DENVER — While it takes all 26 guys on the Denver Pioneers men's hockey team to reach a national semifinal game, it certainly takes nine freshmen buying in, stepping up, and earning their place to make this one of the most dangerous teams in the entire country.
"I think we knew exactly what we had when they came here in the summer," junior alternate captain Bobby Brink said. "We knew they were going to be huge pieces of our team."
Six of the nine players have played more than 30 games this season, including a perfect 39-out-of-39 from forward Carter Mazur. His stats reflect that, as the freshman point leader on the team with 14 goals, 22 assists, and 36 points overall. His point total ranks 5th on the team.
His defensive counterpart, Sean Behrens, leads all freshmen in assists with 26th--tied for second-overall on the team with senior captain Cole Guttman.
"We knew it was going to be good but they've exceeded my expectations," Guttman said. "They've been so good and they made an impact right away. Having such a deep lineup, and they're a big part of that as well. Just to have more guys in the lineup to contribute has been really good."
The two aforementioned freshmen got some familiarity with the competition earlier this year, when they joined the Team USA developmental camp prior to the 2022 World Junior Championships.
>>Video below: Catching up with DU hockey coach David Carle ahead of Frozen Four
"I know a lot of Michigan guys," Jackson, Michigan-native Carter Mazur said. "I know more than half of their team, so it's going to be an exciting game for me, especially knowing most of them and being my hometown state, playing them."
Carter Mazur earned a roster spot and a contributing role on that World Junior team, prior to the tournament's cancelation. Behrens missed the shortened tournament, due to a bout with COVID-19, but stuck around long enough to get quite the impression of his Team USA teammates and the now-Wolverines.
"I played with a lot of those guys. They're really skilled and really talented," Behrens said. "They work really hard, I have a lot of respect for them, but I think our team is ready for the talent they have and the skill they have."
It would be stating the obvious to call this Michigan team, "talented," especially with five first-round draft picks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft--including four in the top five-overall. Talent can be found on both sides, since these are two of the top four teams in the nation squaring off, but Mazur says his group has more of a desire to win.
"I just feel like we have more heart here and we want to win more," he said. "That's just what it comes down to and I'm just excited to get started there."
For a guy who grew up 40 minutes outside of Ann Arbor, there's no question where his allegiance lies. Rest assured: he's not wearing any Maize and Blue.
"I'm a Michigan State guy, Michigan is not my -- I don't like those colors and I don't really like them," Mazur said. "I'm just excited to play them."
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