Feb. 8, 2007
By Elliot Olshansky
Late Friday night, the Denver Pioneers were putting the finishing touches on their 20th win of the season. Minnesota Duluth had threatened to tie the game in the third period, but goals by freshmen Tyler Ruegsegger and Rhett Rakhshani less than three minutes apart had all but iced the victory for the Pioneers, the 100th for the current senior class.
Still, in the eyes of Pioneers netminder Peter Mannino, the evening was not yet complete.
"Peter Mannino was yelling at me from the net," Denver assistant coach Derek Lalonde recalled. "He said, `Put Kinger in. Put Kinger in.'"
"There was a point in the game where I just kind of looked up," Mannino said, "and it hit me right there: we've got to get him in. We've got to get him in. This is the time to do it."
The Pioneers' very own folk hero was about to get his shot.
"Most folk heroes started out as criminals." - Reg Dunlop, Slap Shot
If you know Danny King, you know that he's hardly someone likely to commit a crime. However, you could say he's guilty of a form of treason.
After all, the Denver senior grew up rooting for the Pioneers' fiercest rival, Colorado College.
"I grew up at the old Broadmoor [World Arena]," King said. "I grew up a CC fan, and watched those guys as I was growing up, until about high school."
As King got older, he matured into a successful player at the junior level. The year after Don Lucia left Colorado Springs to become head coach at Minnesota, King headed out as well, joining the Great Falls Americans of the America West Hockey League. He played three seasons for the Americans, earning Player of the Month honors and getting the win in the longest game in league history. From there, it was on to the Ontario Provincial Hockey League, where King played the 2002-03 season with the Huntsville Wildcats. After leading the team in "Star of the Game" selections, King was named team MVP at the end of the season.
There would certainly be opportunities for the Colorado Springs native in college hockey, but where?
Denver was an option, but with Adam Berkhoel already in the lineup and Glenn Fisher on his way to Magness Arena, the playing opportunities for King would be few and far between.
"I talked to [RPI head coach] Seth Appert," King said, "who was an assistant coach [at DU] at the time, and the understanding was that I knew that my role, coming in right away, would be the third guy."
Becoming a little-used third goalie would be a tough pill to swallow, especially since there was playing time to be had elsewhere.
"There were some options there," King said. "There was an option at Lake Superior State, and some other things that just didn't fit."
In the end, the "fit" King was looking for extended beyond hockey.
"I looked at the school," King said, "and I'm more of a business-oriented student, and Denver's school fit that aspect better than Colorado College does. Also, talking to the coaches, DU coaches have more of a family-oriented coaching style, they're friendly, and just more comfortable."
And so, Danny King came to Denver, where four years of hard work and little glory awaited.
As a freshman, King watched as Berkhoel backstopped the Pioneers to an NCAA championship. The next year, Mannino arrived, and split time in net with Fisher as the Pioneers won a second consecutive title, along with the McNaughton Cup, the Broadmoor Trophy and the Gold Pan.
All the while, King watched from the bench, if even from there. He dressed as
"It's not always the easiest position," King said. "You're the guy behind the scenes, and you don't get credit, and there's these times where you just have to bite your tongue. You're guy who does all the tough work behind the scenes."
Still, his work ethic and attitude never wavered.
"He's done a terrific job," said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. "His attitude is great. He works his tail off in weight room with the rest of the guys, does all the things he has to. He gets on the ice for practice, and there are days where he doesn't even get a shot, because he can't get in net."
King never complained about the situation at
"I remember meeting him on my unofficial visit," Mannino said. "He came up right to me, `Hey I'm Danny King. I'm a goalie here," and it made me feel welcome right away."
No matter what the situation, King kept positive. He also kept working hard, on the ice, in the weight room, and most importantly, in the classroom. He's been an All-WCHA Academic selection the past two years, was one of the inaugural recipients of the WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award last season for a grade-point average above 3.5, and shared the Dr. Art Mason Award with teammate J.D. Corbin as
"Danny's been an integral part of this program," Lalonde said. "He's what DU is all about."
"Danny is what Denver hockey stands for," said freshman forward Brandon Vossberg. "He works hard every day that he has the opportunity."
"He works so hard out there on the ice," Mannino said, "pushing Glenn and me, whether it's skating, any drill, he's right in the mix. I think that's the main thing about him: his character and how hard he works."
King's Pioneer teammates and coaches weren't the only ones who noticed.
When the fan voting process started for the 2006 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, a loyal group of Pioneer fans rallied behind King, adding him to their online ballots throughout the early stages of the voting. At one point in Jan. 2006, King had more votes than the likes of
"They made it pretty apparent that he was up for the Hobey vote there," said Mannino, who also trailed King in the voting for some time. "It was pretty funny. We made him well aware that he was in the running there. We kept checking, and we'd keep him updated."
"I thought that was pretty interesting," King said. "People were coming up to me all the time, saying that they voted for me, and I didn't know who they were."
King may have had more votes than those star players, but they still had something he didn't: playing time.
This past Friday wasn't the first time that King was offered the opportunity to play.
