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November 22, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Herd Immunity

Denver's Makowski and LaLeggia Help Team's Confidence Grow

by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer

DENVER — If enough individuals within a population acquire immunity to a disease – say, by vaccination – that population as a whole becomes generally immune to that disease. That’s the theory of “herd immunity” – a theory that’s usually applied to correctly justify vaccination programs but will now be stretched, perhaps twisted beyond recognition, to explain the current state of the Denver Pioneers’ locker room.

On November 8, with time winding down in a would-be 1-0 Colorado College home win over in-state rival Denver, the Pioneers – having lost five of their last six, including four overtime defeats – improbably rallied behind dependable junior defenseman Joey LaLeggia, who tied the game with 1:32 remaining in regulation.

Denver proceeded to win a shootout at the end of the 1-1 tie, and though it appeared at the time to represent a minor, even moral, victory in a season that thus far has been teeming with shortcomings, that small success proved not so small at all. Before that game, after all, the Pioneers were fraught with disappointment – the “disease” in this analogy – and as the losses piled up, it appeared as though few Denver players, if any, were immune to it.

That appeared to change against Colorado College. A night after the comeback, Denver won a tight 2-1 contest against the Tigers, and carried that momentum to a sweep last weekend of new conference foe Western Michigan.

Now, suddenly, the Pioneers, under new head coach Jim Montgomery, are in the midst of a four-game winning streak – and a newfound confidence has quickly replaced the ailment of disappointment in the Denver locker room.

“It’s been our best team win of the whole season,” said defenseman David Makowski after scoring the lone goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Broncos. “As a team, we’re really happy with how we’re improving each and every day.”

Makowski and LaLeggia, in fact, have unquestionably led the way for Denver, sparking the offense from the blue line, and the team immunity’s to disappointment has seemingly followed from their examples. The duo leads the nation in goal-scoring by defensemen, and they lead the Pioneers in scoring as well.

Said Makowski, “We’re just going out there, and we’re expected to contribute each and every game and help out our forwards. That’s the good thing about our defense – we have a lot of guys who can chip in offensively. And it’s been working well so far.”

“We’ve both been offensive players pretty much our whole lives, and if that’s the role the coach wants us to be in, then so be it,” added LaLeggia. “It’s what we love to do.”

Seven of the pair’s 11 combined goals have come on a power play that ranks as the fourth-best unit in the nation, having converted on over 26 percent of man-advantage opportunities. The Denver penalty kill also ranks third in the nation. With regard to those special team units, there’s no malady at all.

“Our D corps speaks for itself statistically, and [LaLeggia and Makowski] are the leaders back there,” said Montgomery. “You’re starting to see that because we’re not spending a lot of time in our defensive zone because they transition so well, skate so well, think so well.”

Certainly, goaltender Sam Brittain – boasting less than a 1.25 goals against average over the last four games – has been an integral antidote for Denver as well, and LaLeggia was quick to point out that he believes that the team’s new sense of confidence has developed because of Brittain’s recent performances in goal. 

Whether it’s because of the examples of Makowski and LaLeggia, or because of Brittain’s stabilizing effect between the pipes, the fact remains – the Pioneers as a team have developed herd immunity to disappointment.

And now, in its place, it’s the confidence that’s contagious.

Said Montgomery, “I think that the buy-in [last] week in practice has led to success, and I think the players and our staff are starting to see the merits of what we believe in. I think that’s where the confidence comes.

“If we prepare well again this week, our confidence should continue to grow.”

Avash Kalra is a doctor, if you couldn't tell. We're glad he's putting his medical school knowledge to work here. — ed.

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