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DENVER — Before a record crowd of 35,144 at the first outdoor game at Coors Field, the No. 10 Denver Pioneers defeated the Colorado College Tigers 4-1 Saturday to sweep all four games in the season series between the two and extend their win streak against their archrival to eight games.
Denver’s Pacific Rim Line of Danton Heinen, Trevor Moore and Dylan Gambrell, who are the top three scorers in college hockey in 2016, continued to dominate, with Gambrell and Heinen each scoring power-play goals to seal the win.
“I thought we were good tonight; I didn’t think we were as good as we have been in the past four games,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “Our team’s ability to focus and execute the game plan and play with great emotion has been really incredible. When we needed to turn it on, again, we weren’t that great, but we had 47 shots on net. It’s a tribute to how well the team has been gelling together.”
“It was awesome,” said Moore of playing at Coors Field. “In warmups, we were thinking maybe it was too big for all the people to fit in there, but I didn’t see an empty seat in the first period. Best hockey experience of my life probably.”
Denver’s streak of eight wins ties for the third-longest in the rivalry between the two. The last time Denver won eight straight was Oct. 23, 1987, to Feb. 18, 1989.
“I can say that it was an honor to wear the Denver jersey tonight, and an honor to be a part of this program,” said Denver captain Grant Arnold. “I think there are a lot of reasons why we have won eight in a row, one definitely being the seniors. Last year, the seniors were awesome, and you really understand how much this rivalry is when you are a senior, and when the seniors are talking about it. It’s so special, and there’s such great history, and to win eight in a row is unbelievable.”
“Yeah, freshman year, we lost the Gold Pan, it hurt,” said Moore. “It still stings. You never want to lose the Gold Pan. It’s such a huge rivalry. To win eight straight and retain the Gold Pan is unbelievable. Hopefully we can keep it rolling next year.”
The first period featured a lot of back-and-forth play early, as the two teams got used to playing on the softer ice outside. CC had the best early chance when Tanner Ockey had a breakaway, but Tanner Jaillet, back in net after leaving Thursday’s game due to illness, made the stop. Overall, Denver had more sustained pressure.
“I’m sure there were a lot of nerves,” said CC coach Mike Haviland. “You could see at times we were nervous, but I think both teams were early on, and rightfully so. That was an amazing crowd, an amazing feeling, and you have to feel good for the state of Colorado and hockey to see a great rivalry played in front of that many people. It’s something special. I know our guys absolutely loved it. Not the outcome we wanted, but the overall experience was amazing.”
Denver’s fourth line got the first goal when Arnold carried the puck in deep along the left side boards and sent a pass to Jarid Lukosevicius, who was crashing toward the net. Lukosevicius redirected the puck past Jacob Nehama off CC defenseman Cole McCaskill’s skate at 16:14.
Buoyed by getting the lead, Denver starting buzzing, and Colin Staub put the Pioneers up by two when he got the puck behind the net and circled around to Nehama’s left, stuffing it past Nehama at the left side post at 17:47.
Like Thursday’s game, Denver controlled much of the offensive zone time in the second period. However, CC got one back. With two-thirds of Denver’s Pacific Rim Line caught on a long shift, Cole McCaskill got the puck at the right point and made a quick move toward the faceoff circle, beating Jaillet short side with a wrist shot at 15:03.
“We get the goal there, and again, the way we kind of play, we stay around and it’s 2-1 and we have a chance, and then you give up a five-on-three goal,” said Haviland. “They have a good power play, and they made us pay on both of those power plays. Better than Thursday, but not where we need to be certainly to win the hockey game.”
With a chance to get back in the game early in the third, CC made a critical mistake, putting Denver on a five-on-three power play when the Tigers, already shorthanded due to an interference penalty, were called for too many men. Denver’s Pacific Rim Line, quiet for much of the night, quickly took advantage. First, Heinen scored on a one-time blast from inside the right point off a pass from Will Butcher, beating Nehama on his left side at 2:51.
Just 15 seconds later, Dylan Gambrell raced up the right side of the ice and fired a shot on net that hit the outside of the net. Gambrell picked up the rebound and sent it into the open net before Nehama could recover at 3:08.
It seemed that those two quick goals took the life out of the Tigers, who spent much of the third period in their own zone. With 4:02 left in the game, Montgomery switched goaltenders, putting in junior Evan Cowley to give him a little playing time in this historic game.
CC couldn’t even catch a break when it did score. Right off a draw, Ockey sent the puck into the right corner, where it was picked up by Alex Roos, who wheeled and sent a pass to Mason Bergh alone on the far post, who lifted it in with 1:03 left in the game. A lengthy review took place, and as the net was off the posts, the goal was disallowed.
“I can only answer the flow of the game was different because there were a lot more stoppages, and there was a different feel to the game,” said Montgomery. “It wasn’t the usual intensity you feel from the fans. It felt like it was more of a big event, like a Super Bowl.”
With the win, Denver clinched third place and home ice in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
“It’s nice to have home ice,” said Montgomery. “We secured third place. Now we just have to keep taking care of business and move up the PairWise if we can, and hope that North Dakota or St. Cloud stumbles.”