With the Pioneers up 5-1 on Minnesota State in early December, Lalonde came over to King on the bench and asked if he wanted to play.
King did one of the most difficult things he'd done in his career at Denver. He said no.
"I had strained my groin," King said. "Lalonde came over and asked me if I was physically able to play, and it was the hardest thing, but I had to sit there and tell him, `No.' I couldn't go. I had a badly strained groin, and I couldn't even drop to my knees. It was that painful."
When the buzzer sounded, the Pioneers had thumped the often-pesky Mavericks, but King's joy was muted.
"It was difficult victory to watch," King said. "I was extremely happy for the team, but it was something that I had never seen myself telling a coach, that I couldn't play because of an injury."
King's opportunity, it seemed, had come and gone.
"I didn't know if I would get another opportunity," King said. "I was looking at the schedule, and we had some tough teams lined up for the second half of the season. I thought, `That could have been my window, and I missed it.' That was in the back of my head a little bit."
Still, King pressed on.
"I just went back to going to work every day," King said, "and if it comes, it comes, and take it one day at a time."
On Friday, the opportunity finally came.
It almost didn't happen this night, either.
"I yelled at him, `Put Kinger in, Put Kinger in,'" Mannino said of Lalonde. "He just kind of gave me a puzzled look. "I said, `Put Kinger in. Go talk to Coach Gwozdecky."
"By the time Derek understood what Peter was trying to say, and then got the information to me, it was already too late to make the switch," Gwozdecky said.
"It would have been too hard to put him in right then," Lalonde said. "Obviously, we didn't want to call a time out that late in the game, being up three goals, so we waited for the next whistle and we told Kinger he was going in."
The next whistle came with a minute and eight seconds left in the game, and Mannino skated to the bench.
After four long years, countless practices and weight room sessions, and game after game watched from the bench or the stands, Danny King was going in.
"I had no thought of getting in until Coach Lalonde told me on the bench," King said. "I had about 10 seconds to prepare myself before I was on the ice. I threw my helmet on real quick, grabbed a stick, and before I knew it, they were lining up for the faceoff."
"I was pretty jacked," Mannino said. "I gave him a huge hug, and said, `Have fun out there.' It was funny, because he said, `I wanted to get a quick stretch in, and you wouldn't let me because you gave me the hug!'"
If there were any ill effects from the missed opportunity to stretch, they didn't show. King played the last 1:08 in fine form, preserving the victory for the Pioneers.
"He did a great job," Lalonde said. "I saw him directing some traffic in the last minute. He moved the puck well. It was good experience for him."
It was a memorable experience for his teammates as well, who were thrilled to see King in net for the first time at DU.
"I looked over to the bench and everybody on the bench was standing up screaming at me," King said. "It was the coolest thing. Everybody was supporting me and kinda going nuts that I was in, and it was a really cool energy."
"We were off the roof," Vossberg said. "We were just jumping up for joy. It was a very thrilling time, not only for Danny, but for the team as well."
"For him to get into a game," Fisher said, "it was a long time coming to him."
When the final buzzer sounded, the Pioneer bench rapidly emptied, and King was quickly surrounded by his overjoyed teammates.
"He being a senior, he's out there every single day in practice for four years," junior forward Ryan Dingle said. "It was, "Good for you, Dan, you've been there through the ups and downs, you've been there through the battles, and it was a thanks to him."
"To see how our players handled that, how excited they were for him," Lalonde said, "how excited they were after the game was certainly a credit for Danny and what he's done for us in the four years he's been here."
"It was a cool thing to be a part of," King said. "I'll never forget looking over to the bench and laughing, while the play is going on. It's something that I think is unique and that I've never experienced before."
If you missed it, don't worry, because if Gwozdecky has his way about it, that won't be the last time we see King in the
"I don't know if there's anyone more deserving of an opportunity to play than Danny King," Gwozdecky said. "To be able to get Danny some playing time, a little bit of recognition is the least we can do for his contributions. Hopefully, we'll have some additional opportunities to see him be able to do that."
However, even if the Pioneers play nailbiters the rest of the way, denying King another opportunity in net, it'll be okay with King.
"The outlook that I've had from my freshman year," King said, "and I've kept it through my senior year, is that every day, to be part of this program is an awesome experience. If I get in some games, the national championships, if I get to make a road trip, I call those all added bonuses. If my life is the practice guy who just drives every day in practice, I'll be happy with that."
Of course, it won't be his life. When the season ends, a job awaits him with JP Morgan, the well-deserved reward for success in the classroom, excellent work during a summer internship and a successful interview in New York.
"I kind of took a step back and looked at my hockey career and where it was headed," King said with a laugh. "I don't expect to have a huge NHL future, so I thought I'd better get a backup plan started, so last summer, I interned with JP Morgan, and I went out to New York, interviewed, and have a position starting as soon as the hockey season is over."
And when it is over, King will be able to leave Denver with no regrets.
"I think when you look at the big picture, I've been able to be part of something pretty special here at DU," King said, "especially with the two national championships. I wouldn't have traded it for the world. Some days can be long, and some days can not be your most fun day, but all in all, it all pays off."