NCAA: Denver Pioneers win the 2004 National Championship

By DJ Powers





NCAA: University of Denver Pioneers, 2004 National Champions

It was a battle of two excellent defensive teams led by
two superb goaltenders. But when it was all over, it was the underdog
University of Denver Pioneers who would win the 2004 National Championship. The
Pioneers defeated the University of Maine Black Bears 1-0 in a very tight
defensive game.

 

Before the game started, it was announced that Denver senior
Lukas Dora had been suspended due to
violating team rules. Dora was however present to cheer on his Pioneers
teammates.

 

Both teams were excellent defensively, but it would be the
ineffective power play that would eventually lead to Maine’s demise.

 

The pace of the game was off to an excellent start,
particularly by the Pioneers who were skating very well. 

 

Denver senior Max
Bull
received the first penalty of the game at the 3:39 mark for hitting
from behind, putting the Maine Black Bears on the power play. Maine’s power
play had struggled in the post-season, and the national title game wouldn’t be
any different.

 

At the 5:05 mark, junior Derek Damon appeared to have put the Black Bears on the board on
the power play with a nice sweeping backhander behind Pioneers goaltender Adam Berkhoel (CHI). However, the goal
would be disallowed due to freshman Mike
Hamilton
(ATL) having the toe of his skate in the crease.

 

Although the disallowed goal appeared to take a bit of the
wind out of the Black Bears’ sails, Maine continued to fight to get back on the
board.

 

One area that Denver was quite effective was on their
aggressive forechecking and physical play. The Pioneers effectively used the
body, particularly when play was along the boards.

 

At the 11:49 mark, Maine junior defenseman Matthew Deschamps would be called for
Interference, putting the Pioneers on the power play. The Pioneers possess an
excellent power play and the game’s only goal came on a Denver power play. At
the 12:26 mark, sophomore Gabe Gauthier
got the Pioneers on the board. Gauthier tallied his 18th goal of the
season, adding to his team-leading total. Senior Connor James (LA) who drew the lone assist on the goal did an
excellent job out muscling a Maine defender to get Gauthier the puck. Gauthier
fired a wristshot from the slot area that beat Howard through the five-hole for
the score.

 

One area that got Denver into trouble throughout the game was
undisciplined play that led to several Maine power play opportunities. The
Pioneers took three penalties in a span of less than four minutes in the late
stages of the opening period. Thanks to excellent defense coupled with the
outstanding work of Berkhoel, the Black Bears were unable to capitalize on
their chances. Sophomore sensation Jimmy
Howard
(DET) was excellent in the opening period as he stopped many of
Denver shots to keep the game close for his team.

 

The Pioneers came out with energy and were outstanding in
their defensive coverage. The tight-checking, stingy defense, that Maine had
become known for, suddenly became Denver’s strength. Denver began to take the
defensive game to Maine. The Pioneers did an excellent job of taking away the
neutral zone as well as winning the one-on-one battles.

 

The second period saw the chippiness in the game pick up as
both teams really went out one another with two scuffles resulting in matching
minor penalties in the period. The momentum swung back and forth all through
the period. At the 8:16 mark, Pioneers junior Jeff Hammond would be assessed a penalty for obstruction/hooking
giving the Black Bears another opportunity to get the equalizer. While Maine
was able to generate some sustained pressure in the Denver zone, they were
still unable to capitalize on the man-advantage. One reason was their inability
to get a good shot on net.

 

The third period saw the Black Bears come out with urgency
and good pressure early. Hammond would once again give the Black Bears another
power play opportunity as he was sent off for holding at the 3:24 mark. The
Pioneers relentless pressure on the Black Bears was effective in not allowing
them to get anything set up on the power play. The Pioneers never sat back in
the entirety of the third period with the lead. They continued to attack,
playing smart and were solid defensively.

 

In the nearly last two minutes of regulation time, the
Pioneers gave the Black Bears their best opportunity of the game to get the
equalizer. Junior defenseman Matt
Laatsch
was called for a hook at the 17:51 mark, giving the Black Bears yet
another power play. At the 18:26 mark, sophomore Gabe Gauthier would be called for delay of game. This would give
Maine a two-man advantage for nearly the rest of regulation time. After a time
out was called by Maine head coach, Tim Whitehead, Howard was pulled for an
extra attacker, giving Maine a six-on-three power play for well over a minute.
It was here that Maine’s inept power play would become glaringly obvious. The Black
Bears generated few good scoring chances but their failure to simply shoot the
puck at the net as much as possible would eventually cost them the national
title. The Black Bears seemed to try and make the perfect play, waiting for the
most opportune moment. It was a moment that failed to come.

 

When the buzzer sounded, Denver had won their first national
championship since 1969. The 1-0 shutout that MVP Adam Berkhoel (CHI) posted was the first in a national title game
since 1972. Both Berkhoel and Howard were superb in the game and did just about
all they could to help their respective team’s cause. Denver freshman
defenseman Matt Carle (SJ) and Maine
freshman Mike Hamilton (ATL) were
both outstanding. Carle’s solid positional play continues to get better with
each game. With the departure of senior Ryan
Caldwell
(NYI), Carle will likely see his role expanded next season.
Hamilton made great strides during the season to make better use of his
6’0”/200 frame, and as a result his overall game improved significantly,
particularly in the post-season.