Often compared to a heavyweight championship fight, the battle between Colorado College and Denver fittingly ended Friday with a brawl as time expired.
No. 2 Denver built a 6-2 third-period lead, then held on for a 6-5 win over the 14th-ranked Tigers at World Arena. The Tigers spent much of the final 1:26 embattled in a vicious scrum in front of the DU net, with bodies flailing, sticks flying and the puck being battered around.
Mike Boivin’s goal with 1:26 remaining pulled CC (7-4, 4-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) to within one of the Pioneers’ seemingly insurmountable lead, but the Tigers could not pull even. The loss ended the Tigers’ four-game winning streak and put DU (8-1, 6-1) further in the driver’s seat atop the league standings.
“I don’t know how the puck didn’t go in in the last minute,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “I’m proud of our guys because we competed, and we had some great opportunities. With any luck, that’s a tie game.
“We just made too many mistakes against a good, strong team.”
The game ended with both teams locked in a clash in front of the Denver bench, with DU goalie Juho Olkinoura and CC’s Rylan Schwartz being disqualified from Saturday’s contest after throwing blows to opposing players’ heads.
Denver scored four consecutive goals after Schwartz tied the score at 2 8:28 into the second period to build a 6-2 lead, but the Tigers refused to lay down.
That swing for the Pioneers included a trio of goals in a 1:13 stretch following Schwartz’s equalizer where Colorado Springs natives Matt Tabrum and Chris Knowlton scored 40 seconds apart and Joey LaLeggia lit the lamp again 33 seconds later.
CC’s Eamonn McDermott and Boivin scored in the first half of the third period to cut the lead to 6-4 before Boivin’s second goal of the night brought the Tigers to within one.
“I thought at the end there we had a couple chances and were going to get one to tie it up,” Boivin said. “We’ve been down before and know how to handle it. It was a collective effort, and we kept plugging away.
“But we shouldn’t have been in that position.”
Denver led 2-0 at the first intermission after a David Makowski power play goal and a Scott Mayfield strike. CC retaliated early in the second, with Schwartz getting the Tigers on the board 3:04 into the period and then tying the game with a power-play goal 8:28 into the period.
The momentum was clearly on the Tigers’ side, but then everything went wrong for CC in an instant.
Owens pulled starting goalie Josh Thorimbert in favor of senior Joe Howe after the Pioneers’ fourth goal.
“It was a wild game and a great game for the spectators to be a part of, and we just came out on the short end of it,” Owens said. “Just not getting a point (is the most frustrating part). We just had too many breakdowns and made too many mistakes.”
It wasn’t an ideal performance for Denver, but the Pioneers left with a victory.
“It was a tough, hard-fought and strange game at times,” DU coach George Gwozdecky said.
“When you’ve got your opponent on the ropes, your ability to finish them off is not so much about how man goals you can score. It’s about frustrating them and not giving them the puck, and that’s the area we didn’t do a good job of in the third period.”