Campbell River’s Brett Stapley notched a goal on the biggest stage he’s played on so far.
The third-line centre, who was suiting up in his fourth and final year for the University of Denver Pioneers, scored the first of two empty-netters in a 5-1 victory over Minnesota State to claim the NCAA Division 1 title on April 9.
The win is a special one for the Denver side, as it ties them with the University of Michigan for most total NCAA championships.
“It’s a huge honour to be able to add to the history of this program, and win the school it’s ninth national championship,” Stapley said.
Things have come full circle for the 23-year-old, who still remembers watching the Pioneers winning it all in 2017, the same year he committed to the school.
The squad had to overcome some adversity early in the season, but Stapley said once the wheels were greased there was no turning back.
“I think we had a four-game losing skid on the road,” he said. “But after that we were the best team in the country.”
The fourth-year vet played his part in the squad’s success, racking up 43 points in 41 games.
“Coming off an injury last season, I felt like I needed an extra detailed off-season in the weight room and on the ice,” he said. “And as a result I felt faster and stronger this year – I think (the extra work) paid dividends.”
With 20 minutes left in the final game of the season, the Pioneers were trailing 1-0, but the mood was still upbeat.
“Even in the intermissions when we were down we were still really confident we would get the job done,” Stapley said.
He was on the ice when his team tied it up in the 3rd period.
“We had a good shift, and the puck went to the net and (Ryan) Barrow tapped it home,” he said.
A few minutes later Mike Benning scored on the power play, and the team never looked back.
The game before was a tad more dramatic.
Before facing off against the Michigan Wolverines in the Frozen Four, Stapley said the Pioneers were being underrated.
“We heard a lot of hype about them going into the game. People were saying we were the underdogs and we weren’t going to win.
“So we used that as motivation, and played a solid game.”
He scored the opener in the contest, which the Pioneers won in overtime, 3-2.
“I had friends and family saying that was one of the best hockey games they’ve ever seen in their life,” he said.
“That’s college hockey for you I guess.”
With college hockey soon to be in his rear view, Stapley – who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2018 – is still unsure what his next steps are.
“Obviously, it would be a dream come true to sign with Montreal and play there, but if that doesn’t end up working out, I’d take any team,” he said.
He’s also hoping to return to Campbell River to celebrate his accomplishment and enjoy some much deserved rest and relaxation.
“I usually come back to take some time away from the game,” he said. “Just fishing, hiking, and spending time at the lake with friends.”