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‘Have to Run With It’ : College Hockey News

April 8, 2024


Davis Peaking at the Right Time for Denver in Goal

by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer (@AvashKalra)

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Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

That’s according to philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau, anyway. Three-hundred years later, it’s not clear if that’s how it has felt for Denver’s junior goaltender Matt Davis for the last three years — first, waiting for his chance to play behind one of the greatest goaltenders in Pioneers history in Magnus Chrona, then battling through injury, and then on top of it all, having to silence doubters who had seen him struggle at times earlier this season.

For certain, as Denver heads to the Frozen Four and a marquee matchup against Boston University on Thursday afternoon, it’s all a lot sweeter for Davis now.

The junior from Calgary played well to spell an injured Chrona last season, going 8-1 overall in nine starts. This year, for the first time, he entered the season as ‘the guy’ for head coach David Carle’s team. For Davis, it was a long time coming.

“I learned a lot throughout that whole process,” said Davis, who watched from the bench as a freshman when Chrona backstopped DU to its ninth national championship in program history. “Those two years behind Magnus were really big for me. Looking back, it might have been tough, but it was probably best for me to wait and to continue to develop my game to make sure I was fully ready going in.

“It’s hard, but it’s the nature of the position, especially at a program like Denver. Opportunities are slim and hard to come by. So when you get it, you just have to run with it. That’s what I’ve had to do.”

Even those plans seemed to be thwarted, though, when Davis was sidelined for two months early in the season after an injury sustained in late October. The holiday break allowed a re-set, and since Jan. 4, Davis has started all 24 games for the Pioneers. He’s finished 23 of those games. And since being pulled during a 7-2 loss to Western Michigan on Feb. 3 — a moment that several players this week have identified as a turning point for DU’s season — Davis is 12-1-1. 

“There were certainly times in the second half where I got exposed,” Davis said, no doubt a reference to that home loss to Western Michigan. “I needed to get exposed, so I could grow and become better because of it.”

Davis credits assistant coach Ryan Massa with making sure he’s “peaking for the last four games.” That’s the length of the NCAA Tournament, at least for the teams that get to play on the final night. Massa, a former goaltender for Omaha, helped lead the Mavericks to their first-ever Frozen Four in 2015, and he helped guide Chrona, too. 

And if Davis’ journey has been a long climb of a mountain, it’s been methodical and arduous.

“To watch a guy like Magnus Chrona for two years, getting to work on his own game for two years, [was important],” Carle said. “Last year when Chrona was injured was a big moment for Matty, to play meaningful games down the stretch and do well with it. That gave us a lot of confidence in him to be the guy.

“It hasn’t been an easy path this year, and I think his game has really steadied over the past six to eight weeks. We wouldn’t be on this run without him and certainly wouldn’t be in another Frozen Four without him.”

The path wasn’t any easier as the NCAA Tournament got underway. Pioneers fans held their collective breath in last week’s first-round game against UMass. In double overtime, with the Minutemen on the power play, Davis began to cramp. For a moment, it appeared he would not be able to continue in the game. Denver’s backups struggled this year in Davis’ absence. 

He played through it, though, ultimately making 46 saves on 47 UMass shots en route to the Pioneers’ first tourney win since that 2022 national championship game.

“He was able to fight through that,” Carle said. “We got through the kill. The guys, their level of urgency increased on the kill and defensively. And we ended the game a few minutes later. It takes a lot of guts to play through some of those things. As much as we say it’s mental, when you get into a 5-period game, it gets pretty physical too.”

In retrospect, it seems obvious. After patiently waiting for two years, Davis was going to finish that game unless he couldn’t move at all. He came back two days later, too, and stifled Cornell, making a memorable save in the closing seconds with the Big Red trying to force overtime. He’s also seen the evolution of a defense in front of him, adding several freshmen — among them, Zeev Buium, Boston Buckberger and Cale Ashcroft — to a pair of junior blueliners (Shai Buium, Sean Behrens) who were with Davis during the ’22 title run.

They’ve grown together — patiently.

“We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the skill — but getting guys ready the way we play has been a key,” Davis said. “We’ve got freshmen playing a big part of our team this year. It’s been awesome. Especially recently, it seems like it’s all clicked. … Those guys have really worked and committed themselves to the system. It’s fun to watch, especially with those younger guys, getting their feet under them in college hockey — getting used to the life, the habits and being a professional.”

Davis enters the NCAA Frozen Four after being named the National Goaltender of the Month for March by the Hockey Commissioners Association last Thursday. It’s an honor that not even Chrona — or any Pioneer goaltender — ever earned. In March alone he was 9-1, leading the nation with a .931 save percentage. His 46 saves against UMass last week were a career-high, and he went on to be named the Most Outstanding Player of the Northeast Regional in Springfield, Mass.

Patience in this case was probably mutual. Yes, Davis had to be patient — through everything, including the injury. “I feel like I’m back stronger because of it,” he concluded. But Denver had to be patient with him, too.

There’s a maximum of two games left now, so waxing philosophical is probably unnecessary. For if Davis and Denver truly peak this weekend, there’s really nowhere higher they can go.

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