Grant Cruikshank waited for grand circumstances to score his first career hat trick.
The Colorado College co-captain scored once in each period in an outdoor game against city rival Air Force. The Tigers closed out Air Force 4-2 beneath the Falcon Stadium lights and swept the holiday weekend series.
There was nothing but open sky overhead. Snow flurries danced. Team beanies were stretched over the goaltenders’ helmets. Family and friends were there to watch.
Can that hat trick be topped?
“I don’t know if I will ...” Cruikshank said.
“Do it again next weekend?” coach Mike Haviland, seated to his right, offered.
Fair, but there won’t be another weekend quite like this.
Air Force’s unwillingness to go down quietly fired up the bundled-up announced crowd of 7,178, but the home team couldn’t find the tying goal. Freshmen defensemen Brandon Koch and Luke Rowe got Air Force within range, but CC goaltender Matt Vernon (27 saves) turned in another solid performance.
“I think our response has been really good all year,” Air Force captain Matt Pulver said. “Whenever we get punched in the gut, we tend to respond. I think going forward, we’ve got to be the team first to punch in the gut.”
Cruikshank sealed the victory with an empty-netter. The visiting CC fans were too far away to lob hats onto the ice, but with temperatures in the 20s, they might have been unwilling to part with them anyway.
On the first goal, Bryan Yoon put a slick pass on the stick of Cruikshank, who angled it in during a power play.
“I don’t know if it was just roommate chemistry there,” Cruikshank said. “He’s a great passer.”
Yoon sprung Cruikshank again and Alex Schilling (26 saves) flashed the leg pad to stop the forward’s initial shot. Cruikshank picked up the rebound and squeezed it between Schilling’s back and the post to push the lead to 2-0.
Koch gave the Falcons (8-17-5) and their basement-dwelling power play a lift with 34 seconds left in the second period. Several Air Force players took whacks at it before Koch pinched in and scored his fifth of the season.
The Falcons got within a goal again when Blake Bride and Pulver went off on a slow 2-on-1. Bride’s attempt was seen the whole way. Vernon couldn’t control the rebound, however, and trailer Rowe put it in.
CC (10-16-2) has routinely let goals, particularly late ones, deflate them. Air Force pressed, but the Tigers remained in the driver’s seat.
“That’s no shot on our guys, but they were the better team, clearly down at the World Arena and then today too,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “They were very, very good.”
Early in the third period, Josiah Slavin fed Chris Wilkie and the CC senior buried his 20th goal of the season - tied for second in the country - to create some distance.
Wilkie said once the Tigers settled in, they took over the game.
“In outdoor conditions, it’s not going to be the most skilled or fancy game for the fans,” Wilkie said. “But we found a way to win in kind of an ugly game.”
The night earned rave reviews from the captains, both on the winning and losing sides.
“Just the experience of playing outdoors here at Air Force was probably the biggest memory for me,” Cruikshank said. “To walk away with the win was icing on the cake.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and the NHL did a great job,” Pulver said.