Pioneers Open 2022-23 Battle for the Gold Pan with 2-0 Shutout at Ball Arena

The #5 Denver Pioneers (20-7-0, 11-4-0 NCHC) are no strangers to big games on NHL sheets. After all, just nine months ago, they went to Boston and won the program’s ninth national title at the home of the Boston Bruins (who now employ Jim Montgomery as their head coach…the DU-Boston roots just keep growing). Now, less than a year later, the Pioneers showed out again in an NHL building, this time at the home of the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, Ball Arena against the Colorado College Tigers (10-14-1, 6-8-1 NCHC), their in-state nemesis and opened the 2022-23 Battle for the Gold Pan with a 2-0 victory. The shutout was Magnus Chrona’s fourth of the season, extended his shutout streak vs Colorado College to five games (Dating back to February 25, 2021) and moves him into a tie for second-most shutouts in DU history, now two shy of Peter Mannino’s all-time record of 15.

Coming into this game, the first-ever DU-CC matchup at the home of the Colorado Avalanche and the first-ever regular season DU game at Ball Arena, there were two big questions surrounding the game. One, both teams are coming off of two bad losses, DU at SCSU and CC vs Western Michigan, so how would each team respond? And two, this is the biggest venue and crowds that any current CC player has played with at this level while most of DU’s roster has experienced this before – how would that experience discrepancy play into the season’s first Gold Pan game?

As it turned out, DU responded to the SCSU sweep about as well as they could have while playing against a goaltender in Kaidan Mbereko hellbent on stealing a game for the Tigers. After a bit of a sluggish, sloppy first half of the game, the Pioneers tightened the screws and took control of the game. The much-maligned penalty killing unit went 3-for-3 and the Pioneers’ play in all three zones prevented the Tigers from generating anything even remotely dangerous over the final 30 minutes of the game.

“I didn’t love our first period with the puck,” DU head coach David Carle said. “I thought we really struggled to have any sustained o-zone time, get through the neutral zone. To be quite honest, I thought we were pretty fortunate to be up 1-0…In the second and third, it was great to see our guys be able to adjust. We’ve had games this year where our puck support game was not great in the first and we failed to adjust so to do that tonight was a really good thing.

Even though DU only scored twice on the night, if it wasn’t for Mbereko’s second-best career performance in terms of saves (39), the Pioneers likely would have run away with this one in the second period as they have so many times against CC over the last decade. The Pioneers peppered the Tigers’ freshman netminder with 41 shots, including six on the extended five-minute power play in the second period thanks to Jack Millar’s game misconduct for cross-checking Carter Mazur in the face, but just two of them, off of a perfect tip-in by Jared Wright in the first period and a perfect feed from McKade Webster to a crashing Connor Caponi in the second, made it past him.

“I thought it was awesome,” DU senior captain Justin Lee said when asked what it was like to see Caponi score a goal. “[Webster] made a great play with the puck, a great entry, and it was a great pass and it was nice to see that go in for [Caponi].

Despite Chrona’s fifth-straight shutout over the Tigers (his shutout streak now sits at 306:07) and an exciting product on the ice, the game itself kind of took a backseat to what was one of the best atmospheres in college hockey. Even CC head coach Kris Mayotte, who has been involved with some of the biggest midseason tournaments in the country throughout his playing and coaching career, attested that tonight’s crowd for an event that only included two teams rather than the customary four (Great Lakes Invitational, The Beanpot, etc.) was better than any any event he’s ever been a part of.

“Two teams brought this crowd – I think it’s the best in the country,” Mayotte said.

“I thought it was better,” Chrona said when asked how the atmosphere compared to the Frozen Four.

“It’s a pretty cool atmosphere,” Lee added. “We’re lucky to have the fan support and all the alumni support that we have and it was a really cool experience.”

For the Pioneers, the experience with the atmosphere at Ball Arena will certainly be useful over the coming months as they continue on their quest for their 10th national title, but in a much grander sense, the lights weren’t too bright for anyone on the ice. In fact, for the 17,952 in attendance – the highest-attended indoor college hockey game since 2018 – they were just bright enough to shine a perfect light on the thriving state of college hockey in Colorado.

DU Postgame


Top photo courtesy of Clarkson Creative/Denver Athletics

7 thoughts on “Pioneers Open 2022-23 Battle for the Gold Pan with 2-0 Shutout at Ball Arena”

  1. That was all Chrona. We outshot CC significantly, but Chrona made a lot of big saves to keep CC out of the game. Great crowd. Didn’t match the overall atmosphere of DU-CC in McNichols in the 90s, but still a great night for college hockey in Colorado.

  2. Great game and better atmosphere! Sure hope DC can get the power play cranked up by the time NoDak & UMD come to town. Congrats to Chrona, though he only had a couple of tough saves.
    I’d like to know if any college goalie has ever shutout the same team 5 straight games before.

  3. Nick,
    You quoted “NFL sheets” I thought our size at Magness was that same size as opposed to the “Olympic larger size that CC used to have and also ST Cloud and probably some others now use.

    I was at our Game at U. Mass Amherst this year and they have some type of intermediate size, between NHL and Olympic.
    How about clarifying my foggy brain on this.

    See you in Tampa. I still remember our last time there.

    “Why did he do that”
    Iced the puck

    1. You’re right. Magness and most other college teams have an NHL sized sheet (200’ x 85’). St. Cloud has an Olympic sized sheet (200’ x 100’). UMass-Amherst has a hybrid at 200’ x 95’. CC’s new rink is NHL-sized.

  4. Great atmosphere, great environment. That was really really cool. I’m sure it was surreal for the players and coaches. What a great event to be a part of. I hope DU can do this type of thing again.

    The game itself was hard-fought, and DU got a deserving W. The start wasn’t great–Pios looked a bit disjointed, struggled with puck possession, and never really got any sustained pressure. CC clearly came out with an edge and seemed intent on making this a slugfest. I thought DU responded well. Pios had a physical game of their own, and eventually found open space and got to a puck possession and pressure game. Great to see Chrona get another shutout. When he’s on, he’s an elite netminder, one of the best we’ve seen in a DU uniform. It was also great to see hard-working Connor Caponi get rewarded with a goal. That was awesome.

    As this game illustrates and as their record shows, CC is definitely a team on the rise. They have some good skaters, are more dangerous offensively, and Mbereko has all the makings of a premier goalie. He was really really good in this game. Can’t wait to see these two teams tangle again.

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