I was 12 years old the first time someone showed me the five hole.
My U13 coach called us all over to the net after one of our practices had ended. He had the goalie stand in a ready position. He told us where to shoot, where to look. He explained the art of going high glove, or low blocker.
Then finally, he got down real low and pointed to this tiny gap.
“Watch that space, O.K.?”
He was pointing to the space along the ice, between the heel of the goalie’s stick and the inside edge of his pad.
He then had the goalie go side to side, drop down into the butterfly, get back up again. The whole time he had us watch that space.
“See how it’s open, and how it gets bigger when he moves?”
I thought it was like a cheat code. I wasn’t that big or fast — I needed a good trick. Over the next few weeks, every time I broke in on a goalie I’d try to look at the corners of the net like I usually did, but my eyes were always drawn to the five hole. It became my go-to move.
And who knew? Maybe it would come in handy one day.
I’m from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and I was a huge Avs fan growing up. I memorized every game program I could get my hands on. But they were a really tough ticket to get.
That’s how I discovered Pioneers hockey.
The University of Denver wasn’t too far from my house, so my family and I started going to more and more DU games.
Right away, I fell in love — the skill, the hitting and the noise. The arena was louder than anything you could really imagine because of the size. As a kid, I would just sit there amazed that all of this could happen outside of an NHL rink.
It was also an amazing time to be a Pioneers fan. Back-to-back national championships in ’04 and ’05. It was great hockey, and a great time. I remember Paul Stastny, Matt Carle and Gabe Gauthier tearing teams apart while Magness Arena rocked. It was nuts — like it was absolutely bonkers. The student section was, and still is, right behind the net. I’m pretty sure opposing goalies hated playing in our barn.
That atmosphere led my parents, who were not hockey fans (at the time, anyway), to buy Pioneers season tickets.
I’ve been going to DU games for a long, long time.
I used to go with my friends when I was 13 years old and our seats were on the complete opposite side of the rink from the student section. We’d always try to sneak over there — or at least get as close as possible. Every kid who went to DU seemed to be so cool. All my friends and I wanted to do was go there and watch hockey games on the weekend. That was as good as life could get.
There were so many great rivalries. Like DU vs. North Dakota. UND used to have these big, physical teams. They came to hit. I loved it. The glass banging and guys shouting — it was awesome. Or the best game in Colorado: DU vs Colorado College. There’s nothing like an in-state rivalry. Those nights were loud, and you’d leave the arena with a raspy voice and a headache.
I wanted to experience those games one day from the other side of the glass.
And when I was 15 I got a phone call that made that a very real possibility.
I had been taking hockey seriously for a few years at that point, and I just had a great season with the Colorado Thunderbirds’ under-16 team. I had quit playing other sports like lacrosse and baseball. It was all hockey.
The call was from George Gwozdecky. He was the DU coach, and a guy I had looked up to for a long time.
He asked me to come in to meet with him, and about an hour later I made a verbal commitment to be a Pioneer. Most kids, when they get a chance like this take days or maybe even weeks to decide. I needed an hour. It was an easy decision. Actually, it wasn’t even a decision.
I’m a Pioneer, born and bred.
Man … my first game as a DU player. It was so special. I remember putting on the crimson and gold for the first time and being like, Damn, it’s really real. I’m actually about to do this.
It was only an exhibition game against the University of Calgary, but it meant a lot. It was at Magness Arena, and all of my family and some of my friends were there to watch. During warmup I kept looking over to the seats that I used to sit in when I was a kid. It was an out-of-body experience.
I was never really the best player on any team I had played on. So when I got invited to Team USA’s world junior camp in 2016, a year after my first season with DU, I was a little surprised. I had had a good freshman year, but I wasn’t sure if I had a shot to make the national team. I got my invite in early December and left for camp in Buffalo. I was pretty nervous, and skeptical that I could actually make the team.
They made some cuts in the first few days — each of which I survived — and then we left for Oshawa, Ontario, to play the Swiss and the Czechs in pretournament play. After the Czech game, the roster would be set. I thought I was a bubble guy. So did my parents. They didn’t book tickets to Toronto because it was too expensive of a risk to take.
We beat the Czechs 4–0, and they were supposed to let us know in the locker room after the game. But they told us that they needed more time to decide, and said that the roster would be set by the next morning. Basically, if you got a wake-up call at seven in the morning you were going home. They needed extra time to get you on a plane. If they let you sleep in, you’d made it.
