Puck Swami, the Internet moniker of a longtime DU fan and alumnus, has previously offered this basic compendium of DU/CC rivalry thoughts back in 2016 and 2017. He has updated the story here to reflect the current season, as a prelude to this weekend’s Gold Pan series.
The DU vs. CC rivalry is one of the very best athletic rivalries in the state, and one of the top five in the sport of college hockey. This year, the final two games of the series take on increased meaning, as the Pioneers can retain the Gold Pan trophy for the fifth year in a row with a win in either game or two ties this weekend against an improved CC team, which tied the Pios twice back in December of 2017.
Separated geographically by only by an hour’s drive on I-25, DU and CC are the only two private schools in the NCHC and sport the smallest undergraduate enrollments in the eight-team league. They are the only two private schools playing Division I hockey west of Indiana, and for over 65 years, these two schools have been beating on each other for Colorado bragging rights, along with Air Force.
As University of Denver fans, we enjoy most of the hockey superlatives in this rivalry. The Pioneers hold the all-time series advantage, winning 171 games and losing 116 with 19 ties. The Pios are also the current holders of the Gold Pan Trophy, which was created in the early 1990s to reward each season’s winner of the four games of regular season play between the two schools. Additionally, DU also won the most important game ever played between the schools, the 2005 NCAA semifinal where the Pios scored six power-play goals to rout the Tigers en route to a 6-2 victory in Columbus. The Pioneers would go on to win the 2005 NCAA title two days later over North Dakota. The Pioneers were also victorious in the 2016 Battle on Blake, winning 4-1 over CC before over 35,000 fans at Denver’s Coors Field.
In a larger sense, DU also has had the more successful hockey program over the years, winning eight NCAA titles compared to only two wins by CC. Furthermore, all of DU’s titles — in 1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005 and 2017 — have occurred more recently than CC’s most recent title, which happened in 1957 (during the Eisenhower administration). Pioneer fans like to remind Tiger faithful of this with their well-worn taunt: “Fifty-Seven! Fifty-Seven!” DU fans also like to mock CC’s propensity to hang multiple banners at its arena for non-championship achievements — banners that DU fans derisively refer to as “participation banners”.
DU also leads CC in other important program measures such as NCAA tournament appearances (DU has 28 total, including 16 Frozen Four appearances vs CC’s 20 tournament appearances and five Frozen Four appearances), league championships (13 vs. 9), league tournament titles (16 vs. 1) and NHL players produced (79 vs 36). DU also owns better attendance this season (DU is averaging 5,867 (97% of its capacity this season) vs. CC’s 4,530 this year, which is 61% of its home arena capacity.
There are a still a few areas, however, where CC can claim superiority to DU. The CC hockey program has greater longevity (CC began hockey in 1938 vs. DU in 1949). The Tigers also can claim a larger home arena in terms of seating capacity (6,026 at DU vs. 7,837 at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
This season, the Pioneers have been the better of the two teams (DU is 16-6-6 & CC is 12-12-4) where DU is second in the NCHC and #2 nationally in the Pairwise Rankings vs CC’s 6th place NCHC standing and #22nd national standing in Pairwise. CC has improved from a bottom feeder in the past few seasons to a much more respectable .500 program, as the Pioneers noticed in the first two DU/CC games last December, which both ended in ties, Colorado College has its highest win total since the team finished 18-19-5 in 2012-2013 with Denver’s Director of Hockey Operations, Joe Howe, was the Tigers’ goalie.
On the other hand, DU is on a 7-game unbeaten streak and is playing confident hockey, trailing only St. Cloud State nationally. The Pioneers have tightened the defense during the unbeaten streak, as Denver has allowed an average of 1.62 goals against since Dec. 1, 2017 with six (6) shutouts in that span.
As for the game itself, both teams prefer a speedy, transition-oriented style. DU has the deeper and more talented roster, but with Troy Terry playing in the Olympics this weekend, the Pioneers will need to be resourceful. Expect DU to concentrate on shutting down the Tigers’ top line of Trey Bradley, Mason Bergh, and Nick Halloran, who have combined for 43.6% of the team’s points and 44% of the team’s goals, and for DU to take advantage of CC’s terrible penalty kill, which ranks last in the NCAA at 74.2%.
Beyond the 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.
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 6-2, 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 the 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. This weekend’s home-and-home series marks another opportunity to increase the visibility of college hockey in this region, to reinvigorate a great rivalry, and to celebrate our University.