps in as Brittain’s top understudy.
As for Denver’s skaters, junior forward Nick Shore and sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia will head up their teammates at their respective positions. Shore (13 goals and 28 assists in 2011-12) is the Pioneers’ leading returning scorer, and he could make up half of a deadly one-two punch with senior two-way forward Shawn Ostrow (11 G, 10).
LaLeggia (11 G, 27 A) won the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year award last season, and he will be expected to terrorize opponents again this time around. Sophomore Scott Mayfield (3 G, 9 A) also had a promising freshman campaign in 2011-12, and they will anchor DU’s young but exciting set of blueliners.
Whether Nick Shore – and younger brother and incoming freshman Quentin, because evidence suggests there’s a rule now that DU has to have two Shore brothers on its team every year – and Ostrow can make up for the absence of Drew Shore and Zucker remains to be seen.
The Pioneers return all sorts of talent and potential at all positions, though, and the Gwozdecky’s club shouldn’t experience a considerable drop-off from the success they enjoyed last season.
Head coach: George Gwozdecky (Wisconsin ’78)
2011-12 record: 25-14-4 (16-8-4 WCHA)
Predicted WCHA finish in 2012-13: 3rd
Home ice: Magness Arena; Denver, Colo.
-Average attendance in 2011-12: 5,359