CHICAGO -- Leading up to the 2017 Frozen Four in Chicago, Denver head coach Jim Montgomery noticed a change in his team compared to last year’s postseason play.
A year ago in Tampa, the Pioneers fell to North Dakota in the semifinals, and the Fighting Hawks went on to win the title.
Now in this postseason, the team has a different game plan, or what they call “a business plan” for how the season should end – with a national championship. Nothing else.
“I think if you watched our team, this year when we won we weren’t very emotional when we won." Montgomery said leading up to the Frozen Four. "This was part of the business plan that I think our seniors have given a rock-steady attitude to our group. Last year, when we beat Ferris State to go to the Frozen Four, it was euphoric. I don’t think we came down emotionally. Now being around the players they are ready to get back to work, they are hungry for that next step and they have been there before. So I think that is the biggest difference that experience will allow us to prepare better starting earlier than we do last year.”
Montgomery said that the Frozen Four loss in 2016 was what fueled the fire at the start of this season. The discussions began at length last spring, between Montgomery, the captains and the senior group of players talked about how they needed to be better.
“I think a lot of those healthy discussions and communications has led to a lot of trust among everyone in our program,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said that as the season has gone on, he has not had to speak about the plan again, as the Pioneers produced a 32-7-4 record.
On Thursday night, Denver defeated Notre Dame 6-1 to earn another chance at the title, getting one step closer to finishing the plan and will face Minnesota Duluth on Saturday night. The team left their coach at a loss for words. Montgomery said in the postgame presser that he was amazed by the effort of his team against the Fighting Irish.
"I think everybody's got that in the back of their mind and just the feeling of [the loss to North Dakota in Frozen Four],” senior Evan Janssen said after Thursday’s game. “We still think about it all the time. So here, this time, we're looking to go to the next step."
In Montgomery’s four years as the head coach of Denver, the Pioneers have gone on to make it to the first round, second round, the semifinals and now a national title game.
“It's been a real nice progression. I wish we could have skipped a couple of steps, to be honest, and we're looking to skip one more step on Saturday night,” Montgomery said. “I just feel that the culture of the program has just gotten better and there's been a more we attitude and a team-first attitude that you can see it on the bench. No one cares who is scoring the goals. We're just relentless with four lines and 6 D, and we have a hell of a goaltender behind everything.”
The attitude has helped the Pioneers continue on the path they attended, and as Notre Dame’s head coach Jeff Jackson put it after Thursday's game, Denver looked like “a team on a mission.”
"We've been here last year and we lost in the semifinal, and it was pretty crushing for a lot of us," senior Emil Romig said. "So in speaking of being being a mission, we've been working to get back here all year long and we wanted to do aything we could do get back here and work hard to to accomplish that. Being back here feels great, but we got to finish it off."