DENVER - Jim Montgomery has heard stories about the intense and bizarre Denver-Colorado College hockey series. Heard about the frozen chickens and the black swan and the legion of black mice tossed from the stands. Heard about the full cup of soda recently thrown at Denver coach George Gwozdecky.
So it makes sense for Montgomery, Denver's new coach, to ponder this question:
"Do I need to wear a helmet?" he asked in his fourth-floor campus office.
I'll let CC coach Scott Owens provide the answer.
"You know what," Owens said as he considered Montgomery's helmet inquiry. "Probably not."
Notice the word "probably."
Montgomery arrives at World Arena on Friday night for Game 291 of the CC-DU rivalry, which dates to 1950. The rivalry boasts an eternal buzz, but at times during the 1970s the series traveled to the dangerously comical outer edges of socially acceptable behavior.
During the 1975-76 season, some dim light at DU's old field house tossed a frozen chicken from the bleachers, clocking CC's star goalie Eddie Mio in the back of the head.
CC fans met the challenge. In the 1977-78 season, a CC fan seized a black swan from The Broadmoor's lake, sneaked it into a DU game and released the big bird. The swan flew around for several minutes before a crash landing. It died of a heart attack.
But wait. The madness wasn't over. During the 1978-79 season, DU fans launched an assortment of deceased animals at Owens, then CC's goalie. A frozen chicken struck Owens in the shoulder. He looked around, his shoulder stinging with pain, to see a foot-long fish, its beady eye staring at him, alongside a second chicken, this one headless and unfrozen.
Owens harbors nostalgia for those wild days, but he's pleased with the current state of the rivalry. His feelings toward his archrival remind me of the raging disdain Broncos fans once directed toward the Raiders. It's an essential, enjoyable animosity. Owens would struggle to function as a coach if DU departed his life.
"It's a strong, healthy, competitive rivalry that's as healthy as any rivalry you'll find," Owens said. "It's got all the pieces to it, and those pieces are dislike, competitiveness and meaningful games."
Owens has a point. The juice in this series keeps rising. The teams battled seven times last season, including CC's emotional best-of-three victory in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
Montgomery confesses he's still learning about the series. He's trying, after taking over for the fired Gwozdecky in April, to place his stamp on the Pioneers. DU will skate into World Arena with three wins and five losses, including three straight home defeats.
"To me, right now, every game is important because we are trying to establish how we want to play," Montgomery said. "But I have been reminded several times by my assistant coaches and by fans and by professors and by a beat writer and by players how important this rivalry is."
Montgomery knows it will take time for him to build the healthy disrespect that already rages inside Owens.
"Right now, it's easy because there's no hatred in me, but that hatred is going to come and I'm looking forward to it," Montgomery said.
DU arrives at World Arena during a strange time in its hockey history. When Gwozdecky first heard he had been fired, he considered the news a joke. It was, after all, April Fools' Day. How could DU fire a coach who directed the Pioneers to two national titles, 12 straight 20-win seasons and 443 victories?
But it was no joke. Gwozdecky was gone.
DU made a dunderheaded move, but there's no reason to blame Montgomery. So, please, show the same regard to Montgomery once shown for Gwoz.
Yes, CC fans, treat Montgomery with raging disrespect. Shout mean, if not obscene, words as loud as is humanly possible.
Please, be sure to refrain from tossing animals, dead or alive, on the ice, but keep alive the spirit of those hilarious, borderline criminal nights.