Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Gazette
Frank Serratore and Don Lucia grew up just six miles apart in Northeastern Minnesota and attended rival high schools. The duo were no strangers to the tradition, intensity and antics that coincide with long-standing rivalries. If anything, Serratore and Lucia embraced them.
So, it was only fitting that the circumstances united Serratore (61) and Lucia (60) as rivals once more. This time it was over one of the richest rivalries in all of college hockey between the Denver Pioneers and the Colorado College Tigers.
The rivalry already had everything; competition, history, passion and proximity but there was something one crucial component missing; a tangible. Denver versus CC dates back to 1950 and was essentially awarded bragging rights. It was until 1993 when the Gold Pan trophy itself was created. The coveted hardware came into fruition under then DU head coach Serratore and then CC head coach Lucia.
“Growing up together it was as good of a rivalry as you can get for northern Minnesota,” Lucia said. “Grand Rapids (Lucia’s hometown) and Coleraine (Serratore’s hometown) were just six miles apart. It was actually similar to DU-CC in a lot of ways. So, Frank and I just thought we should have some type of traveling trophy between [DU and CC] for these rivalry games. It only seemed natural.”
The coaches utilized insight from Denver’s former athletic director Jack McDonnell, who went to Boston University. McDonnell shared his experiences of the Battle of Commonwealth Avenue (against Boston College) and the iconic Beanpot tournament held between BU, BC, Harvard and Northeastern.
“Between the three of us, we knew this was something we should do,” Serratore said. “Now, what do you play for? If it was up to Don and me to create a trophy it would have been something ridiculous like a horseshoe. Fortunately, we got both school’s administrations involved who came up with the Gold Pan concept because of Colorado’s history.”
Twenty-six years later, the Battle for the Gold Pan continues to flourish. It’s a game that is circled on the calendar no matter where each team is in the national rankings; Denver versus CC is always Denver versus CC. The Pioneers currently lead the Gold Pan series 13-12-1 and look to break Gold Pan history by clinching their fifth straight with a win or a tie this weekend.
“Denver and CC always had a huge rivalry,” Lucia said. “What I always say makes a rivalry more special is when both teams are good. When you’re not sure who is going to win it’s more fun…The better the teams are the more magnified the rivalry becomes.”
Serratore took over Air Force in 1997 and has occupied the helm since. While he only moved 70 miles down the Interstate-25 corridor, the transition was a learning process. Coming from DU, he had been exposed to fans spoiled by high caliber college hockey. He had to work to mold Air Force into being a viable contender and faced critics in doing so. Serratore has since taken the Falcons to seven, six conference championships (Atlantic Hockey Association) and two NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
“If you go back in history those two teams [DU and CC] have almost always been ranked in top 20 or 10,” Serratore said. “The biggest challenge I had here when I came to Air Force — and we made Air Force pretty good pretty fast — was that locally, people didn’t see it because we didn’t have much [immediate] success against Colorado College or Denver. It wasn’t because we weren’t doing a good job, it was because they were both so darn good. It took a long time for us to catch up and start to beat those teams every once in a while.”
Denver and Colorado College have set the bar for younger programs and have established an impressive product of longstanding college excellence hockey in Colorado, including a combined total of 10 national championships.
“Arguably, the level of college hockey that has been played in the state of Colorado over the last 25 years is equal to or better than that played in with the great collegiate institutions of Minnesota, those in Michigan or Massachusetts,” Serratore said.
Serratore and Lucia still remain in touch and often reflect upon their time and imprint on the Gold Pan and it’s ensuing evolution. Lucia eventually returned to his home state and took over at Minnesota in 1999 before he resigned last season. Lucia led the Gophers to back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. He even coached Serratore’s son Tom. He now resides in the twin cities.
“We’ve known each other for many, many years and crossed paths over and over,” Lucia said. “You have that bond growing up in the range and then when you go into the same profession. I think that’s what has made the relationship over the years. Frank and I have maintained the friendship. Our families are close and we still check in with each other. I know we both still pay close attention to how Colorado College and Denver are doing. Those six years in Colorado Springs were a really special time in my coaching career.”
Serratore and Lucia have left a lasting imprint on the tradition of the unique rivalry between Denver and Colorado College. It was their intertwining trajectories that began as boys in Minnesota that led them to their careers as coaches of multiple prestigious programs. Everywhere in between, their shared passion for the sport and for competition left a lasting impact on what would thereafter be known as the Battle for the Gold Pan.
“To me, it’s great to have been a part of making history and tradition,” coach Serratore said. “Knowing you were a part of the establishment of that was pretty cool. It’s a rivalry between two storied programs and one of the best to this day. I’m proud to have been a part of that.”