COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Colorado College forward Joe Cullen’s goal at 16:49 of the second period proved to be the game-winner as CC skated to a 4-2 win over the top-ranked Denver Pioneers Friday in front of a sellout crowd at the Colorado Springs World Arena. With the win, the Tigers improved their record to 18-8-2 (11-7-2 WCHA), while the Pioneers fell to 23-5-0 (16-3-0 WCHA).
“It was a great win for us,” said CC forward Mark Cullen. “They’re our biggest rival, and it’s fun to play against them and beat them. We’ve been playing great lately; all of the guys in the locker room are hitting on it. We’ve been getting stronger and stronger the past few weeks, and were looking forward to this week to see how far we’ve come and what else we need to do as we head towards the end of the year.”
“I’m proud of the way we battled tonight,” said CC head coach Scott Owens. “We made it tough for ourselves there in the third, but we pulled together and came away with it. They’re a good team, and they made us work for it.”
Coming off last night’s 3-2 win, Colorado College came out of the gates flying, dominating the first period, outshooting the Pioneers 20-2. CC was able to take a 1-0 lead at 15:21 of the period, thanks to a hard-working shift by the teams’ fourth line.
Forward Tyler Liebel drove to the net with the puck, and was hauled down by Denver forward Max Bull. With a delayed penalty being called, CC forward Shaun Winkler picked up the puck behind the net and fed it to Liebel, also behind the net. Liebel then sent a backhand pass from behind the net to forward Chris Hartsburg, who was streaking into the zone as the extra-attacker. Hartsburg one-timed the pass, beating Denver goaltender Adam Berkhoel for his eighth goal of the season.
“The fourth line, if you even want to call them that, was huge for us tonight,” said Owens. “Their hard work made the first and second goals happen.”
Denver evened the score up at 4:48 of the second period while on the power play. With CC defenseman Mike Stuart serving a roughing penalty, Denver defenseman Aaron MacKenzie snapped a shot from the point that was deflected in front by forward Greg Barber. The puck then was redirected off a CC skate and through the legs of CC goaltender Jeff Sanger.
CC reclaimed the lead at 12:08 of the period on Jesse Heerema’s third goal of the season. Tyler Liebel fed Heerema a pass on the doorstep, and Heerema took a low-angle shot that banked into the net off Berkhoel. Defenseman Richard Petiot also assisted on the goal.
CC scored the eventual game-winner just over four minutes later. With Denver forward Lukas Dora serving a roughing penalty, CC forward Noah Clarke fired a shot from the top of the left circle on a screened Berkhoel. The puck was deflected in front by Joe Cullen over the shoulder of Berkhoel for Cullen’s seventh goal of the season.
Denver pulled back within one 1:59 into the third period when Greg Barber notched his second power-play goal of the game. On a play that set up just the same as Denver’s first goal, Barber redirected a shot from Aaron MacKenzie past Jeff Sanger.
The Pioneers scored the apparent game-tying goal at 6:39, only to have it waved off by referee Mike Schmidt. Again on the power play, Denver forward Chris Paradise wrested a shot past Jeff Sanger from the left point. However, Schmidt said that Denver defenseman Ryan Caldwell was in the crease.
With the benefit of replay, the play was very close and could have gone either way. However, with no instant replay in the WCHA, the goal was disallowed.
“We caught a break there,” said Owens. “They had the momentum and if they had pulled even, who knows where we’d be now.”
“I’m amazed that in the four games we’ve played against CC this year, there were five goals that could have either been allowed for us or disallowed for them,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. “Not that all of them would have gone our way if there was replay, but if replay is available in a building to aid the referees in getting the call right, then we need to use it. Honestly, I haven’t seen the replay of the goal, but I’d be more comfortable if it was disallowed after being reviewed than if not.”
CC added an insurance goal at 15:40 of the period when Noah Clarke scored his eighth goal of the season. Petiot threw a huge open-ice hit in the neutral zone, causing a turnover. Forward Alex Kim picked up the puck and fed Clarke just inside the Denver blue line. Clarke snapped off a quick wrister that beat Berkhoel through the legs to seal the victory for the Tigers.
Both teams return to action next weekend, each hosting a WCHA series. Colorado College hosts Wisconsin for two games while Denver will welcome Minnesota-Duluth to Magness Arena.