The Denver Pioneers play in their 23rd NCAA Hockey Tournament on Friday afternoon when they take on the Ferris State Bulldogs in an opening round contest in Green Bay, WI. In the Midwest Region, the Pioneers drew a No. 3 seed while Bulldogs are a No. 2 seed.
The Pioneers lost in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Hockey Tournament, but things looked good for the coming 2011-2012 season. That is, until goalie Sam Brittain needed surgery on his knee, which sidelined him until early 2012. But the Pioneers had better news over the summer when they and other schools formed the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which will begin play in 2013. That left the Pioneers with two years in the Western College Hockey Association.
The team enters the tournament with a 25-13-4 record and a second-place finish in the WCHA. The team had to sweat it out until the Final Five portion of the WCHA playoffs to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but they reached 11th place in the PairWise rankings to receive an at-large bid. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux defeated the Pioneers in the WCHA Tournament championship game for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The team is led by future Minnesota Wild player Jason Zucker (22 G, 46 points) and Drew Shore (21 G, 52 points). Freshmen Joe LaLeggia (38 points) and Ty Loney (21 points) have also had their stretches of impact games with the Pioneers this season.
Juho Olkinuora has played in 22 games (19 starts), posting a 2.19 GAA. However, he has rotated in and out of the starting lineup with Sam Brittain (11 G, 2.39 ERA) and Adam Murray (14 G, 2.98 GAA).
Head over to Western College Hockey Blog for more WCHA news and notes.