In front of a record 35,144 fans at Coors Field, the No. 10 University of Denver Pioneers beat in-state rival, the unranked Colorado College Tigers, 4-1 to cap a memorable Battle on Blake. In the process, the Pioneers swept the season series with the Tigers and improved their record against the team from Colorado Springs to 8-0 in the last two years.
It took about half of the first period for both teams to find their legs and settle into a groove and get used to playing on such a unique stage. It wasn’t until about halfway through the first period that the cold wind died down.
“It wasn’t the usual intensity that you feel from the fans,” Denver head coach Jim Montgomery said. “It felt more like it was a big event, like a Super Bowl.”
At the 16:14 mark of the opening period, Jarid Lukosevicius took a pass from Tariq Hammond and banked the puck off of a Tiger’s skate and just past the right post and over the goal line to give DU the first lead of the night. Lukosevicius’ goal also marked the first goal in Colorado’s organized outdoor hockey history.
“I thought we were good tonight, ” Montgomery said. “I didn’t think we were as good as we have been in our past four games, but nonetheless our team’s ability to focus and execute the game plan has been incredible.”
Just about a minute and a half later, Colin Staub doubled the score and DU’s lead when he scored off of a feed from Adam Plant. Emil Romig found Plant who then found Staub down low and Staub beat CC goalie Jacob Nehama to put DU up 2-0.
In the second period, neither team could find its rhythm for much of the period. There was a lot of up and down hockey, a lot of shots attempted, but for the most part, there were no good scoring chances for either team.
Just like Thursday’s matchup, DU dominated possession, but they weren’t able to find the back of the net. They cycled the puck well and kept the offensive pressure high, but pucks just weren’t getting through.
Finally, at the 15:03 mark of the middle period, CC got on the board after a power play ran out. Gregg Burmaster passed over to Cole McCaskill up high and McCaskill worked his way down the right boards and sent the puck through Jaillet’s five-hole to cut DU’s lead in half.
Despite a number of chances for DU over the next five minutes, the score remained 2-1 going into the second intermission.
“We’re growing as a team, ” Montgomery explained after being asked about the lack of production from the Pacific Rim Line in the first two periods. “Gabe Levin’s line I think has been our best line consistently in our last three games. [I told them] you guys just keep playing and you’re going to score. They could have had four in the third period alone.”
The Pioneers came out firing in the third period. Within the first minute and a half, DU had already killed off a penalty, notched a few shots on goal, and draw a penalty of their own.
At the 2:51 mark of the final frame, Danton Heinen got the Pacific Rim Line on the score sheet when he one-timed a Will Butcher pass past Nehama short side to extend the lead back to 2 at 3-1. The sequence came after Ben Israel was whistled for interference at center ice.
Just 15 seconds later, Dylan Gambrell kept the Pacific Rim Line hot-streak alive when he fired a pass from Heinen past Nehama to extend the lead to 4-1. When the puck crossed the goal line, the air was let out of the CC fans’ sections. While they didn’t head for the exits immediately, heads were hung and phones were being repeatedly checked.
With about five minutes left in the game, both Montgomery and CC head coach Mike Haviland put in their backup goalies to give them some playing time in this historic game.
At the 18:57 mark of the third, it appeared that CC scored, but after a lengthy review, it was determined that the net had come off its moorings prior to the shot, so the goal was waved off. While it wouldn’t have changed the result, it left an even worse taste in mouths of many Tigers fans for their drive back to Colorado Springs.
The next minute passed and when the buzzer sounded, there was a loud cheer from the DU sections and after the players shook hands, the Pioneers skated toward the DU student section and gave them their customary post game salute.
“It was very special for me being a senior,” Denver senior captain Grant Arnold said. “I can say that it was an honor to wear the Denver jersey tonight and it’s just an honor to be a part of this program. They took such good care of us all week. Everything was unbelievable.”
Official attendance for the Battle on Blake was 35,144, a record for any DU sporting event…by a large margin. The crowd was into the game from puck drop and the energy level was extremely high for all 60 minutes of the game.
“I didn’t know there were that many Pioneers jerseys in Denver,” Montgomery said. “It was awesome to see.”
This was a momentous occasion not only for DU and CC, but for the state of Colorado as this was the first organized outdoor hockey game ever played in Denver. The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings will be playing in the Stadium Series on the same ice at Coors Field next weekend.
Beyond just the Battle on Blake, Denver’s victory over CC clinched the Pioneers home ice advantage for the first round of the NCHC Tournament and solidified their position in the top 10 in the PairWise Rankings.
The Pacific Rim Line notched 4 points on the game’s final two goals; Heinen’s goal was his 14th of the season while Gambrell’s was his 11th; Colin Staub was credited with the game-winning goal on his second goal of the season; Gambrell’s assist on Heinen’s goal was his 24th; Denver outshot Colorado College 47-25; Jaillet made 19 saves, Cowley made 5, and Nehama made 43; Tyler Marble didn’t face a shot on goal in his 4:02 of ice time; Denver improves its record to 17-8-5 with 4 regular season games left.
Friday 2/26 & Saturday 2/27
5:00 PM MT
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