COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In a battle between the two top teams in the WCHA standings, the fourth ranked Colorado College Tigers mauled their in-state rival, the No. 3 Denver Pioneers, 5-1 in Colorado Springs.
Most would have expected a close contest, but on this night CC was the better team. Chad Rau scored his first career hat trick, while Richard Bachman held down the fort with 28 saves.
“I like playing in the big games and Denver’s always a good team,” said Rau. “It’s always fun to play them.”
Early on, the two squads traded off hits along the boards near the DU side of the neutral zone. Neither of the team’s top lines was able to skate in without a hard-charging defender meeting them near the attack line.
With this game being the first of four Gold Pan contests between CC and DU, the home team was up to the task of defending the in-state trophy and it showed. CC scored the first tally of the contest from an unlikely source. The Tigers’ fourth line caught Denver cheating a bit to one side and cashed in at 5:33 on a goal by Cody Lampl along the right wing.
CC had an opportunity to add to its lead following a penalty to Rhett Rakhshani six minutes in. But the Pioneers killed the penalty and began putting pressure on freshman standout Richard Bachman.
The pressure eventually caved in for the Tigers when Brock Trotter followed his own rebound and put the puck past Bachman. Denver’s leading scored his sixth goal of the year at the 11 minute mark of the opening period.
CC remained on its heels for the next six shifts, and had a difficult time clearing the puck out of its zone. Later, on a giveaway by Tyler Bozak, the Tigers Jimmy Kilpatrick streaked in alone a breakaway. Kilpatrick’s wrist shot went high but caromed off the glass and bounced to Chad Rau who snapped home a wrist shot glove side past Mannino.
Rau’s seventh goal of the campaign came at 16:16 of the first period.
“I thought CC was more ready to play the game than we were,” said Denver coach, George Gwozdecky. “They were sharp; they were tense around the puck. I did a lousy job of preparing our team.”
The second period featured lots of shots from both teams, but few tallies.
Denver led the way early on with multiple chances from Ruegsegger and Bozak, but neither forward could put one past Bachman. CC put the rubber on Mannino as well, with Rau, Kilpatrick and Scott Thauwald leading the charge with Rau again wreaking havoc in the faceoff circles. But even he couldn’t add to the Tigers’ lead.
The contest got interesting midway through the second when Jesse Martin flipped a puck into what looked like a gapping net. But CC defenseman Kris Fredheim knocked Martin’s shot out of mid-air and away from the net.
Denver continued its frequent attack with a series of one-timers and shots from close-in. What the Pioneers didn’t expect with their continual pressure was a back-breaking goal on the other end. With less than a minute to go in the period, the Tigers carried possession into the Denver end where Nate Prosser found Thauwald who collected the puck and fired a cross-ice pass to Rau.
Rau skated in and fired a shot past Mannino from just outside the hash marks. The junior top-line center’s second goal of the night came at 19:40 of the second period.
“I thought the second period was a combination of great goaltending and a little bit of luck,” said CC coach Scott Owens.
All night long Bachman was challenged by Denver forwards from all angles. But the first-year goaltender looked more poised and aggressive than his counterpart. The man behind CC’s pipes controlled rebounds during even-strength penalty-kill situations, and gave his one of his best efforts of the season.
“I don’t know how he makes these saves — but they’re pretty incredible,” Rau said of his goaltender.
Bachman’s stellar play in net was comforted by another goal by Rau at 5:42 of the third period. Once again Thauwald found Rau, this time to the left of Mannino where he slid the puck low into the open side of the net.
With frustration setting in, Denver took an ill-advised cross checking penalty, which led to CC’s fifth goal of the night. Jack Hillen feathered a pass to Prosser who guided a snap shot from the left faceoff circle into the Denver net.
The two sides felt the need to battle each other’s heads in, but without the puck. Denver and CC had a litany of roughing and penalties from the nine minute mark on, with Ruegsegger getting the worst of the infractions with a five-minute checking penalty from behind and a game misconduct.
It was from then on that the scoring would cease and CC would come away with the victory. The Tigers took advantage of their long home stand and will be on the road for the next month.
“I’m really proud of it especially since we will be on the road for the next 41 days,” Owens said. “It was important to put some points in the bank. It’s hard to win five straight games in this league. I don’t care if it’s Wisconsin, Duluth or Denver.”