It was not easy to get to sleep that night.
Thankfully, I slept in and made the team.
What happened over the next two weeks … well, I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me before what was going to happen.
We played our round-robin games and then beat Switzerland in the quarterfinals in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, which was amazing. The crowd was great, and any time you can play in an NHL arena in a city that cares about the sport that much, it’s really awesome.
But, man, Montreal is on a whole other level. Like that place is wild. There are hockey fans, and then there are French-Canadian hockey fans. I expected our game against Russia in the semifinals to be a bit quiet, just because Canadians don’t like either of us. But the Bell Centre was BUMPIN’! We fed off that energy. I’ve never seen our team more loose. Even heading into OT with the score tied 3–3 … we were playing with no fear.
But the shootout, that was something else. A shootout is a whole different beast.
You have to go from adrenaline rushing through your veins with every stride to calm, collected and calculating.
And yeah, I was thinking five hole the entire way. At least on the first shot.
Their goalie was big. It was hard to find a gap even when you moved him side to side. I thought I could fake a shot. I came in slow, and I tried to angle my blade and skates so it looked like I would roof it high glove. I kept my eyes focused just above his left shoulder, but in my peripherals I watched that space between his legs. I saw it open and just let if fly.
But this wasn’t an NHL shootout. We were playing under IIHF rules. I was allowed to shoot again once we got past the fifth round. But we had so many skilled players on the team, I really hadn’t even expected to shoot the first time, let alone again. But Jeremy Bracco scored in the fifth round to make it 2–2 and gave me another chance.
Russia scored with it’s first shot of the sixth round. Coach called my name again, which meant that we would lose the game if I missed. That time I wasn’t thinking five hole. I just wanted to come in with speed and try to get Russia’s goalie moving. I came in fast and he backed up, the rest was just instinctive. Five hole again.
I remember on my way back to the bench Jordan Greenway yelled over, “TERRY! I could kiss you right now man, let’s go!”
The last shot, to try and win it, I did something weird. I don’t think I’ve ever gone forehand, backhand, five hole in my entire life. Why not now? I knew the goalie would try to keep his stick down to cover the gap, but I used the change of angle to my advantage and he opened his legs again. Five hole again.
Three down, and a trip to the gold medal game to play Canada.
I remember grabbing my phone to call my parents right away in the locker room, and I had so many notifications … I couldn’t even scroll to the bottom of them. T.J Oshie, Auston Matthews, a bunch of guys I look up to were tweeting me. On the ice, you know it’s a big deal, but when you see everyone else’s reaction, it really put into perspective what we had done.
But we knew we weren’t finished.
I’ll cut straight to it. The shootout against Canada for gold was one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. Especially after the intensity of the game, which ended in a 4–4 tie after we came back from two goals down in the final period. We came all this way, we aren’t losing now. The score in the shootout was still 0–0 after three rounds when I hopped off the bench to shoot. I remember one of our guys yelled out, “Terry, there’s no chance this guy’s gonna let you go five hole, hey bud?”
I immediately cracked a smile.
There was no way I was going to try five hole, I mean everyone in the building was thinking it. I thought, O.K., let’s go in with speed and go high glove. But on my way down to the goalie, I saw that space. The same space that had been shown to me when I was a kid. The five hole was wide open — like bigger than I had seen all tournament. I heard that voice in my head, Shoot it, just shoot it. I let it go.
Five hole, and a few awesome Tyler Parsons saves later, a gold medal.
A gold freakin’ medal. In Canada. Against Canada. That’s every American hockey player’s dream.
I’ll never, ever forget that feeling.
Moments like the one we experienced in Montreal don’t come around often. Last year with Denver we were close. We lost to North Dakota in the semifinals of the Frozen Four in Tampa. It was a last-minute goal that ended our season, and that feeling of frustration stayed with me for weeks.
That’s been our motivation this entire year. Last off-season, I would just watch highlights from that loss when I was tired or didn’t feel like training. We have unfinished business from that game.
Lucky for me, we’re going back to the Frozen Four.
This year, we aren’t a surprise and we aren’t just happy to be there. We’re there to do something I watched my idols do 12 years ago — win a national championship.
I want to experience that feeling I had in Montreal in January. But this time, it’s a little different. It’s not for my country — it’s for my school. It’s for my family.
It’s for my home.
Let’s finish this, Pioneers.