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A big decision awaits, but Avalanche draft pick Sean Behrens has “two feet in” chasing another title with the Pioneers

Sean Behrens has something in common with the NHL team that drafted him: He’s been to the mountaintop at his level recently and desperately wants to do it again.

Behrens is a junior defenseman for the University of Denver, and he’s a Colorado Avalanche draft pick. When the next stage of his hockey career begins will be a focal point of his life, but right now it might as well be a million miles away.

“I’ve been trying to stay away from it as much as I can,” Behrens said of his future. “It’s tough because there’s people asking me about that. My goal from the start of the year was to stay with two feet in here and win a national championship here. It’s obviously there, but for me, I’ve been telling my group of people around me that I want to wait for the end of the season and focus on right now. Then whatever happens after the season, happens.”

Behrens was a second-round pick by the Avalanche in 2021, and he’s developed into one of the core players on a deep Pioneers club. He has four goals and 29 points in 38 games for the Pioneers — his next point will set a career-high.

He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, so he’ll need to prove he can play the style of game he enjoys against bigger, older competition. It is notable that the biggest strides he’s made in his game over the past two years have come without the puck.

“I think just defensively, being able to defend against top lines — my first two years here it was not easy every night, especially in this conference with how good the high-end players are,” Behrens said. “So I think just being able to defend night in, night out playing against top lines while still having that offensive ability has been the biggest improvement.”

He’s doing so while playing next to freshman Zeev Buium, who is one of the best freshmen in the country and projected to go in the first half of the first round in the 2024 NHL draft. They’ve formed one of the better defensive pairings in college hockey and could be put to the test against other high-end NHL prospects in the forthcoming NCAA Tournament.

“It’s two smart hockey players,” DU coach David Carle said. “Sean’s really good at reading off Zeev, and Zeev is the same. When one goes up, the other guy stays back. They’re both very competitive kids. They want to be on the ice when the game is on the line. They want to play against other teams’ best players. So I think they push each other with that competitive spirit they have.”

Denver will play St. Cloud State on Friday at the NCHC Frozen Face-Off. The Pioneers have lost on Friday night at the event each of the past two seasons, so a conference championship is also high on Behrens’ to-do list.

He really wants to win a second national title, repeating what DU accomplished at the end of the 2021-22 season. After that, and not before, the decision about his future will take center stage.

Behrens could sign with the Avalanche, and perhaps even join the Colorado Eagles in the AHL at the end of their season. Or he can return to DU for his senior season.

Either way, he has a clear plan in mind for what he needs to work on individually before it’s time to play for the Eagles and Avalanche someday.

“For me, it’s just defending a little bit quicker,” Behrens said. “Having quiet feet, not crossing over as much. The little details matter even more as you move up levels. I think just those things, better gaps and shutting down the opponent and taking away time and space quicker is something I’ve always been working on. I’m getting better at it, but I think there’s still room for improvement.”

Carle also has a pretty good idea why Behrens could find success in the future when he is ready to matriculate to pro hockey.

“It’s the person first, the competitive spirit that he has,” he said. “He wants to be great at what he does. He’ll do whatever he can to help a team win. I think those are critical factors to success at any level, but certainly at the next one.”

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