February 20, 2014 Updated: February 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm
DENVER — The stories, more fable than fact, often surface on winter nights over a beer. They are tall tales, the Sasquatches and Nessies of college hockey in Colorado.
Matt Tabrum has heard the stories. He's heard the wild, varied claims of how the original Gold Pan might've vanished. His father, Mark Tabrum, started a six-year stint as a Colorado College assistant in 1993-94.
After that season, thanks largely to then-DU coach Frank Serratore, the Gold Pan debuted. It became an actual thing, the first time a traveling, tangible trophy highlighted a series that dates to 1950.
"I've heard all the stories from some of the players from back then," said Matt, a junior forward from Colorado Springs who plays forward at Denver.
"I'm not sure if I can say them in the paper."
DU was in possession of the Gold Pan when it disappeared a decade ago.
One story suggests players put a huge dent in the Gold Pan during a wild night of beer drinking. Too ashamed to own up, they "misplaced" it. Another one — a G-rated version — suggests the Pan was lost when the Pioneers were moving boxes into storage.
"I've heard a bunch of different stories, different names of who took it," DU coach Jim Montgomery said this week. "Whoever took it, they've kept it a good secret."
For members of the DU-CC hockey rivalry — whether it's students, alums, coaches or the players on the bloodied ice of a rare rivalry that still matters — the disappearance of the original Gold Pan ranks with a stolen Rembrandt, a mystery the great Poirot couldn't solve.
One day the Gold Pan was here.
And then - Poof! - it wasn't.
DU and CC face off again, Friday at Magness Arena and Saturday at World Arena.
As for the original Gold Pan? A quick search on EBay revealed mostly plastic gold pans, built for real-life prospecting. Craigslist turned up only a camp for gold enthusiasts.
"I'm not sure where it is," said Dave Makowski, a senior captain at DU.
"Maybe CC hid it, because they know we've had it more than them."
CC needs a weekend sweep to win back the new Gold Pan. If anyone from the respective regimes deserves to carry it home, it's Tigers coach Scott Owens.
"After (the original) was lost, we got in contact with coach Owens to see if he was interested in developing a new trophy," said Jane Mannon, community affairs manager at the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. "He was very interested. So was coach (George) Gwozdecky. With their blessing, we moved forward."
This made sense; the local mining company employed a number of CC alums.
"I used to watch CC play at The Broadmoor," said Jeff Gaul, a 1990 graduate with a geology degree. "One of my kids - he's 8 years old - just played during the intermission at the Providence game."
"I played on the club team at CC," said geologist Lowe Billingsley, Class of '88, who was on the ice when the new Gold Pan debuted to a CC triumph in 2005.
The Colorado sculptor, Mike Halterman, wasn't looking to make a quick buck off the deal. There isn't a great demand for miniature hockey sticks and gold pans made of silicon bronze. This was more like the $21,000 dog portrait he recently completed.
"These are one-of-a-kind jobs," Halterman said. "But I never turn down a job."
His work is brilliant, regal enough to represent the 70-year-old One Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander, Wyo.
"The Gold Pan, it was just a matter of putting all our brains together and making what they wanted," Halterman said. "Make it portable enough so it could travel."
The original Gold Pan had more dings than a sand wedge punching chip shots in a parking lot; the new Gold Pan weighs roughly 15 pounds and strikes a formal tone.
If the old, dinged up Gold Pan was a red Solo cup, the kind you'd find at a keggar, the new Gold Pan is a diamond chalice, the kind you'd see in a rap video.
"The old one, players whittled their initials into it," said Mark Tabrum, the former CC assistant whose son plays for DU. "That Gold Pan took some abuse."
The new Gold Pan, in all its bronze glory, stands in a trophy case at the Ritchie Center, between Sections 3 and 4 in the upper concourse.
Go ahead, check it out.
Notice how the Gold Pan is positioned in front of DU's 2004 and 2005 NCAA title trophies, a reminder how this rivalry carries weight.
Whither the original? One man's guess: somewhere in a man cave, curved just enough to hold a chilled Fat Tire. The lucky, thievish owner breaks it out on nights like this one, when the Gold Pan rivalry adds another chapter.