DENVER - This is a different team, Colorado College players and coach have reminded time and time again. That 14-game losing streak against rival Denver belonged to different teams.
The Tigers went out and made it official. Mason Bergh tied the game with seven seconds left in regulation, freshman Christiano Versich scored on the power play in double overtime and Colorado College ended a lengthy skid against top-ranked Denver and left Magness Arena with two National Collegiate Hockey Conference points.
The 5-4 game will go down as a tie, but judging by the sounds escaping the visiting locker room, no Tiger was dwelling on that.
"It feels amazing," Versich said. "I really think we came out here thinking and knowing we could win this game regardless of where their position was.
"We know we're good. We know we're just as good as them. We came out and showed that tonight."
Coming off a two-week bye, the Tigers (7-7-1, 3-5-1-1 NCHC) looked fresh and the first 10 minutes coach Mike Haviland worried about passed without incident.
In the last minute of the period - a time the Tigers frequently surrendered goals last season, including twice at Magness Arena - Trevor Gooch corralled the puck at the right point and waited for a streaking Kristian Blumenschein. The sophomore defenseman took the puck and tapped his first goal of the season past Tanner Jaillet with seven seconds to go until the break.
"It maybe took a few minutes, but I think we came out confident," Versich said. "Against a team like that, you have to."
Denver's Colin Staub started the game-tying play in the second period, kicking the puck around along the boards. He got it to Logan O'Connor behind the CC goal and O'Connor wrapped it around CC goaltender Alex Leclerc, slipping it under his leg.
CC's top line picked up right where they left off with 4:29 remaining in the second period. Bergh corralled the puck along the boards to Jaillet's right, then slid a pass to Nick Halloran, who buried his sixth of the season. Linemate Trey Bradley picked up the second assist.
"At times, I think both teams hemmed each other in and I think that's what you get in this conference," Haviland said. "It may be the first time in a long time that we did that to them."
That lead lasted just 2:33 as Dylan Gambrell curled around the net and fired on the doorstep, using Bergh as a screen. The Pioneers (9-3-3, 5-3-1 NCHC) added a last-minute goal when Ian Mitchell potted his first career goal on another wraparound shot that went off Leclerc's sprawled legs.
Though that signaled the beginning of the end many times before, Haviland said there was no panic in the locker room during the second-period break.
"We said, 'Enough is enough. We've been through enough here,'" Bergh recalled. "We put that goal behind us whereas in the past we kind of let it kill us."
Halloran tied the game 3-3 with 8:55 to play, picking up the rebound of Bergh's shot from the point and reaching around Jaillet.
Jaakko Heikkinen gave the Pioneers the lead with 2:28 left in the game, but after a minute of heavy pressure with the extra attacker, Bergh sent the game into overtime.
"I was just trying to pull it out of the chaos and I had a wide-open net," Bergh said.
The tie was sealed after the first overtime. But a hooking call on Denver during double overtime set up Versich's 4-on-3 goal. Leclerc finished with 35 saves.
Colorado College took the short bus ride home and will prepare to host the Pioneers - and gain more ground toward reclaiming the Gold Pan trophy that goes to the winner of the season series - on Saturday night.
"We'll get to enjoy it for about a half-hour," Haviland said. "I've got to ground them a bit now."