COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Wash. Rinse. Repeat. If you had watched Friday night’s game between the #6 Denver Pioneers and Colorado College Tigers, congratulations. You effectively watched Saturday night’s at the World Arena as well. The only things that changed a night after Denver’s dud of a performance against CC at Magness Arena were the uniforms. Once again, Denver failed to generate any offense and this time went down 1-0.
If it wasn’t a lack of energy tonight for the Pioneers, it was a Tigers team that simply “wanted it more.” And while that’s generally a cop-out of a cliche for analysts, on this night, it was true. By the end of the game, Denver had outshot CC 30-22 and out-attempted them 67-43. With numbers like that, you’re generally going to win a lot of games. But tonight, it was different.
After a back-door goal by Grant Cruikshank just 1:45 into the game on what was, for all intents and purposes, a botched wrap-around attempt by Trevor Gooch, CC was content to settle into their defensive scheme and not budge for the next 58:15 of hockey. Denver was kept to the outside on nearly every zone entry and in the rare moments when they found some room in the slot, Alex Leclerc was up to his old tricks and kept the puck out of the net.
“I thought we were better tonight than we were last night,” DU head coach David Carle said about his team’s intensity. “It still took us a little while to get going fully. I didn’t think we were playing Denver Hockey until the third period and that’s what we need to learn from and grow from.”
Maybe it was a lack of urgency. Maybe it was a subconscious feeling that they would match up better against North Dakota in the first round of the NCHC Tournament. Maybe it was just an off weekend. But whatever it was, it translated into a bad weekend of hockey at the worst time of the year and more question marks surrounding this team than answers.
“We gotta have more desperation,” junior forward and alternate captain Tyson McLellan said. “CC had more than us this weekend and North Dakota’s season’s on the line and our season’s on the line. We have to be desperate and find a way to win.”
At this point, after losing the Gold Pan for the first time in five years, all the Pioneers can do is pick themselves up off the mat, dust themselves off, and forge ahead. Every team is back at 0-0. Every team is playing for their seasons right now. Some are more desperate, sure, but the Pios have a clean slate and they have another archrival coming to town next weekend in North Dakota.
“It’s a clean slate now,” McLellan continued. “We had a pretty successful regular season but that’s behind us now. This weekend’s behind us, everything’s behind us. It’s a fresh start.”
The regular season may be over, but in a sense, the season is also just beginning. Denver has a chance to earn all the goodwill back with just a few more victories over the coming weeks. This is playoff hockey. This is why kids play the sport. This is why fans flock to the rink to watch. The Gold Pan is in the past. It’s time to draw on the incredible playoff experience that this team has and go win some other, more important hardware. Just wash. Rinse. Repeat.