Photos by Tyler Sym
The second-ranked University of Denver men’s hockey team edged out Colorado College 3-1 on Friday night, and dismantled an early CC lead Saturday night to take home a 1-3 victory. The Pioneers refused to relinquish the Gold Pan, the traveling award given to the team that wins the regular season series between the two schools.
Friday night’s showdown at the Broadmoor World Arena saw a packed student section and an enthusiastic local fan base cheering on the Tigers. CC’s matchup with DU is undoubtedly the most anticipated game among players and spectators alike, and there was no shortage of enthusiasm in the arena. First-year goaltender Alex Leclerc said the big crowd helped to motivate the team to compete. He hopes to see “many more games with a full student section like the one this past Friday against DU.”
Following a scoreless, physical first period, the Pioneers opened the scoring at the 7:26 mark of the second period when sophomore forward Troy Terry fired a wrist shot from the right circle past Leclerc, who finished with 23 saves on the night. Sophomore forward Jarid Lukosevicius struck a little over three minutes later, when he tucked a backhand shot underneath Leclerc’s arm, a goal that would prove to be the eventual game-winner.
Despite getting dug into a hole, the Tigers fought back a minute and a half later when senior forward and captain Sam Rothstein notched the only goal of the night for CC. Rothstein finished off a beautiful passing play and rifled a shot from the slot that beat Pioneer goaltender Tanner Jaillet. First-year forward Nick Halloran and sophomore forward Mason Bergh both assisted on the play, with Bergh recording his team-high ninth point of the season.
After slashing DU’s lead in half in the second period, the Tigers tried to even the score up in the third but were deadened when junior defenseman Tariq Hammond struck for the Pioneers, burying a rebound after Leclerc made a kick-out save.
CC looked to bounce back on Saturday night as the team traveled to DU to face the Pioneers on their ice. The Tigers got off to an early lead when sophomore forward Westin Michaud buried a one-timer past senior goalie Evan Cowley 5:32 into the first period. Sophomore forward Tanner Ockey got the helper on Michaud’s goal to tie fellow sophomore Trey Bradley for the team lead at six assists.
CC wasn’t able to hold the lead for long when sophomore forward Dylan Grambell struck just 25 seconds later. Senior forward Evan Janssen struck on the power play to beat Leclerc in the closing minute of the first period to give the Pioneers a 2-1 lead. Leclerc finished with a career-high 16 saves in the first period and 33 on the night.
CC’s power play woes continued as they failed to convert on a five-on-three advantage that they held for almost a minute in the second period. In total, CC neglected to score on six power play opportunities. They haven’t converted on power plays in the last four games.
Sophomore forward Logan O’Connor would add to DU’s lead with a shorthanded goal just 7.2 seconds before the second period expired.
Despite dropping both games to a strong team, the Tigers showed that they could compete at a high level with a team ranked second-best in all of D-I hockey. According to Leclerc, the losses only served to motivate the team more in their work this week.
“Of course the last two losses have been tough for our team,” he said. “The rivalry with Denver is undoubtedly one of the biggest in college hockey. We did not accept the outcome of the games, turning this frustration into motivation for this week’s practices.”
A large part of CC’s ability to stay competitive in close contests is due to Leclerc’s solid performances the past few games. Had he not made some remarkable saves throughout the game on Friday especially, it’s likely that DU’s margin of victory would have been significantly greater.
“It has been a privilege to come in and have the opportunity to play as a freshman. Throughout the junior level, so many players dream to be part of an NCAA Division I Program. I feel so fortunate to have this experience already,” Leclerc said, reflecting on his performance and growth this season playing at the D-I level. “The goaltending position changes a lot since players are much faster, stronger, and smarter with possession of the puck. Thankfully, with the help of our goalie consultant Matt Zaba, my positioning in the crease is getting better on a weekly basis.”
Leclerc sees this weekend’s series against Miami University-Ohio as a “do-or-die situation.” The team has to step up if they want to compete in the conference. “We need to limit duplication of jobs in our defensive zone, shoot more on the opposition’s net, and communicate even more in all areas on the ice.”
Following last weekend’s losses, the Tigers’ record dropped to 3-11 overall, and 1-5 within the NCHC, the conference they compete in. Leclerc maintained that the team is more than just a losing record, and that they’re motivated to win games to prove their skill.
“Our record isn’t representative of the talent we believe we have in our hockey club; we know it needs to be better and we will do everything needed to get out of this weekend with two victories,” Leclerc said.
The Tigers will head to Oxford, O.H. to face off against the Miami University-Ohio Redhawks (3-8-4 overall, 0-4-2 NCHC) tonight and tomorrow night at 7:35 p.m. and 7:05 p.m.