Rakhshani Leads Denver to MacNaughton Cup
First Since 2005 NCAA Title Year
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
MANKATO, Minn. The last time Denver won the MacNaughton Cup, the Pioneers won the national championship a little over a month later.
After DU's 4-3 overtime victory over Minnesota State on Saturday night in Mankato, Denver clinched the MacNaughton Cup for the first time since 2005. And with its 10th consecutive victory in hand, the top-ranked Pioneers look primed and ready to win another national title.
"In that locker room, as joyous as it was, once the excitement wore down, Rhett Rakhshani talked to the team about how they needed to carry themselves," said Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky. "This is a team that has a specific set of goals, and we accomplished one of them tonight. That's great, but that senior class has this group really grounded. I think that's a good sign."
They haven't all been easy for Denver over the last 10, including Saturday. The Pioneers jumped to a 3-1 lead in the second period before watching the ninth-place Mavericks score two to tie late in the period. DU then had to kill three consecutive penalties in the third and overcome an apparent goal that was called off just to force overtime.
MSU outshot the Pioneers 4-3 in the extra frame and the game appeared headed to a 3-3 tie before Rhett Rakhshani's rebound winner with 13.3 seconds remaining in the game.
"We believe in ourselves, and we leave it all on the line," Rakhshani said. "We let the chips fall where they may and fortunately tonight they fell on our side."
And while Rakhshani, Tyler Ruegsegger and the Pioneer seniors are happy to win their first MacNaughton Cup — indeed it was one of the reasons why those two in particular returned for senior seasons — the focus is already on DU's next task: Next weekend's Gold Pan series against Colorado College (another trophy this class hasn't won), the coming WCHA playoffs and NCAA tournament.
"I believe we have that ability (to match the 2005 NCAA title team)," Rakhshani said. "But are we already thinking about that? No. We're just taking this weekend by weekend. Next weekend, we have CC and a Gold Pan that we want to win."
The MacNaughton Cup title is Denver's 12th in school history — an accomplishment Gwozdecky calls the toughest trophy to win in all of college hockey.
"I don't think there are many teams in this league that work harder than we do," said junior goaltender Marc Cheverie, who made 36 saves in the win. "This is the hardest league to win so I think it's a nice accomplishment for us because I know how hard we had to work to get it."
And this weekend was no different.
"That's the WCHA," Gwozdecky said. "If you didn't know anything about this league and you walked in tonight and watched the game, you wouldn't have known who the first place team was and the ninth place team was.
"The difference between success in this league and failure is very small."
With the win, DU has locked in its first round match-up against last-place Michigan Tech.