College hockey doesn’t get any bigger on the Front Range than when the Tigers and Pioneers lock horns. This weekend’s home-and-home tilt should keep Interstate 25 busy and hockey arenas crowded.
The coveted Gold Pan trophy is on the line when the Tigers (10-14-4, 7-10-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) travel to Magness Arena on Friday and the ninth-ranked Pioneers (15-8-4, 10-6-4) travel to the World Arena on Saturday.
The series dates back to 1950 and is one of the most bitter college rivalries. Both teams will be ready, amped and intense when the puck drops Friday night.
“These are two big games for us,” said junior forward Alexander Krushelnyski, who has 10 goals and 20 assists. “Anyone can win on any given night, and these games are ones we have to take one at a time. Our mentality is to stay positive and improve the things we need to work on and look forward to doing that, rather than focusing on the negative.”
CC needs to sweep Denver in order to retain possession of the Gold Pan for the 12th time in 20 seasons after the Pioneers defeated the Tigers 6-5 and 6-2 in mid-November. Not letting go of that trophy is a big deal for CC.
“You definitely think about it,” senior forward Scott Winkler said. “When you set your goals at the beginning of the year, it’s definitely something you put high up there. We got it back last year, and we’d like to keep it.”
The Tigers are coming off a disappointing weekend in which they lost a pair of leads late against last-place Alaska-Anchorage and had to settle for ties.
“One of them was a bad tie, and the other one, I can live with,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t at least get three points.”
Colorado College stands five points out of sixth place in the WCHA, with Denver in a three-way tie for third. CC will likely be without sophomore defenseman Aaron Harstad and freshman forward Cody Bradley, who are questionable with upper-body injuries.
The Tigers will need to put together two complete games this weekend to take two from DU.
“They’re going pretty good,” Owens said of Denver, which is 6-2-1 in its past nine games. “We’ve got to go up there and have a good road game, have a good mentality and get ourselves together. They can score in bunches, and their goaltending has gotten pretty good.
“But when you play Denver, it doesn’t really matter where you are (in the standings).”
CC'S HOCKEY WEEKEND
No. 9 Denver (15-8-4, 10-6-4 WCHA) vs Colorado College (10-14-4, 7-10-3)
7:37 p.m. Friday, Magness Arena, Denver
7:07 p.m. Saturday, World Arena
TV: Friday, ROOT Sports
Coaches: Denver — George Gwozdecky (438-261-63, 19th season); Colorado College — Scott Owens (309-199-47, 14th season)
All-time series: Denver leads 159-111-15
Top players: Denver — Nick Shore, jr., F (10g, 15a); Chris Knowlton, sr., F (12g, 11a); Joey LaLeggia, soph., D (9g, 13a); Nolan Zajac, fr., D (5g, 15a); Juno Olkinuora, soph., G (9-2-4, 1.95 gaa). Colorado College — Rylan Schwartz, sr., F (11g, 23a); William Rapuzzi, sr., F (14g, 17a); Alexander Krushelnyski, jr., F (10g, 20a); Scott Winkler, sr., F (12g, 11a).
Outlook: Colorado College was 7-3 and 4-0 in the WCHA before Denver’s sweep in mid-November sparked a nightmarish 3-11-4 stretch for the Tigers. CC will need to clamp down on defense if the Tigers want to return the favor with a sweep that will keep the Gold Pan trophy at the World Arena. DU goalie Juho Olkinuora is 9-2-4 and will be between the pipes at least one night after being named WCHA defensive player of the week. A sweep may be a tall order for CC, but it is not out of the cards and could salvage its season.