With his team gathered around him after it won yet another national championship, University of Denver men’s hockey coach David Carle punctuated the evening with a locker room speech for the ages. “One last thing: It’s indisputable,” Carle said. “We’ve got the f—ing belt now. Nobody can f—ing argue. We’re the best program in college hockey.”

His words were as truthful as they were brash.

With a 2-0 victory this past Saturday against Boston College at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, DU won the 2024 NCAA Division I championship—again reaching the pinnacle of the sport. Over the past three years, the Pioneers have gone 93-28-4 and won two national titles (they also took home the title in 2022). This past season was one of their most accomplished yet: Their 32 wins are tied for the third-most in program history.

DU’s most recent trophy carried a little extra significance, too. The national championship was the Pios’ 10th, breaking what had been a tie with Michigan for the most of any Division I men’s hockey program in the sport’s history. That feat, as Carle might put it in slightly more colorful language, is the kind of thing nobody can argue.

As DU basks in the glory of its historical achievement, here’s a look at what stood out from its record-breaking run.

A “superhuman” in net

Denver Pioneers goaltender Matt Davis (35) makes a leaping save against the Boston College Eagles in the third period during the 2024 NCAA Frozen Four championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 13, 2024.
Denver Pioneers goaltender Matt Davis (35) makes a leaping save against the Boston College Eagles in the third period during the 2024 NCAA Frozen Four championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 13, 2024. Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

As the arena horn blared and DU’s title was secured, players jubilantly flocked back to the net, where they mobbed goaltender Matt Davis.

The focus of that celebration was no accident. Carle described Davis’ efforts in the net as “superhuman,” and no player was more integral to DU’s run to a national championship than the goaltender. In the Pios’ eight postseason games this season, Davis allowed just 10 goals. He spent much of the NCAA Tournament standing on his head, giving up just three goals in four games. Of the 141 shots he faced, he blocked 138 of them, the fifth-best save percentage in tournament history.

Davis saved his best for the biggest and brightest stage. He made 35 saves in the championship game, 23 of which came in the third period as one of college hockey’s most explosive offenses worked relentlessly to erase a two-goal deficit. That total included a miraculous diving save early in the period on what looked to be a sure Boston College goal.

“I felt like we were the best team today,” Boston College forward Ryan Leonard said after his team’s loss, “and we got beat by a goalie.”

A modern-day dynasty

While DU has been a college hockey powerhouse going all the way back to the late 1950s, the Pios have been especially dominant this century. Of their 10 titles, five have come since 2004. Only two other programs—Boston College and the University of Minnesota Duluth, each with three—have won more than one in that time.

Here’s another way to contextualize DU’s rapid ascent: The Pios had just five national titles when Michigan, the program they just passed as the sport’s all-time leader, won its ninth, and most recent, championship in 1998.

A coaching great in the making

Were it not for the suit he wears on the team’s bench, Carle might very well be confused for a DU player. The Pios’ 34-year-old head coach has been a stalwart of the program, serving four years as a student assistant coach and four and a half seasons as an assistant coach before being elevated to the top job in 2018.

At the time of his hiring, Carle, then 28 years old, was the youngest coach in Division I hockey. Whatever doubts there might have been about turning over a historically decorated program to such an inexperienced hand evaporated quickly. In 2022, he led DU to a national championship and became the fourth-youngest title-winning coach ever. With his team’s most recent championship, he’s the only Division I men’s hockey coach to ever win two titles before his 35th birthday. He’s got a ways to go before catching the college coach with the most all-time championships—Michigan’s Vic Heyliger, with six—but Carle, should he remain with the Pios and in the college ranks, is off to one heck of a start.

The team won in a completely different way than it had been

For much of the regular season, DU was an offensive juggernaut. Entering the NCAA Tournament, the team averaged 4.85 goals per game, the best mark in college hockey. Defensively, the Pios were solid, but far from spectacular, ranking 22nd of 64 Division I programs in goals allowed per game, with 2.93.

Thanks at least in part to Davis stopping virtually everything in sight, they stonewalled opponents in the tourney. That was never more evident than in the Frozen Four, when DU held Boston College and Boston University to one total goal—total. Coming into their matchups with DU, the Eagles and Terriers were averaging 4.58 and 4.15 goals per game, respectively. The championship game loss marked the first time all season Boston College had been shut out.

The Pios won the title with a future Av

Part of that stout defensive effort came from a player hockey fans across Colorado might want to get acquainted with, if they aren’t already. Sean Behrens was a junior defenseman for DU this season, a player who has been one of the Pios’ most indispensable pieces during both their 2022 and 2024 championship runs.

Once he’s done in college, though, the next step in his career may not involve more than a quick drive north on I-25 from Magness Arena to Ball Arena. Before beginning his freshman season at DU, Behrens was a second-round selection of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2021 NHL Draft. With the season now over, he’ll have a decision to make about whether he wants to go pro or stay one more season and try to win a third title.

DU navigated a treacherous road to the championship

DU’s path to the Frozen Four wasn’t easy. The No. 3 overall seed in the 16-team NCAA Tournament field was rewarded with first- and second-round games in Springfield, Massachusetts, against UMass and Cornell, both of which were more than 1,500 miles closer to the game site than the Pios.

Beyond that, DU’s four NCAA Tournament wins came with an interesting distinction. Each victory came against a program that has previously won a national championship, including Boston College and Boston University, two heated rivals that have won a combined 10 titles.

A storybook finish

Members of the DU hockey team, holding their NCAA championship trophy, load the bus after arriving back in Denver on April 14, 2024.
Members of the DU hockey team, holding their NCAA championship trophy, load the bus after arriving back in Denver on April 14, 2024. Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

DU sophomore forward Jared Wright scored what ultimately proved to be the winning goal in the championship game, breaking a scoreless deadlock midway through the second period. The goal carried a little extra meaning for Wright, who’s from Burnsville, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb only about 20 miles from the arena where the Frozen Four championship game was played.

You can tell how much it means to him to be here and be part of this,” Carle said after the game. “There’s not many people that you cheer harder for than Jared Wright, I’ll tell you that.”

Denver was the best when it mattered the most

Whatever exhilaration was felt by those most emotionally invested in DU’s NCAA Tournament run came at least partially from the nerves and agony that occurred over the course of the team’s games. The Pios won their four NCAA Tournament games by a combined five goals, the smallest total margin from a championship team since 2018. Two of their victories came in overtime—a double-OT triumph against UMass in the first round and an OT win against Boston University in the semifinals—with forward Tristan Broz scoring the game-winner in both contests.

A champion in any sport is lionized for the way it performs its best when the stakes are highest and the margin between victory and defeat is the smallest. DU has done just that in its latest run.

Craig Meyer
Craig Meyer
Craig Meyer is a Denver-based freelance writer. Before moving to Colorado in June 2022, he spent the previous 10 years as a sports writer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, primarily covering college basketball and football.