Red Wings prospect Carter Mazur, sans mullet, off to astronomical start for Denver hockey

Even the down-to-business defending national champion University of Denver hockey team celebrates Halloween.

The weekly practice regimen includes skills development every Monday. But the early part of Denver’s schedule has been rigorous, so coach David Carle wanted to build in a lighter day of skating — even with a premier top-five home series approaching this weekend. “You do that a little bit more in the second half (of the season),” Carle said. “You do U.S. vs. the world days. You do theme days.”

Halloween was costume day, so to speak. DU defensemen cosplayed as forwards. The forwards practiced as defensemen. It was equal parts comic relief and team bonding.

The real trick of the exercise, though, might have been to even the playing field against Carter Mazur. Making the sophomore not play offense is everyone else’s treat.

The Detroit Red Wings’ 2021 third-round NHL draft pick is off to an uncontainable start. Mazur is tied for the NCAA lead with 10 goals in Denver’s first eight games, including five during a two-game road sweep of Miami (Ohio) last weekend.

He and his linemates have been so productive that No. 2 Denver (6-2) enters its premier matchup ranked higher than its opponent, No. 4 St. Cloud State (7-1), despite key injury absences that have inhibited depth.

“His demeanor and presence on the ice has been great,” fellow sophomore Massimo Rizzo said of Mazur.

And for good measure, Carle expects the injured trio of Carter King, McKade Webster and Aidan Thompson to be available Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (6 p.m.) at Magness Arena, where college hockey will be arguably the hottest ticket on the Front Range.

Mazur and defenseman Sean Behrens — a top Avalanche prospect — spent their summer competing at the World Junior Championship for the U.S. team that lost in the quarterfinal. Mazur was already a valuable role player for DU’s title-winning team as a freshman, recording 38 points (14 goals) in 41 games. But he attributes his astronomical leap in scoring pace this season to the world junior experience, where he was surrounded by “the best players in your age group growing up.”

The biggest difference in his own game, teammates attest, is supreme confidence.

“That was a big tournament to get under my belt in a way, to go into the college season with the confidence that I am one of the top players in college hockey,” Mazur said. “That’s kind of how I view it.”

He and Rizzo have also shepherded the Pioneers’ growth off the ice in their increased roles as returners. Take Casey Dornbach, the 25-year-old Harvard graduate who decided to enter the transfer portal for one more year of college hockey after testing the waters of NHL interest. On his DU campus visit, Mazur, Rizzo and others took Dornbach out to dinner.

“It’s not easy coming in as a new person that’s older,” Carle said. “It’s a different challenge than what a freshman would have.”

Dornbach moved to Denver in June to work out with his new teammates over the summer. Friendships developed quickly: Mazur often invites them to his place, where he has a projector set up in the basement. They watch comedy movies — after finishing “Anchorman,” “We were like, ‘We’ve got to watch the next one, too,’ Dornbach said — and play the NHL Xbox video game.

Go figure: Mazur is the best gamer.

“We do random (teams) to make it even,” he said. “I murder them in NHL.”

The chemistry has translated to the ice. Rizzo has a team-leading 14 points after 36 last season. Dornbach, playing some top line with the injuries impacting lineups, has 12 points to match Mazur.

But Mazur has turned heads the most. He scored a natural hat trick in the first game at Miami (Ohio), a 4-0 win. The next day, Denver trailed 2-1 entering the third period. He scored the tying and winning goals.

“Probably more impressive, to be honest,” Carle said.

And to boot, Mazur had more family than usual in the crowd. His dad, a retired policeman, usually travels for every weekend series. Not his other relatives, though. The series in Oxford, Ohio, was a four-hour drive from his hometown of Jackson, Mich. Mazur’s mom, grandparents, brother and aunt were all in the stands.

He gave the game puck to his mom after the hat trick.

“That was special,” he said.

One other thing has changed about Mazur this season. His patented mullet is gone. He trimmed it in the offseason, trying out a clean-cut look.

“My hair doesn’t grow that fast,” though, he said. The goal is to grow the mullet back throughout this season.

If he times it right, it’ll be back just in time for another Frozen Four.

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