By Brad Schlossman
DENVER — The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team will play the University of Denver in Magness Arena at 8:07 p.m. Central on Friday and Saturday.
It will mark the fifth and sixth games between these teams in Magness in the last nine months alone. They played a two-game regular-season series in February and a two-game playoff series in March.
Although fans have seen this show a lot recently, here are 10 things to know about the Pioneers heading into this weekend’s series:
1. Magness domination
It’s not just UND that’s had trouble winning in Magness Arena (1-6-1 in last eight games there).
Everyone is having trouble there.
The Pioneers have lost three of their last 25 home games dating back to the 2018 National Collegiate Hockey Conference first-round playoffs.
Those three losses were last season.
Minnesota Duluth beat Denver 4-3 in overtime in a game that Denver led with 2 seconds left in the third period. Miami beat the Pioneers 3-1 and Colorado College beat them 2-1.
“I think this locker room helps,” Denver coach David Carle said, pointing at the newly renovated room. “I think the mile high air helps. I just think our guys are comfortable in their routines here. It is a flight for most teams when a lot of teams do bus. Maybe teams are a little bit out of their comfort zone.
“This year, too, our fans have been unbelievable, actually. Our student section has been great. It will be a raucous crowd both games this weekend. I think that helps, too. I think our guys feed off of that.”
2. Only a few left
UND and Denver won back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2016 and 2017.
It doesn’t feel like that long ago, does it?
Well, UND doesn’t have anyone on its roster from that 2016 title team and Denver has three players left from its 2017 title team — senior forward Tyson McLellan, senior forward Liam Finlay and senior defenseman Michael Davies.
Finlay and McLellan were linemates on Denver’s third line for the 3-2 championship game victory over Minnesota Duluth and the played on a line together last Friday against the Bulldogs.
3. Not quite over the hill
Denver’s second-year head coach David Carle has entered into the next decade of his life.
But he’s not exactly over the hill.
Carle, the youngest head coach in college hockey, turned 30 last weekend.
4. Family drama?
Bobby Brink is Denver’s star freshman and a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Eric Burton is a UND blogger who goes by the nickname and pen name of ‘Goon’ and often views things through green-and-white lenses.
So, things could get interesting in the family this weekend.
Burton is Brink’s uncle.
Burton, who walked on to college football teams at Upper Iowa and Bemidji State, does not claim to be the source of Brink’s athletic talents.
5. Filip Larsson is gone
OK, UND fans, take a deep breath.
Denver goalie Filip Larsson is gone.
Although Larsson was only at Denver for one season before signing with the Detroit Red Wings, it must have felt like 10 years for the Fighting Hawks. He played in five games against UND last season, going 4-0-1 with a .973 save percentage and a goals-against average under 1.00.
The first time he faced UND, Larsson stopped 32 of 33 shots in Ralph Engelstad Arena in December.
Then, he stopped 76 of 78 in a two-game, regular-season series — a Denver 2-1 win and 1-1 tie — in Magness Arena in February.
And in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, he had a 32-save shutout Friday and stopped 40 of 42 in the series-clinching game Saturday.
6. But DU has a new Swedish goalie
Denver has gone from one dominant Swede in net to another.
With expected starter Devin Cooley sidelined with an undisclosed injury, 6-foot-6, 215-pound freshman Magnus Chrona has been the starter. And he’s been excellent.
Chrona, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, is 7-1-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
Denver landed Chrona last January, a sign that the Pioneers knew they were going to lose Larsson.
Amazingly, none of the Pioneers’ coaches had seen Chrona play in person prior to the first practice of the season.
“He’s been really good,” Carle said. “Really impressive for a freshman in his first year in North America. There are a lot of adjustments culturally, the ice size and all those sorts of things. He’s done a great job. He’s been real steady for us. He’s a big goalie who plays like a big goalie. So, it’s been really good.”
8. Cooley could be back this weekend
It’s not guaranteed that Chrona will be in net both games this weekend.
Cooley practiced this week and is getting very close to a return.
“Honestly, it’s any day,” Carle said. “It could be this weekend. It could be next weekend. We’ll see. He’s really close. He’s practicing full. We’re getting there. But we’re not sure yet.”
9. Ryan Barrow is out
Denver will be missing one regular forward.
Pioneer junior forward Ryan Barrow, who had five points in the team’s first nine games of the season, suffered an injury during DU’s loss and tie at Minnesota Duluth last weekend.
“He’ll be out at least 3-5 weeks,” Carle said. “He won’t be available this weekend. He got injured Friday night and wasn’t available Saturday against Duluth. He finished the game on Friday, but won’t be available this weekend.”
10. Junior teammates
Because UND and Denver heavily recruit the same areas, the players have a lot of connections.
UND forward Jordan Kawaguchi was a linemate with Denver’s Kohen Olischefski on the Chilliwack Chiefs. Kawaguchi, UND’s leading scorer, also played alongside Denver’s leading scorer, Liam Finlay, at Pursuit of Excellence. In fact, POE’s top three scorers in 2011-12 were Kawaguchi, Tyson Jost and Finlay.
Denver defenseman Griffin Mendel played alongside UND’s Jonny Tychonick, Gabe Bast, Colton Poolman and Dixon Bowen with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League.
Denver forward Emilio Pettersen played with UND goalie Peter Thome with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League.
Denver forward Hank Crone, a Boston University transfer, played with UND’s Ethan Frisch and Mark Senden in Fargo.
Denver rookie Justin Lee also played briefly with UND rookie Shane Pinto in Lincoln and Frisch in Fargo last season. Lee was traded between Lincoln and Fargo.
Denver defenseman Slava Demin, a Vegas Golden Knights draft pick, played two seasons alongside Jasper Weatherby with the Wenatchee Wild in the BCHL.
Denver senior Michael Davies played with UND senior Zach Yon in Waterloo as well.