Former Edina captain Casey Dornbach finds new home on Denver's top line
Senior right wing goes into this weekend's NCHC series against St. Cloud State tied for fourth in the nation in assists and tied for ninth in points. He transferred to play for the Pioneers after being Harvard's captain last season.
DENVER — Any time a player transfers schools, there are a number of unknowns. If that player is a forward, what line are they going to play on and how much ice time will they be getting.
When Casey Dornbach transferred to the University of Denver from Harvard, he was joining the defending NCAA Division I champions.
The senior from Edina, Minnesota, ended up landing on the top line for the Pioneers with sophomore center Massimo Rizzo and sophomore left wing Carter Mazur. The trio has combined 22 goals and 21 assists through the first eight games for second-ranked Denver (2-0 NCHC, 6-2 overall).
"I'm playing with two special players in 34 (Mazur) and 13 (Rizzo) and we're all a little bit different, but so far, there's been some organic chemistry," said Dornbach, who is averaging 17 minutes, 11 seconds of ice time per game. "We've gotten to know each other so well on and off the ice. We're guys that want to do better every day.
"Yes, we've had some success early, but I think we're hungry to do even better," said Dornbach, who has four goals and 12 points. "It's a long season, so we're trying not to look at the rearview (mirror) too much. We're just looking for this weekend to keep it going. They're special players and bring unique elements and guys that look to find each other and play the right way."
This weekend, the Pioneers play host to fourth-ranked St. Cloud State (7-1 overall), which will be playing in its first NCHC series of the season. The teams play at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at Magness Arena (both on NCHC.tv).
Deciding to try the portal
For Dornbach, he had to make a decision at the end of last season as to what to do this season. He turned 25 in July and had been on the Harvard roster for the last four seasons, though teams in the ECAC did not play in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.
Dornbach, who is undrafted, had 17 assists and 25 points in 34 games and was the captain last season for Harvard. The Crimson won the ECAC tournament title and lost (4-3) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Minnesota State University-Mankato.
In the three seasons he played at Harvard, he had 27 goals and 90 points in 98 games.
"A great last year to my career at Harvard and had a lot of special moments there, winning the ECAC (tournament title) and the Ivy (League title) and getting to play with a lot of great players," he said. "It was a year of development. There was some success and it was a year of learning, being a captain in college for the first time. It was an honor.
"I was just looking for one more year and a little different opportunity to continue growing before turning pro. And I've graduated so I can focus a little less on school and more on hockey."
Dornbach graduated with a degree in psychology in the spring. At Denver, he is working on a master's degree in organizational leadership.
Going into the transfer portal, there are always the unknowns of which schools will be interested in a player or if they are a good fit for that team's needs. For Dornbach, the Denver coaching staff reached out to him and seemed to fit what he was looking for.
"I wasn't completely sure after the year if I was going to go back to college or turn pro," said Dornbach, who is listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds. "I started talking to Denver and figured out pretty quickly that this was the place I wanted to be for this last year.
"The culture here with people expecting to win and be as good as you can be, strive for greatness ... it's just something that is huge here," said Dornbach, whose father, Greg, played hockey at Miami. "I wanted to be all in on hockey and have one more year to develop before going pro in an organization and culture like this was something I really wanted to be a part of. I'm grateful to be here."
Dornbach grew up in an area that is known for hockey greatness. He played three seasons of varsity for Edina High School, helping the Hornets win the 2014 Class AA state title and take third place at state in 2015.
And even though he is in Colorado, it is about 600 miles closer to home and NCHC opponents include the University of North Dakota, SCSU and Minnesota Duluth.
"I've actually loved the change of scenery," he said. "Being from Minnesota, I was around nature a lot and there's a bit more of that here and more sun. I've loved that. It's a little bit closer to home and in the NCHC, I can see more family with playing teams like St. Cloud, North Dakota and Duluth. I'm excited about that. I would definitely say I've found a home."