DENVER — No. 17 Colorado College continued their recent dominance of the sixth ranked Denver Pioneers, ending their winless drought at six games with a dominating 3-0 shutout on the road. With the win, the Tigers reclaimed the Gold Pan Trophy, awarded to the winner of the season series, for the first time since 2002-2003. More important, with the win and North Dakota’s tie of St. Cloud, the Tigers clinched home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
It was the first time since December 17-18, 1993, that the Pioneers had been shutout in back-to-back games, and the first time ever that they had been shutout in back-to-back games at home.
“The guys are elated because they won an important game and played well doing it,” said Tigers’ coach Scott Owens. “We bent a little bit at times, but we played a pretty good 60-minute game. It’s a heck of a way to end a six game losing streak.”
Both teams came out flying, skating with reckless abandon and checking at every opportunity. The Tigers got the first power play when Chris Butler was called for holding, but it was negated halfway though when Tiger captain Lee Sweatt was called for goaltender interference after he crashed into Glenn Fisher chasing a rebound.
“We’ve been playing not as tough as we need to play,” said Owens of the increased physical play of the Tigers. “Our guys stepped up and I think all in all, everybody had hits, everybody made good plays, and we got smarter with the puck as the game went on.”
The Pioneers played a very sloppy period overall, attempting too many fancy no-look and behind-the-back passes, most of which resulted in turnovers, often in their defensive zone and leading to pressure on Fisher.
The Tigers struck first on a beautiful play at 5:33. Jimmy Kilpatrick sprung freshman Bill Sweatt on a breakaway with a beautiful pass, hitting Sweatt as he stepped over the left blue line with a pass from his right-side offsides faceoff circle. Sweatt moved in alone on Fisher and scored with a beautiful move, starting to draw the puck to his backhand as if he was going to cut across and try to beat Fisher glove side, then cutting back and roofing a perfect shot high in the left corner of the net.
Fisher’s strong overall play kept the Pioneers close. Fisher robbed Mike Testwuide with a brilliant glove save on a shot that was labeled top shelf right as Testwuide broke across the slot to his right.
The Pioneers had trouble generating quality offensive chances, and when they did get a rare opportunity, Tiger goalie Matt Zaba had an answer. The Pioneers’ best chance came on a deflection down low by Geoff Paukovich, but Zaba got the pads down in time.
In the second period, the Pioneers’ recent futility on the power play continued, as their scoreless streak, including last weekend’s games against North Dakota, extended to 0-for-16. The Pioneers seemed disorganized, having trouble connecting on passes and setting up any good scoring chances. They had one good chance, but Rhett Rakhshani missed on a one-time attempt.
“I think we just have to stop gripping our sticks so hard,” said Pioneers’ captain Adrian Veideman of the Pioneers’ ineffective power play. “We’re getting some chances, but we need to bear down and put the puck in the net.”
The Tigers did a good job of picking off passes, and while Denver couldn’t capitalize on their power play, the Tigers made good on one of theirs when Chad Rau stepped out from the left corner and moved in front of the net virtually unmolested. Rau’s first shot hit Butler’s skate, but as Butler moved forward Rau picked up the puck and slid it into the far corner along the ice at 11:33, giving the Tigers the two goal lead.
The Tigers had several more good chances in the period, and almost made it 3-0 when Testwuide’s tip-in attempt on a 2-on-1 went just over the crossbar. Fisher also came up big at times, robbing Scott Thauwald alone in front with his right pad.
The Pioneers’ offensive woes continued in the third period, as they had difficulty getting traffic in front of Zaba. When the Pioneers did get shots, Zaba often had clear looks. The Tigers appeared to have an extra step, while the Pioneers looked lethargic.
At 10:48, Jack Hillen, stationed halfway along the left boards, fired a soft wrist shot through traffic that beat Fisher inside the right post.
“I never saw it,” said Fisher. “He shot it through a screen through some legs and I didn’t see it till the last second, too late to react.”
Moments after the third Tiger goal, Scott McCulloch almost made it 4-0 when, on a 3-on-1, he rang a shot off the left post.
The Pioneers had one more power play chance late in the period. Tyler Ruegsegger fired a shot that hit Zaba and trickled through the five-hole towards the goal line, but Hillen cleared it from harm’s way, preserving the shutout. Moments later, Brock Trotter had Zaba out of position, but fired it high.
“Our penalty kill’s been pretty good,” said Owens. “I think Jake Gannon blocked six shots tonight. They have very good power play because they have a lot of skill. They move it well, and they caught us a couple of times, but all in all, that was probably the key.”
The two teams end their seasons with a game at World Arena in Colorado Springs. If the Tigers win, they will pass the Pioneers in the standings. The Pioneers can lock up third place and regain some respect with a win.
“There’s nothing like playing Denver to bring the passion and the emotion back,” said Owens.
“We still control our own destiny,” said Fisher. “All we can do is go out and win tomorrow night.”