Denver Passes Bittersweet Torch To Notre Dame
Like Denver Last Year, Notre Dame Left Stinging After Semifinal Loss
CHICAGO One year ago, the mood in the Denver locker room here at the Frozen Four was much different. The Pioneers were coming off a loss to North Dakota in the national semifinal and they felt they lost a golden opportunity to win a national championship.
One year later, it was the Notre Dame locker room that was saddled with that feeling. There Fighting Irish couldn't help but feel like they had a lost an opportunity. Instead of celebrating in their de facto hometown of Chicago, they were sitting in United Center stalls, wondering what they could have done differently.
A young team — the Fighting Irish have just two seniors — Notre Dame hopes to be back in this game again next year, getting over the hump the same way Denver did on Thursday.
"Having been in this environment, and having realized what it takes to win here and be a contender in the Frozen Four, it's going to make us hungry," said sophomore forward Andrew Oglevie. "You grow as a college hockey player every season and we bring a lot of guys back. We'll all grow. Our goal is going to be to get back here and to be more prepared."
Denver's not hiding the fact that last season's loss to UND still stings. They're also not hiding the fact that it was a big motivator for a team that was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and many have pegged as the best team in the country dating all the way back to October.
"I think everybody's got that in the back of their mind and just the feeling of that," said Dylan Gambrell, who scored twice for the Pioneers. "We still think about it all the time. So here this time we're looking to go to the next step."
It's clearly in the back of everyone's mind in that other locker room now. It's not a pleasant torch, but it was passed to Notre Dame nonetheless. Now the Irish are the ones feeling the sting.
Montgomery credit his team's senior class with the ability to get over that loss in Tampa. If Notre Dame doesn't lose any players to the National Hockey League — a big if — the Irish will have 10 on their roster next season.
"I had some meetings just with the seniors. One in the spring, one in the middle of the summer when they're all training in Denver," Montgomery said. "We spoke about it. And from then on we haven't spoke about it again. We have great senior leadership."
Maybe they didn't speak about it, but Gambrell said they thought about it. How could you not?
"That's what happens when you have a great culture and you're at a great university like the University of Denver, it makes people better people," Montgomery continued. "And that ensues, it goes through our program and how much we care about each other and how I don't have to worry about monitoring the dressing room. I mean, our seniors are incredible people on and off the ice."
Jackson hopes he can say things like that a year from now. Jackson, who has been to three Frozen Fours with Notre Dame, hopes that he's the one talking about his senior leadership a year from now, prepping to play in the national championship game.
"It's about learning and growing and experiences and maybe we can be that team a year from now," Jackson said. "They were here last year. They were not happy about losing, and they came back. And that's why I say they seem like they're on a mission right now."
There's no question that Notre Dame showed its youth on Thursday. Facing arguably its toughest test all season, they had little pushback as the Pioneers continued to apply pressure.
"I'm not going to be pleased until we win one of these things," Jackson said. "Getting here is great. I said it earlier, I give these kids a lot of credit because I don't think anybody expected them to be here.
"I thought our youth showed up again tonight. It showed up a few weeks back in Boston, especially with some of our young defensemen making some plays coming out of our zone. But that's a growing experience."
"Hey, I'll be very honest with you, I'm extremely proud of this group considering what they did in the second half of the season. They overcame some obstacles. They fought back."