Puck Swami: Thoughts on the Battle on Blake, (Part 2 of 2): Beyond the Ice

Photo Credit: University of Denver Athletics

Puck Swami, the Internet moniker of a longtime DU fan and alumnus, offers a two-part article this week as a prelude to the Battle on Blake. Part One focused some perspective on the ice and developed the history of the rivalry. Here, Part Two focuses on some of the off-ice elements of the rivalry and puts the outdoor game into a larger context.

In the first part of this series, we recapped a bit of the on-ice history of the DU vs. CC rivalry. But ask any fan who has watched many years of these rivalry games, and you’ll hear about some amazing off-ice history that is every bit as interesting as the games played on ice.

The rivalry began in the 1949-1950 season, when DU started its hockey program. CC had already been playing hockey for more than 10 years, but the timing of DU’s program starting up was perfect. Why? In those days, there were no major league sports in Colorado and the ski areas were just breaking into the fold. Televised sports (and TV in general) was in its infancy and very much in black and white. Suddenly, DU vs. CC was the premier winter sports event in the state of Colorado, and it stayed that way for a decade until the Denver Broncos began playing AFL football in the 1960s, even borrowing DU’s now-demolished football stadium for some of their early games.

In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, many DU and CC fans dressed up for the hockey games as they would for a premium social event – the men in business suits, ties and fedoras, and the women in dresses and fur coats. In Colorado Springs, CC played home games back then at an arena that sat on the lakeside grounds of the 5-star Broadmoor Hotel, where game tickets were often included in room packages. In Denver, the opulent Brown Palace Hotel would host well-heeled guests before and after Pioneer games.

As the 1960s progressed, a far more informal social era began in America, as fedoras and furs turned to t-shirts and sneakers at sporting events. Colorado grew in population enough to support more sports and the ski area experiment boomed as baby boomers flocked to the slopes. At the same time, DU and CC’s hockey facilities, which were originally built for other purposes (CC’s first arena was first built as an indoor horse riding facility in the 1930s, and DU played in a World War II war surplus Naval Drill Hall originally built in 1942 in Idaho), began to deteriorate.

As a result of these combined factors, the once-elegant DU and CC rivalry became a more collegiately-focused event, and with it, the student bodies from both schools became a driving force in stoking the on-ice rivalry to new levels with progressively crazy game night antics.

Old timers like to tell the story of the DU vs. CC student body brawl in the Broadmoor stands during the 1965-66 season, which was finally brought under control when firehoses were turned on the students to keep them apart. This event resulted in the cancellation of the regular season DU/CC games for the next season. And in the mid-1970s, naked on-ice “streakers” disrupted play. During the same period (and before end-zone safety netting was invented) drunken students began throwing live mice, dead chickens, live greased pigs and even a live black swan stolen from Broadmoor Lake (that unfortunately died) on the ice.

By the 1980s, insulting fan-created banners enlivened the rivalry, including a famous 20-foot banner (below) that mysteriously unfurled from the DU arena rafters in 1984 that depicted an obscene visual version of a famous student chant. And while the DU vs. CC games were a lot of fun for students in that era, the two teams were mostly fading from prominence, save for one glorious year in 1986 when DU made a run to the Frozen Four, clinching the WCHA regular season championship at the old Broadmoor against the CC Tigers, with 400 DU fans there to cheer on the Pioneers.

In October of 1984, this this 20-foot long obscene banner was dropped from the rafters of DU Arena during a DU vs CC regular season game. Play was stopped for 15 minutes while arena workers scrambled onto a catwalk above the ice to remove it. Players from both teams as well as the referees were doubled-over with laughter, while 5,200 fans roared from their seats…(Photo Credit: 1984 DU yearbook)

By the early 1990s, a lack of money at both programs led to hard times, with both programs becoming bottom-feeders in the WCHA. At CC, there was even serious talk among the CC faculty of dropping the sport altogether.

Fortunately, knights in shining armor arrived just in time for both schools. At DU, then-new coach George Gwozdecky arrived from Miami (Ohio) in 1994 and took DU to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 10 years in 1995. At the same time, then-DU Chancellor Dan Ritchie had a vision to upgrade DU’s hockey arena to compete with new arenas going at other WCHA schools. Donating significantly himself, he also influenced several of his cable TV peers to write big checks for a massive investment in new facilities which would replace the former war surplus drill hall called DU Arena. The $85 million Ritchie Center and Magness Arena opened in 1999.

In Colorado Springs, the old Broadmoor World Arena, where CC began playing in 1938, fell victim to the wrecking ball when the Broadmoor Hotel decided to add more lakeside hotel rooms in 1994. Hometown partners including the City of Colorado Springs, USA Hockey and the U.S. Olympic Committee, came together to build the “new” and far larger World Arena a few miles away as part of a new shopping center development. CC also hired a new coach, Don Lucia, who turned the hockey program from worst to first in the WCHA in just one year, taking the Tigers to the NCAA final in 1996 where they lost to Michigan in Cincinnati.

The new arenas at both schools signaled massive progress in both programs as top recruits saw first hand that both schools were willing to invest in hockey. DU and CC soon shot to the upper echelon of college hockey again, culminating in the 2005 NCAA tournament, where DU destroyed CC in the national semi-finals, and DU went on to win its seventh NCAA crown over North Dakota.

Along with the new arenas, however, came the modern era of sports — full-time ushers and security, corporate sponsorships, safety netting and vastly toned-down student sections. Students and other fans are now searched, scolded, and ejected easily for offenses that do not amuse the powers that be, a far cry from the more freewheeling past. Today, the student chants might include a blue word or two, but that’s typically as far as it goes.

In the decade that has passed since 2005, both programs have gone through some transitions with new coaches and breaking away from the WCHA to form a new league (NCHC). The state of Colorado has also grown tremendously in this period, introducing many new people to DU, CC, college hockey and the sport in general. Saturday’s outdoor game marks a new opportunity to increase the visibility of college hockey in this region, to reinvigorate a great rivalry, and to celebrate our University on a whole new scale.

Go Pios!

3 thoughts on “Puck Swami: Thoughts on the Battle on Blake, (Part 2 of 2): Beyond the Ice”

  1. Swami, this was like a walk down memory lane. I streaked at CC, sat under the infamous banner when it unfurled from the rafters, threw squid on the ice at the old hanger (you forgot those), and went viral with Stormy Daniels in my old CC Sucks t-shirt. I’m old and gray now, but I’ll be in Tampa, hopefully DU will be too.

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