Rivalry restored as Pioneers force Game 3 in conference playoffs against Tigers

photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio

Denver’s leading scorers rose to the occasion when the end result of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) quarterfinal best of three series appeared as though it would not favor the University of Denver Pioneers over long-time rivals, the Colorado College Tigers (15-16-5, 8-13-4 NCHC). A battle of physicality and momentum ensued during the series as the No. 5-ranked Pioneers (19-9-8, 13-6-6 NCHC) rallied to clinch the critical win. Denver fought to keep the series alive after dropping 2-0 loss the previous night.

“There was a lot of emotion in the game,” head coach Jim Montgomery said. “I like the way we played with emotion, but we didn’t get emotional – we could have because it was a heated game. Also, there were some calls that didn’t go our way, especially early. We played a team game. I liked how hard we were and resilient we were.”

CC goalie Alex Leclerc continued to challenge Denver’s offense. The sophomore made a career-high of 46 saves in the contest. Henrik Borgstrom scored in the second period and Troy Terry had two goals in the third period to send the playoff clash to a third and final game.  

From the initial puck-drop, the tone was set as the storied rivalry was restored to its glory days. Junior Blake Hillman sent a one-timer past Leclerc in the opening minutes. Upon review the goal was overturned due to goaltender interference.

“Our whole philosophy going into today was that we wanted people to inspire each other,” Montgomery said. “That goal was an inspirational goal, it was a hard goal, it took away Leclerc’s eyes. We were just like, ‘So let’s go back and get one.’”

In the fifth minute of action, junior forward Dylan Gambrell was assessed with a five-minute major for boarding. The intensities only escalated from there.

While Denver’s top power play unit was on the ice, Colorado College’s Trey Bradley intercepted a poor Denver pass and scored the first goal of the night on the breakaway.  

At the end of the period, both teams were guilty of illegal exchanges along the boards to the left of Denver’s net. CC’s Nick Halloran initially struck DU’s Adam Plant after Plant sent Halloran into the boards. Halloran proceeded to take down Plant as the DU defenseman lost his footing.

Both teams retaliated which resulted in five players serving time in the penalty box. Nick Halloran was called for cross checking and his linemate Mason Bergh was whistled for roughing. Brandon Makara joined his teammates in the box for cross checking. A bloodied Plant was called to the box for boarding. His d-pair Michael Davies joined him for roughing.

In the second minute of the middle frame, Denver reaped the extra-man advantage as 39 seconds remained. Denver’s leading goal-scorer Henrik Borgstrom extended his goal tally to 20 for his sophomore campaign. 

Freshman defenseman Ian Mitchell fed Borgstrom on the left faceoff circle. The Florida Panthers prospect roofed his wrist-shot over CC goalie Alex Leclerc’s left shoulder to equalize the score 1-1.

The Tigers regained the lead with less than three minutes remaining in the second period. After the Pioneers were assessed with too many men on the ice, Kristian Blumenschein dangled through Denver’s defense and fired a wrist shot past DU goalie Tanner Jaillet’s weak side.

Troy Terry scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season in the beginning and end of the final period. Linemate Jarid Lukosevicius scrapped down low to expose the loose rebound from Borgstrom’s initial shot. Terry buried the puck on the back door to equalize the score two apiece.

The junior forward’s second goal was wrist shot that he fired from the left faceoff circle with less than five minutes in regulation.

Sunday night will decide which team advances to the conference tournament in St. Paul, Minn. next weekend. For the first time over an extensive period, the will displayed by the Tigers reignited a passion between programs.

“I think the rivalry has always been there, but for whatever reason we won a bunch of games in a row.,” Montgomery said. “The rivalry is back. Tonight was a great hockey game, great college game and I think anybody who was here got their money’s worth. For us, as a team we have to start worrying about tomorrow night. Tonight was great, we got back in the series, but that’s all we’ve done.”