DENVER — Scott Owens couldnt have asked for a better birthday present.
On the same night he celebrated his 52nd birthday, Owens Colorado College Tigers shut down their archrival, the University of Denver Pioneers, 5-2, as well as clinched the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHAs best team. Earning state bragging rights by retaining the Gold Pan was just the icing on the cake.
It was a Gold Pan to boot, said Owens. You win the WCHA outright; you know what, Im just very proud of our kids. We earned the championship. We talked about that last Saturday that we didnt play particularly well in the end, but we didnt back into it. We didnt sit around and wait for North Dakota to tie or to lose or to do this. We went out and earned it in a difficult building to play against a very good team.
I thought we gave ourselves a chance; I thought CC played a very smart road game ” never relinquished the lead, said DU head coach George Gwozdecky.
The Tigers struck first blood just over two minutes into the opening frame. Scott Thauwald wristed an Eric Walsky pass five-hole on Pioneer goaltender Peter Mannino from just outside the dot in the right face-off circle.
The two teams played a very high-tempo, back-and-forth period with each team getting chances, but DU kept it a one-goal game.
Thanks to a late Pioneer penalty, the Tigers started off the second period on the power play and capitalized 20 seconds in. Jack Hillen made it 2-0 when he fired a blast from the point that went high stick-side on Mannino (30 saves).
The Pioneers got in the board with a little over six to play in the third with a goal off a face-off. DU won the draw back to Andrew Thomas who shot the puck. The puck bounced off of CC netminder Richard Bachmans pads to Kyle Ostrow who slammed home the rebound.
However, the Tigers regained their two goal cushion with three minutes to go when Jimmy Kilpatrick picked up the puck in front of an out-of-position Mannino and shot it into a virtually open net.
I thought the second period was the critical difference to the game, said Gwozdecky. Once we scored that first goal, we had, oh boy, three gorgeous chances. I think we hit two posts, we missed a wide open net and other great opportunities and it could have been a real difference in the change of the momentum of the game and the score of the game at that time.
Jesse Martin made it a 3-2 game 61 seconds into the third period, wristing a CC turnover in off the post short-side behind Bachman (28 saves).
We made it a little difficult on ourselves by having that turnover to start the third period, said Owens. But, like the whole seasons been with a fair amount of adversity, we fought through in the third period and we prevailed.
However, five and a half minutes later, the Tigers went up 5-2 thanks to Chad Rau scoring two goals just 12 seconds apart. With the goals, Rau also scored his 99th and 100th points of his career.
I didnt realize that; Kilpatrick told me on the bench and I was like, Oh, whoa, said Rau.
The second one, Mikey [Testwuide], he tried dumping it in and it hit the ref so it was a good bounce there and I dont know, Mannino kind of came out at me and I just kind of held on to it, he explained. Billy Sweatt and Mikey both drove the net so it was kind of wide open for me and got the empty net there, pretty much.
[The first one] was an NHL shot, I thought, said Owens. Hes a big game player for us, he wants the puck at crucial times. But our top guys, Jack Hillen, Richard, they stepped up, Chad; they made plays ” it couldnt have been a better ending.
From then on, the proverbial wind slowly went out of the Pioneers sails and Bachman clamped down to seal the victory and win the MacNaughton Trophy outright.
[Winning the MacNaughton] is a testament to the way weve played the whole year so its great to finally get it, secure it, said Rau.
I think we can play better, but my hats off to the WCHA champion. They deserve it, said Gwozdecky.
The Tigers will host both trophies tomorrow night after the two teams face-off again.
Hopefully well be able to hoist it after a win tomorrow, said Owens. Its the right thing to do, not to parade it around in their building. I have a lot of respect for Denver and thats something I wouldnt want to have done to me.
As mentioned, the two teams play each other again tomorrow night at the Colorado Springs World Arena. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. MST.=