DENVER — The Gold Pan rivalry is dead.
Long live the Gold Pan.
"NCAA championship. Conference championship, the Penrose," University of Denver senior defenseman Matt VanVoorhis said when I asked him to list the Pioneers' priorities these days.
As if Peter McNab and Paul Stastny had tapped on his shoulder pad - ahem, young fella - VanVoorhis added, after a pause: "But the Gold Pan is still huge for our alumni, so it's huge for us."
If you say so, Pio. Sure doesn't feel that way.
And the tombstone would read: Here lies the Gold Pan, 1950-Jim Montgomery.
Ol' Monty stuck a fork in Colorado's best rivalry this side of skiing vs. riding. He's 14-2 against the Tigers — or, as various DU alums prefer to text him, the Kittens. Montgomery against Colorado College is John Elway against the Patriots, rock against scissors, Chipotle against Qdoba. He can't be beat. Well, CC beat him twice — four seasons ago. Since then, nada. Is it really a rivalry when one team is ranked No. 1 in the nation and the other is ranked No. 1 in remembering the good old days?
"Alums and you guys in the media" are the ones who keep the rivalry alive, Montgomery said.
How about that? We found something a coach likes about the media.
"It is funny how — especially the guys from the late 50s through the 90s - the text messages you get: 'You can never beat them by enough,'" Montgomery said Wednesday at Magness Arena. "It's pretty hilarious how much the rivalry and the hate (still exist)."
He forgot the disclaimer: Among the alums. As for what it means to the current Pioneers, who have flown past the flailing Avalanche as the best hockey show around these hills with an 11-game winning streak heading into a best-of-three NCHC playoff series against CC?
"We try to treat all games the same, whether we're playing the No. 1 team or another team," senior forward Matt Marcinew said.
Ouch. CC is "another team." Wouldn't you agree indifference is worse than stone-cold hate?
"I would say our goals are different. We want to get to Minneapolis and play in the Frozen Four and win a national championship," Marcinew said. "We're not bouncing off the walls because we know we have bigger goals in mind."
Full disclosure: I grew up a 5-minute bike ride from the DU Arena. I was sure the DU student section majored in sneaking flasks into sporting events. The regulars taught that rooting for CC stood alongside bait fishing among the seven deadly sins. Hey, we're all young once.
But 12 straight in the series is 12 straight in the series. Combined score in that span: DU 52, CC 18. Double ouch. DU owns the past three Gold Pans. Triple ouch.
Given their lofty status, does the Gold Pan matter to the Pioneers anymore? They're the ones who lost it in the first place.
"I think if we were to give it up it would matter," Marcinew said.
"We'd never hear the end of it (from alums)," he added.
Is it any coincidence that Stastny, a 2005 All-American at DU and NHL veteran, treated the Pios to a team dinner at Elway's on Wednesday, a couple days before the best-of-three series at Magness Arena? Montgomery listed off the alumni who shoot him text messages before and after games against CC. Jim Wiste. Dave Shields. Matt Carle. A bunch of others.
"Every time I want to beat them. Why wouldn't we? Why not? I want to beat them," Marcinew said. "But we want to beat everybody."
The Tigers now are lumped into everybody.
"CC is playing for their season," freshman sensation Henrik Borgstrom said.
DU is playing for something else, something bigger, than braggin' rights.
Up this way, the Gold Pan no longer is priority No. 1 (except to alums).
Long live the Gold Pan.