Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics
There was no weather delay or postponement this time, though through the first two periods, the Pioneers may have wished there was. A night after game one of the Battle for the Gold Pan between Colorado College and the #3 University of Denver was postponed due to adverse, blizzard-like conditions preventing the Pioneers from making it to the World Arena, the Pioneers returned home and laid an egg for the first two periods of the game. Luckily, the poor first two periods, due in large part to poor special teams play, did not doom the Pioneers entirely as they got third period goals from Jarid Lukosevicius and Brett Stapley to tie the game at four, which is how the game officially ended.
Denver ended up winning the game for NCHC standings purposes in the shootout thanks to a goal from Stapley before a clutch save from Filip Larsson. However, with 20 minutes of hockey left and Denver down 4-2 at the second intermission, that result seemed an impossibility.
“Good teams find a way to win,” Stapley said. “This team, we keep coming back from down a goal, down two goals and we find a way to win in overtime and in shootouts. I’m just really proud of the boys for coming back again tonight from a two-goal deficit in the third period.”
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 20, 2019
Throughout the first two periods, Denver started strong before eventually giving way and allowing Colorado College’s power play to take over. In the opening period, Stapley scored less than six minutes into the game and Denver dominated play until CC scored on Liam Finlay’s holding penalty and Les Lancaster’s game misconduct for contact to the head. The story was the same in the second period as Tyler Ward scored his fifth goal of the season to tie the game at two. Halfway through the period, Denver seemed to run out of gas and Trey Bradley scored CC’s only even-strength goal of the game before Christiano Versich scored the Tigers’ third power play goal to take what seemed like a commanding 4-2 lead into the second intermission.
Sometimes a team’s penalty kill unit gives a team energy and others, well, it doesn’t. For the Pioneers tonight, it was the latter. With the exception of Lancaster’s first period game misconduct, Denver did a good job staying out of the penalty box. The problem was in the few penalties they took, the penalty killers couldn’t keep the puck out of the net.
“Their power play was really good tonight,” DU head coach David Carle said of Colorado College. “They made us pay for the penalties that we took. Our penalty kill was putting our bench on our heels. There have been times this year where our kill has been really good and it motivates our bench and I thought tonight it was the opposite.”
🚨 Tip drill!
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) January 20, 2019
The third period, the period that Denver has owned this year, especially when trailing, was a completely different story. It was almost as if one team entered the dressing room after the second period and another emerged to start the third. Denver had that extra jump that fans have become accustomed to and really, CC had no chance. Jarid Lukosevicius redirected an Emilio Pettersen shot to pull within one and Stapley tapped a loose puck in Alex Leclerc’s crease home to tie the game and seal another heart attack-inducing third period.
“They were hungry around the net,” Carle said of Stapley’s line that included Ward and Finlay. “They were protecting pucks well, you didn’t see that line turning pucks over coming through the neutral zone. They had CC on their heels for a lot of the night and they got rewarded with some dirty goals in and around the net front.”
While the bigger picture matters (Denver is now tied for 3rd in the NCHC with Western Michigan and sits at #3 in the Pairwise) with the stretch run right around the corner, keeping the Gold Pan in the right hands matters a whole hell of a lot more when these two teams hit the ice. Denver would not accept losing the way it appeared they were going to two-thirds the way through the game. So the Pioneers took action and that’s what sets these two teams apart and that’s the reason why the Gold Pan is likely going to stay in Denver.
It’s not that Colorado College isn’t talented, though not having star forward Nick Halloran available doesn’t help. CC has enough talent to compete with anyone in the NCHC on any given night. Denver, despite its youth and lack of national starpower, has that x-factor that teams need in close games. Coming into the game, Denver was 4-1-2 in overtime this year. Colorado College? 0-3-2. The Pioneers may be the fourth youngest team in the country but they’re playing like a group of grizzled veterans. Denver is talented but more than that, they’re composed. And in the bigger picture, beyond just the Battle for the Gold Pan, you better believe that’s going to matter down the stretch as they’re jockeying with St. Cloud State, UMass, and Minnesota Duluth for postseason positioning.