Just short of two transformative upsets, but not leaving empty-handed, Colorado College showed this weekend how its standards have changed.
The Tigers stayed with and, at times, outplayed No. 1 Denver during back-to-back ties, injecting some energy into the decades-long rivalry.
“If we didn’t serve notice that to anyone, I think we definitely put ourselves back on the radar,” forward Trevor Gooch said. “ We just have to fine-tune those little mistakes and prove that we’re a top-five team in the country.”
Gooch’s goal late in the first period held up for more than 22 minutes, but the Pioneers tied it up and the in-state rivals battled to another official 1-1 tie Saturday night. Denver scored in double overtime to take the extra point.
Alex Leclerc made 37 saves in a bounce-back effort after allowing four goals Friday, a couple of which he wanted back. The Pioneers cruised in on a two-on-one early and tried to put one on Leclerc glove side, but he snagged it out of the air.
Gooch put the Tigers on the board just after a power play expired. He found and buried a rebound right in front of Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet and had the stick ripped out of his hands.
He charged out for the goal celebration without it, joining Christiano Versich and Kristian Blumenschein, both of whom earned assists after scoring Friday night in Denver.
That game also ended in an official tie, 4-4, but Versich’s double-overtime tally gave the Tigers the extra conference standings point. The Tigers (7-7-2, 3-5-2-1 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) helped their case in the NCHC over the weekend, but the Gold Pan trophy will come down to the next series between the teams Feb. 16-17.
Seventeen seconds into the third period, Denver finally got the equalizer. On another two-on-one, Henrik Borgstrom waited out a sliding Tiger and fed Liam Finlay to the left of Leclerc, who couldn’t stop the tap-in.
“It was funny, because (captain) Tanner Ockey stood up and said, ‘Hey, they got a goal. Did you think they weren’t gonna score?’” coach Mike Haviland said.
Denver (9-3-4, 5-3-2-1 NCHC) swarmed the Tigers’ zone late and the home team looked to be playing for overtime, which it got. Overtime passed without a goal for the second straight night, then Finlay found the back of the net a second time, spinning around Gooch and rifling the puck past Leclerc.
The Tigers held the second-ranked power play in the NCAA 0-for-7 through the weekend.
“They’ve got some guys that are game-breakers, and I think we did a good job of containing them,” Haviland said.
Friday featured high-scoring hockey and Saturday Leclerc and Jaillet (23 saves) kept it close, but both nights, the teams kept each other in check.
“If the score (Saturday) would have been lopsided, maybe everybody would have said, 'Maybe last night was a fluke,'” Haviland said.
“I’m proud of our guys. We battled and scratched and clawed.”