DU hockey begins national title defense as Ice Breaker Tournament co-hosts

The University of Denver hockey program is chasing history this winter

That starts this weekend when the Pioneers co-host the annual Ice Breaker Tournament with two games at Magness Arena.

First comes a date with Notre Dame at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a 6 p.m. meeting with Maine on Saturday. Air Force will host both teams on opposite dates — Maine on Friday, Notre Dame on Saturday — at the same time each night as part of the four-team tournament.

“It’s always a unique mix of four teams that provide some intrigue and some matchups that don’t happen very often,” DU head coach David Carle said of the Ice Breaker, a rotating national tournament that annually features four teams from four different conferences.

Outside of getting to go up against some of the nation’s top programs, the Ice Breaker offers the Pios an opportunity to mirror the sort of preparation a team might see during an NCAA Tournament weekend when it faces two different opponents.

“The eastern schools get to play different opponents (in one weekend) on a regular basis. The only time we generally see that is in the NCAA tournament or in our league playoff at St. Paul,” Carle said. “So I think it’s a healthy exercise to be able to go through the week and think and prepare for Notre Dame and then to quickly have to shift our focus and mindset to a different opponent.”

DU enters the season ranked No. 1 in both of the preseason national polls, with the Pios looking to become the first Division I program to win 10 national championships.

DU tied Michigan for the most hockey national titles last winter after beating Minnesota State 5-1 in the Frozen Four championship game in Boston. The Pios return four of their top 10 scorers from that squad, including near-unanimous preseason all-NCHC pick Carter Mazur (22 of 23 votes) at forward, and senior Magnus Chrona in goal, who himself was two votes shy of being a unanimous preseason all-NCHC pick.

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Sophomore Sean Behrens, a 2021 second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, also returns in maroon and gold and is part of one of the nation’s top defensive groups alongside fellow preseason all-NCHC pick Mike Benning, a junior.

The Pioneers have repeated as national champions three times before in program history: 2004-05, 1968-69 and 1960-61. They should get a good sense of where they stand Friday night, when they host the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish, who are fresh off a run to the Elite Eight.