Puck Swami on the Battle on Blake: Think Big, Denver!

Photo Credit: John Leyba, The Denver Post

Puck Swami is the internet moniker for a longtime DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views periodically for LetsGoDU.

“I didn’t know there were that many DU jerseys in Denver. It was awesome to see.” — University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery after DU’s 4-1 win over rival Colorado College in the “Battle on Blake”

The coach said it best.

The Battle on Blake was bigger than anyone predicted, and DU’s image in the community took a giant leap forward last weekend.

For the record, the Battle on Blake was the largest gathering of DU fans in history and those DU fans and alumni who gathered from all over the country will bask in the glow of the amazing memories of this special day and night long after the cheers, smiles (and hangovers!) have faded away.

It was a day and night of superlatives and records. The 35,144 people who crammed into Coors Field for the Battle on Blake was the largest DU-hosted sports crowd ever, besting the previous mark of 31,000+ at the DU vs. Wyoming Football Game way back in 1949. It was also the biggest DU home hockey crowd in DU history — beating the 1995 DU vs CC game which drew over 16,000 to the now-demolished McNichols Arena as well as the 18,000+ at the Pepsi Center in 2008, when DU hosted the NCAA Frozen Four (although DU’s hockey team did not qualify in that event).

For me, the weekend started on a small scale on Friday night, as I found my way to the Campus Lounge, where generations of former DU hockey players from all over North America had gathered to kick off the weekend. Seeing players (and coaches) from the 1950s to the recent past sharing the unique bond they share as DU hockey players was a warm, human start to the great spectacle ahead.

Game day itself began on a festive, spring-like early afternoon, as DU fans began gathering downtown in the bars near Coors field under a brilliant sun and a few lazy clouds. At Hayter’s & Co, DU alumni from many eras gathered at picnic tables on the rooftop, as Denver Boone entertained the crowd with high fives and family selfies. Over at ViewHouse, young DU alumni and fans guzzled cold beer with anticipation.

At Rio Grande Restaurant, DU’s cheerleaders warmly greeted incoming DU fans at the door, while the DU pep band belted out the DU fight song in the restaurant’s courtyard. Hockey fans filed past colorful college hockey banners up and down a buzzing Blake Street.

Hundreds of DU alumni headed to the Wells Fargo Club at Coors Field for a pregame buffet, and hundreds more rushed to get a good standing spot on the rooftop Party Deck at Coors Field. As the rest of the 35,000 fans filled most of the available seats at Coors, the prevailing beauty of the baseball-park-turned-hockey-arena tableau was awe-inspiring.

DU also got a little lucky. The weather was beyond amazing for mid-February, and the high NHL prices of next week’s outdoor Stadium Series game between the Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings helped push a lot more hockey fans into Coors Field for the Battle on Blake, exceeding organizers’ original hopes of 20-25,000 fans. But DU was also smart by pricing this event at college hockey prices ($10-65.00) as a visibility tool rather than a cash grab. And the people of Denver and Colorado Springs showed up in numbers bigger than anyone predicted.

But beyond big crowds, this was a event that was became a spectacle largely because of the attention to detail — a seamless collaboration of doing many little things right that added up to a larger magnificence. Between the the NHL, the Colorado Rockies, the Colorado Avalanche, the NCHC, Root Sports, and the two schools, the University of Denver and Colorado College, a lot of talented people thought through many of the details and worked very hard to make the event even better than the hype, as a true celebration of hockey in Colorado.

For example, the National Hockey League provided the best ice crew in the world to make sure the outdoor ice rink was top notch, even in non-winter temperatures. The Colorado Avalanche and the Colorado Rockies made sure the event felt major league, with extra touches, such as putting DU and CC’s old-time letters and score on the manually operated baseball out-of-town scoreboard, with periods denoted, instead of the familiar innings.

And let’s not forget our own University of Denver, for branding much of the DU home game experience in a familiar Magness Arena style, albeit exported up I-25 to a much larger, grander stage. The huge DU student section resplendent in Crimson and Gold, the regular Magness Arena PA announcer and the DU pep/band cheerleaders instantly turned Coors Field from a corporate major league ballpark into a true collegiate venue.

And the DU team did it’s part with historic, inspired throwback jerseys that were based on the first DU jerseys from 1949, and then took it to even higher heights by the snazzy collegiate DU letter jackets sported by the coaching staff. The game was packaged as an immersive, collegiate DU experience for the thousands in our community and those who had never experienced it.

But it didn’t stop there.

In perhaps the best genius move of the night, DU went above and beyond the banal pop culture of most contemporary national anthems at sporting events, opting instead for a stunning, majestic and powerfully-elegant anthem from the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music Chorale. The classical, sophisticated quality of the voices inspired chills and sent a message to everyone in the stadium that our elite, private university doesn’t just pander to the masses, but aims for transcendence. The DU pride was palpable and the soaring anthem set an epic tone of greatness for the whole event.

On the ice, the Pioneers gave the DU fans in the crowd a result to match the surrounding spectacle. A commanding 4-1 victory improved DU’s current winning streak against CC to 8, sweeping the series for the second consecutive year, clinching home ice for the NCHC playoffs, and continuing the Pioneers’ surge toward another 20-win season and a ninth consecutive NCAA berth.

The media coverage on the event was extensive and positive, generating more awareness and visibility for the University than any other Denver event will generate.

It wasn’t a perfect night, though. There is some concern about the school’s “unofficial” mascot, Denver Boone, being escorted out of the stadium although other mascots and even a man in a chicken suit were allowed to remain, and some questions about why a “Bring Back Boone” message from selected DU Alumni failed to show up on the Jumbotron as promised by the Rockies. It is not known at this time if DU administration had anything to do with these issues.

In a larger sense though, DU put its best foot forward in hosting this event, and showed all of us the power of what this university is capable of doing — big things on big stages, well beyond the borders of the campus. Personally, I hope this event is a catalyst for more big events, as DU stamps a larger imprint on the hearts and minds of our city and state. Let’s host NCAA hockey and lacrosse championships here in Denver. Let’s do a high-end basketball event at Pepsi Center. Let’s send our music and theater ensembles downtown to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Let’s show everyone that our 150-year old university proudly wears the city’s name for a reason, and the vital role we can play in bringing people and community together.

Think big, Denver. And Go Pios!

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