Jim Montgomery is facing a different kind of challenge in his fifth season as coach at the University of Denver. Expectations are high for the Pioneers, who are the defending national champions and are ranked No. 1 in the country.
Fortunately, Montgomery has first-hand experience being part of a team that everyone else is trying to knock off. In his playing days at Maine, Montgomery captained the 1992-93 Black Bears to a 42-1-2 record and the NCAA title. It’s that season, playing under legendary coach Shawn Walsh, Montgomery is drawing from.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, just how Shawn handled us,” Montgomery said after Denver swept into town and came away with wins over Boston University (4-3) and Boston College (6-1). “This is, by far, the most talented team I’ve had at Denver.
“The one thing I noticed with Shawn was that he never changed as far as what our team identity was. He never took his foot off the gas pedal. As the coach, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Montgomery also sought advice from Hockey Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who won nine Stanley Cups with three teams.
“I talked to Scotty Bowman about how so many years, he’d come back with championship teams,” said Montgomery. “He said it’s details. You have to hold players accountable early. If you don’t, then the season can go the wrong way and become extremely frustrating.”
That the Pioneers remain at the top of the college hockey landscape is all the more impressive when you consider they lost 2017 Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, who is now skating in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, along with eight other seniors.
The toll could have been worse. Sophomore Henrik Borgstrom, juniors Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell, and senior goaltender Tanner Jaillet all decided to come back, with at least three of the four having been offered NHL contracts, according to Montgomery.
The trip to Boston was a more pleasant experience than the one the Pioneers made two years ago, when they lost a pair of one-goal games to the Eagles and Terriers.
“I’m just happy with the way our team’s playing,” said Montgomery, whose team improved to 4-0-2. “I mean, the last time we came here, we played really well, and we lost two heartbreakers, and we grew from that.
“When you play good teams like BC and BU, you get better. That’s what this weekend was all about. That’s why we schedule them, and that’s why they like to schedule us.
“That’s something in two years we’ll start up again because, losing to these guys, that didn’t hurt us that year, because they’re such dominant programs.”
Big weekend for PC
Unfortunately for BC and BU, Denver was not the only school to sweep the pair last weekend. Providence College also earned a pair of victories, albeit at the friendly confines of Schneider Arena.
The Friars prevailed, 2-1 over BC and 3-0 over BU, as goalie Hayden Hawkey stopped 46 of 47 shots in the two wins. Providence (5-2) will face BU again Friday night in another Hockey East tilt, this time at Agganis Arena.
“That’s the great thing about our league,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman on USCHO.com. “We know we’re going to go into a building and face a hungry, desperate team. We talked about it with our team. That’s part of the challenge.
“The way our schedule has gone the first seven or eight games here, going on the road to Miami, going on the road to St. Lawrence and Clarkson, and then having to play BC and BU twice, this is a challenge.
“It’s another great opportunity for us to see where our game is at, and to grow as a group. We’re looking forward to it. We want to get up there and let it rip.”
The Terriers (3-4-1) will be home again Saturday night, when they host Northeastern. The Huskies (4-2-1) are paced by senior forward Dylan Sikura, who had six goals and eight assists to lead Hockey East in scoring and was named the league’s Player of the Month . . . BC is in the unfamiliar position of having won just once in its first seven games. The Eagles face Merrimack for a pair of league games this weekend . . . No. 3 Harvard opened its season last weekend with a 5-0 win over ECAC foe Dartmouth. Ryan Donato had a pair of goals, while Merrick Madsen made 19 saves to earn the shutout. The Crimson are back in action this weekend with a pair of home games against Yale and Brown.Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney