National Champion Jared Wright reflects back on a special season and development process

Just last month, Kings prospect Jared Wright helped the Denver University Pioneers win their NCAA-leading 10th collegiate national championship in men’s hockey.

A sixth-round draft pick in 2022, from Burnsville, Minnesota, Wright played a crucial middle-six role for the ultra-deep Pioneers team in route to their 2023-24 national championship.

As a freshman in the 2022-23 season with Denver, Wright joined a club that was coming off of the school’s ninth national championship in 2022 and returned 17 players. Playing in 34 of the team’s 40 games, Wright appeared in every game when healthy and missed only six games due to a broken jaw in the back half of the regular season. Putting together a positive and impactful freshman season, Wright notched 12 points (8-4=12) and helped his team earn the fourth overall seed entering the National Championship tournament.

“I thought my freshman year went well, it was a lot of learning,” Wright reflected back. “I learned about how detailed the game gets as you rise in the sport. Obviously, there was a lot of pressure coming in freshman year, especially with the 2022 team winning the national championship.”

Entering the 2023 tournament with a 30-9-0 record, Wright and Denver’s quest for back-to-back national championships was extremely short-lived. Lasting just 60 minutes, the Pioneers fell to Cornell University in a 2-0 upset in the regional semifinal, abruptly ending their season.

“Losing to Cornell in the fashion we did really left a sour taste like in my mouth,” he said. “Not only for me, but also all of my teammates when we lost in the in the regional semifinal. I think that led to myself and the team to being super motivated for this year and I think ultimately that led to us winning it all this year.”

Springing a motivated and important 2023 offseason, Wright credited the guidance of the Kings development staff for helping him grow as a playing on and off of the ice.

A second development camp experience is immensely important for the personal growth of Kings prospects. A familiarity with the staff, the facility and having a sense a normalcy in a building where they can call home goes a long way. Without as much intimidation and the comfort of having known his fellow prospects for an extra 365-ish days, Wright was a noticeable and impactful player during this past summer’s development camp.

“I was a lot more like comfortable with the development staff in Jarret Stoll and Mike Donnelly, I thought that we really connected well during the summer,” he said. “I also did their shooting camp during the summer, so I had a lot more confidence with my abilities and getting to shoot on professional goalies was really nice for my development. I think it really led into my productive summer, the training I had and having more confidence and familiarity at development camp really helped me leading into the 2023-24 season.”

Enter year two at Denver and Wright doubled his offensive output while also adding to the defensive abilities that garnered him praise and playing time a season ago.

Appearing in all 44 games for the Pioneers here in the 2023-24 campaign, Wright totaled 25 points (15-10=25) and had a team-high five game-winning goals.

“I think being more confident and just another year of experience played a big role in my offense uptick,” Wright said. “I’m also very, very lucky with the players I got to play with, with Reiger [Lorenz] and Kieran [Cebrian], and I just thought we as a group played a very North/South game. We got up the ice very fast and we’re also responsible in our own end. I think just growing confidence and hanging on to pucks a little longer allowed me to create more offense this season. I kept not being afraid to take a chance or take a risk, and I think it definitely paid off.”

While Denver ultimately won the 2024 National Championship, their season wasn’t free-flowing and smooth the entire time. Wright identified a pivotal time in the season that he deemed the turning point. The day was February 3rd, 2024 and the then fifth ranked Pioneers were 18-7-2. By night’s end, the Pioneers had dropped three of their last four games and lost to the fifteenth ranked University of Western Michigan Broncos 7-2.

“When we lost the 7-2 game to Western Michigan, that was a big reality check. It was in the second half of the year and I think that was the lowest point of our year. From that point on, we really just hunkered down and our coach David Carle, who I think is the best coach in college hockey told us, ‘we’re not going to win anything if we don’t have a commitment to defense.’ From that point on, we only lost once in our last 16 games. Everyone just had a commitment towards one another. We knew we could score goals, but also we could defend well as well and we did that.”

FromFebruary 4th on, the Pioneers rolled. They went 14-1-1 and their success in the second half of the season came against the nation’s top talent. With a final record of 32-9-3, 18 of the Pioneers 32 victories came against ranked opponents, including their final six wins of the season to taste the national championship trophy.

The final four games of Denver’s season came in dramatic fashion, involving multiple overtime’s against some of the nation’s highest scoring and most potent offenses. The Pioneers began their quest for their tenth nation championship in the regional semifinals with a 2-1 double overtime victory over the UMASS Amherst Minutemen, followed by a revenge game, knocking out Cornell 2-1 to reach the Frozen Four.

Next up in the national championship semifinals, the Pioneers faced the fifth highest scoring team in the nation, the second ranked Boston University Terriors who averaged 4.02 goals per game. Holding BU to just one first period goal, Denver responded with a second period goal and penciled their name into the national championship with an overtime goal 11:09 into the opening extra session, setting themselves up with a date and rematch with the nation’s top ranked team and second highest scoring offense the Boston College Eagles.

“When you’re playing a team like Boston College, especially for the National Championship, they had super elite talent and had all of those top offensive draft picks, so we wanted to focus on slowing them while still playing our game. We really wanted to prove to everybody that we were better than them and a more complete team. I think our coach David Carle had such a great gameplan going into the game of just having a structured game against them. They’re usually a high flying team with a very free flowing offense. There was a lot of tension surrounding that team and we definitely want to knock them off at the top in the final game.”

Having defeated BC 4-3 after trailing by a goal twice back on October 21st, 2023, the Pioneers still found themselves as underdogs heading into the national championship. On paper at least. Able to silence the high-powered BC offense that averaged 4.43 goals during the season, Wright and Denver’s commitment to structured defense paid off. Shutting BC out 2-0, an exceptional performance from Denver’s undrafted goaltender Matt Davis combined with a display of shot-blocking resulted in a celebration that every college athlete dreams of having when the final horn, buzzer or whistle blows, a national championship victory.

Like Denver, the Kings and Ontario Reign are obviously committed to playing a structured and 200-foot game, making Wright a great fit for this organization in the future. Having doubled his offensive output this past season, Wright is as committed as anyone to being a factor in each zone, specifically on the defensive side of the puck. With elite speed and promising size, Wright has a bright upside with a lot of potential and self-awareness.

“I think that I’m a 200-foot player that pressures pucks all over the ice. I try to use my skating all over the ice to force turnovers in all three zones and I think I’m very good at penalty killing.”

Looking back, Wright had this to say about his growth from his freshman season to his sophomore season

“I thought I really grew my game this season compared to last and was a really sturdy 200-foot player,” he said. “I thought I did well both offensively and defensively. Like I said, I was also very lucky with the great linemates that I had in Cebrian and Lorenz. I know I have more to add to my game, but it was a really productive season for me.”

Striving for more, Wright has an identified multiple dress of focus heading into the 2024 offseason.

“I’m trying to work on having a better stick. I’m focusing on trying to create more turnovers for my teammates and possibly more scoring chances. Having a better stick also applies to penalty killing as well. I would like to also get back on puck protection by possessing pucks longer and being able to hold on to the puck more. Doing that will help me be more impactful.”

It is expected that Kings fans can see Wright during the upcoming 2024 Development Camp following the 2024 NHL Draft in Las Vegas.

Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

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