DENVER — The images that decorate the mask of Denver’s senior goaltender are all too revealing.
They’ve come to symbolize his affection for his school. His upbringing. His loyalty. And even to a degree the chip on his shoulder.
Tanner Jaillet is an undersized goalie who’s trying to help the Pioneers become the first team to win back-to-back national hockey titles since Denver accomplished the feat in 2004 and ’05. Over his career, he’s won prestigious awards and closed in on hallowed school records.
Still, the 24-year-old with the bushy beard from Red Deer, Alberta, doesn’t know where or even if he will be playing next season. He hasn’t been drafted like a handful of his teammates and has no National Hockey League club waiting for him.
Simply more fuel.
“They don’t think I’m good enough?” said Jaillet , whose Pioneers (22-9-8) face Penn State (18-14-5) on Saturday in Allentown, Pennsylvania , with the winner playing again the next day for a spot in the Frozen Four . “I’m going to keep working harder and keep improving and see how good I can truly get.”
He’s good enough now — in the eyes of his coach, Jim Montgomery, who wishes measurables like height (Jaillet stands 5-foot-11) weren’t scrutinized as much as numbers (Jaillet is 81-26-16 in his career with a 2.03 goals-against average).
“He’s so square to pucks — that’s why he looks boring,” Montgomery said. “He knows where the puck is going before the guy who passes it does.”
These days, though, it just seems the NHL prefers taller goaltenders, with three goalies under 6-feet having played at least 20 games this season.
“I’m not worried,” said Jaillet, who counts Montreal’s Carey Price as his favorite player. “I’m worried about how I can get better each day. I love playing hockey and I’m going to play as long as I can. Wherever that leads me to, I’m OK with that. There’s no point in worrying about it.
“Control what you can control.”
That sort of phrase actually appears on his mask — a reminder to stay in his lane and not worry about being overlooked in the draft or things like that. His customized head gear also includes a list of the Pioneers’ national titles — 1958, ’60, ’61, ’68, ’69, ’04, ’05 and ’17.
“It kind of comes across as cocky and that’s not what I intended,” said Jaillet, whose team beat Minnesota Duluth in the title game a year ago when he made 38 saves. “But I thought, ‘Hey, we’ve got an amazing program here with a really proud history.’ I thought it would be cool to do something a little throwback.”
In addition, there’s a picture of Ron Grahame, the Pioneers goaltender from 1970-73 who’s now director of athletics at the university. As it so happens, Jaillet needs two wins to break Grahame’s all-time school mark.
“Ron is a legend at DU,” Jaillet said . “I thought it was a cool little tribute for him and something unique to do for my last year.”
Also depicted on Jaillet’s helmet: A Canadian flag along with a Bible verse that’s near to him.
“Just a reminder,” Jaillet said of all the art work, “for me to have fun and enjoy the game.”
He’s certainly done that. Some of his accomplishments:
— Posted a 21-8-7 record this season with a 1.85 goals-against average and five shutouts.
— Played in 133 career games, a school record for a goalie.
— Earned the Mike Richter Award last season, honoring the NCAA’s most outstanding goaltender, and is up for the prize again.
— A dizzying 51 saves in a two-overtime win over Nebraska Omaha on March 12, 2016.
Asked if Jaillet sometimes flies under the radar on a national level, Montgomery just chuckled.
“If they don’t (know how good he is) they’re living under a rock,” Montgomery said. “Because he’s been great.”
After sputtering early in the season, the Pioneers are playing some of their best hockey now. They’ve won four straight with a team that includes such players as Olympian Troy Terry (drafted in the fifth round by Anaheim in 2015), Henrik Borgstrom (first round by Florida in 2016), Dylan Gambrell (second round by San Jose in ’16) and, of course, Jaillet.
“If you just have pure success all the time, you don’t really learn anything,” Jaillet said. “You get better through failures. It wasn’t really necessarily failures, but we were learning lessons through getting scored on or breakdowns.
“Obviously, we have a handle on it now and hopefully we can keep it going.”