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