DU and CC, hardly flashes in the pan, go for Gold

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

In his first sea­son at the helm of hockey for the Den­ver Pioneers, coach Jim Montgomery got slapped in the face with a re­al­iza­tion: DU may have won the con­fer­ence tour­na­ment ti­tle, but one se­ries stained the 2013-14 sea­son.

“When we lost the Gold Pan, I saw how much it hurt ev­ery­one here — and how happy Colorado Col­lege was,” Montgomery said Thurs­day out­side the Pioneers’ locker room at Mag­ness Arena. “I un­der­es­ti­mated the ri­valry. I was very sur­prised by the in­ten­sity of it.”

So when Den­ver and Colorado Col­lege re­sume their 67-year-old ri­valry this week­end for a home­and-home se­ries start­ing Fri­day, the stakes will be ad­e­quately un­der­stood. The No. 1-ranked Pioneers (9-3-2), win­ners of the past three Gold Pan tro­phies, will face the tough­est Tigers team they’ve seen since Montgomery’s first year. Colorado Col­lege (7-7-0) sits out­side the top 25 but is also re­ceiv­ing votes in na­tional polls.

It is sec­ond-most ac­tive ri­valry in the his­tory of col­lege hockey, with 308 games played be­tween DU and CC, trail­ing only an on­go­ing se­ries be­tween Michi­gan and Michi­gan State. And in the 25th sea­son since a miner’s pan tro­phy was set at the cen­ter of the DU-CC se­ries, each team has won 12.

“Even when I was a kid, I could tell these teams don’t like each other very much,” said Den­ver ju­nior for­ward Troy Terry, who grew up in High­lands Ranch. If Montgomery’s in­doc­tri­na­tion to the Gold Pan matchup was de­layed, Terry’s was not. His fam­ily had sea­son tick­ets to Pioneer games. He got a close-up view of the ri­valry grow­ing up.

“They were al­ways very phys­i­cal. They got chippy,” Terry said. “It’s a ri­valry that’s lasted since the be­gin­ning of col­lege hockey, pretty much.”

Last sea­son, the ri­valry pe­tered some as Den­ver stormed to a na­tional cham­pi­onship. The Pioneers swept the four-game sea­son se­ries by an ag­gre­gate score of 13-4. They DU swept CC again the con­fer­ence play­offs, win­ning twice by a com­bined tally of 8-1.

But this edi­tion is an im­proved Colorado Col­lege team. The Tigers have im­pres­sive vic­to­ries over North Dakota, New Hamp­shire, Ne­braska-Omaha and Mi­ami (Ohio), each a ranked or voteget­ting team this sea­son. They have “an elite goal­tender,” ac­cord­ing to Montgomery, in sopho­more Alex Le­clerc, and a top line, led by sopho­more Nick Hal­lo­ran, whose 19 points put him 14th in the nation.

Den­ver, though, is rolling. The Pios have won three games in a row since a tongue-lash­ing from Montgomery af­ter a 5-4 loss to vis­it­ing North Dakota three weeks ago. Since then, se­nior goal­tender Tan­ner Jail­let has al­lowed just two goals in three games, in­clud­ing wins over North Dakota and a road sweep of Min­nesota-Du­luth.

Den­ver this sea­son has held the No. 1 spot ev­ery week but one.

“Last year, at the be­gin­ning at least, we were ac­cus­tomed to (the top spot),” said Terry, whose 23 points (7 goals, 16 as­sists) rank sec­ond in the NCAA. “We looked at it all the time. And it bit us in the butt a lit­tle bit. But this year, it’s an honor. But it’s De­cem­ber, and we have a long way to go.”

Den­ver is adept, it seems, at win­ning end-to-end shootouts and slogs. Af­ter a 4-1 trounc­ing in a sec­ond game against North Dakota, the Pios fol­lowed with 1-0 and 2-1 wins over Du­luth. Their prob­lem, as Montgomery sees it, is men­tal.

“We’re not a men­tally tough team yet,” Montgomery said. “We’re lack­ing grit. And a self­less at­ti­tude to team-first. Ev­ery­one is try­ing to fig­ure out where they fit. We’re not a co­he­sive group right now.”

If DU’s fifth-year coach wants a test of tough­ness, a two-game se­ries against Colorado Col­lege could be that bar. The Tigers have faced DU seven times when the Pioneers held the No. 1 spot — with a record of up­sets. CC is 3-4 in those games.

“It’s sa­cred,” Terry said of the DU-CC se­ries. “As a kid, it meant a lot to me. So I know it means a lot to the fans.”

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