A rivalry built on tradition: The Battle for the Gold Pan

Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

There’s more to every rivalry than just the competition and shared history between programs. Rivalries unfold stories of the past and shape the direction of the feud. The highly anticipated meetings are a cultivation of the tradition, passion and dedication that unites communities with the sport.

Among the college hockey realm, the Battle for the Gold Pan between the University of Denver Pioneers and the Colorado College Tigers is one of the richest, most storied rivalries to-date.

The Battle for the Gold Pan stems from a historical clash of Colorado hockey powerhouses which shared their first meeting nearly 70-years ago on Jan. 6, 1950. The Pioneers and Tigers have played 314 games to-date. Most required an hour bus ride on the Interstate-25 corridor for two home-and-home series during a given season.

“It’s a rivalry that has a lot of tradition and history,” DU captain and Colorado Springs native Colin Staub said. “We’re going to see the best out of both teams.”

The upgrade from mere bragging rights to the possession of the coveted Gold Pan was established during the 1993-94 season under then-DU head coach Frank Serratore and former CC head coach Don Lucia. With four consecutive series wins entering the 2018-19 campaign, Denver claimed a 13-12-1 edge of acquiring the Gold Pan. With a sweep this weekend the No. 3-ranked Pioneers have the opportunity to make Gold Pan history by securing the trophy for a fifth straight season.

“When we play CC we’re always going to be up for it,” Staub said. “Knowing what the crowd and atmosphere are going to be like adds an air of excitement. It’s an important game and a historical one for each program. It’s definitely not hard to get up for this one.”

The stakes for this season’s matchup are higher with the potential record on the line. And even more so with the first-hand perspective from Denver’s first-year head coach David Carle who was a member of the program during 2008-2012. Carle, the youngest active coach in Division l hockey at the tender age of 29, has experienced the rivalry in all its glory from a student-athlete perspective, as an assistant coach and now, at the helm of the program. Carle recalled one of his more boisterous memories regarding the rivalry.

“Me and our student equipment manager stole the [Tiger] head out of the mascot bag,” Carle said with a grin. “We hid it. [Then], it’s five minutes before the game and Ken Ralph, the CC [Athletic Director] comes down and has a photo. He caught us on camera. We got busted. We had to show him where the tiger head was [hidden]. We caused a little bit of panic before the game. I don’t know if it was my favorite memory, but it’s the one that comes to mind.”

For those who haven’t yet witnessed the rivalry in person, it’s evident. From the moment the puck drops, the play illustrates the palpable intensity, emotion and chronicle of past meetings between programs. Upperclassmen hold a responsibility to maintain tradition,  while the first matchup serves as a right of passage of sorts for newcomers.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories, but I’m still not sure what to exactly expect,” Swedish freshman goaltender Filip Larsson said. “It’s a huge rivalry and huge game. I’m used to rivalries from playing in Stockholm. They’re my favorite. I’ve just got to keep playing my game and play calm.

‘I think you’re more pumped up to play in those types of games. I know how much this means to the guys that have kept the trophy with [DU] until now. You hope to just bring your game to keep it that way.”

Denver is riding a seven-game winning streak and keeps finding ways to pull out wins. The Tigers, on the other hand, have now lost three in a row and are without their star forward Nick Halloran who will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining a lower-body injury. While the odds to make Gold Pan history seem to be in Denver’s favor, the Pioneers approached the weekend with as much focus and diligence as any other.

“What I’ve learned over the past four years is that rankings don’t matter coming into this matchup,” Staub said. “CC is always going to come out and give it their all, especially under the circumstances. Their goalie [Alex Leclerc] always plays out of his mind. We prepare for it as we would with any other team. We always focus on one game at a time. With CC, we know the importance of this rivalry.”

At the end of the day, the rivalry is a battle and a celebration between two competitors. Staub recognizes the unique honor he affords to play against the program he grew up idolizing in his hometown while now wearing the “C” for the Pioneers. The dichotomy has only bolstered the thrill of the iconic matchup.

“I grew up watching the Gold Pan series as a kid,” Staub said. “ It was one of the reasons I got excited about playing hockey and wanted to play college hockey in particular. I love going home [to Colorado Springs] and playing at the World Arena with a lot of friends and family there to watch. It’s exciting to live out what you dreamed of doing as a kid.”