Yellowknife’s Jack Works and the Denver University Pioneers are in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament field, which is a good sign.

But they wanted to go into it as champions of their conference, which they won’t have the chance to do.

The Pioneers were the top seed in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff playoff tournament this past weekend but fell in the semifinal to the University of Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday by a score of 2-0.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, said Works, who didn’t play in the semifinal — they just ran into a brick wall at the worst time.

“They scored on us early and they just shut us down defensively,” he said. “They got the empty-netter (in the third period) and that was it.”

It was a tough pill to swallow for the Pioneers, he added, with the confidence in the locker room being high going into the game.

“We felt really good but we came out slow and they made us pay for it,” he said. “We just left it too late.”

The Pioneers started the Frozen Faceoff by taking on the University of Miami-Ohio in a best-of-three quarter-final the week before and swept them aside in two straight, winning Games 1 and 2 by score of 5-1 and 5-2 respectively.

This was also the first time Works had experienced playoff college hockey in the U.S., which is much different than what he would have had playing junior with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

“It’s the first time playing one-and-done instead of a best-of-seven,” he said. “It would’ve been great to win the tournament and go in (to the NCAA tournament) with some confidence but we just have to regroup and get ready for the regional.”

That regional is the Loveland Regional in Loveland, Colorado and Denver will be the top seed in that bracket as well. They’ll have a semifinal against UMass-Lowell from Massachusetts on Thursday evening and, like the Frozen Faceoff, it’s a must-win game in order to move on. If they overcome that, there’s the potential of a rematch with Minnesota-Duluth as they’ll be in the other semifinal versus Michigan Tech. The final happens on Saturday.

“It would be nice to get another shot at Minnesota-Duluth but we’re not fussy who we play,” said Works.

The winner of each of the four regional tournaments will advance to the Frozen Four in Boston, which begins on April 7. Denver last won the national championship in 2017.

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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