COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Before a sold out crowd of 7,780 at the World Arena, the No. 5 Colorado College Tigers finished their season strongly, defeating arch-rival No. 7 Denver Pioneers 3-1 in a penalty-filled contest. Drew O’Connell started in net for the Tigers and played well, stopping 27 shots on the night.
The Tigers wore throwback jerseys in the game, replicas of the jerseys from CC’s 1957 championship season. It was fitting, since CC was celebrating clinching the MacNaughton Cup last night. The trophy was presented at the end of the game, as well as the Gold Pan, awarded to the team that wins the season series between DU and CC.
“Not having (Richard) Bachman in net was definitely a factor for us,” said Tigers’ forward Mike Testwuide. “We really enjoyed having Drew in net. He gives us a little lift. We knew we had to play good for him, and he played exceptionally well for us.
The Tigers struck first, scoring on a power play at 12:09. Andreas Vlassopoulos took the puck behind the net, stepped out from behind the line, and drew a Pioneers’ defenseman towards him. Vlassopoulos spied Mike Testwuide on the far side and slid a pass to him. Testwuide had a wide open net to shoot at.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Tigers’ coach Scott Owens. “We had trouble, I thought, the first eight or nine minutes just getting back on the big sheet and getting moving. Then we get on that power play and it’s a tic-tac-toe play, and it just kind of sets the tone a bit.”
The Tigers quickly built on that lead when Matt Overman, standing at the bottom of the left circle. took a pass from Addison DeBoer and fired a shot on Pioneers’ goalie Peter Mannino. Mannino made the first save, but Overman grabbed the rebound and beat Mannino five-hole.
“We know Mannino is an aggressive goalie,” said Testwuide. “When we get him moving side-to-side, we know we have a better chance, so that’s what we try to do.”
“The second goal was badly a played coverage that was completely blown,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “I wasn’t really happy with it, to be honest. We had a couple of guys who were just party favors out there.”
Early in the second period, a huge swing play gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead. First, Tigers’ goalie Drew O’Connell stoned Kyle Ostrow from the slot with a shoulder save. On the ensuing breakout, the Tigers broke out, and Chad Rau carried the puck across the slot to his right, then passed it back behind him to Bill Sweatt at the left side of the net, and Sweatt scored.
That was all on the night for Mannino, as Gwozdecky pulled the senior netminder and replaced him with Marc Cheverie.
“They’re a very talented offensive team,” said Gwozdecky. “In my mind, the confidence they have going, there as good an offensive team as there is in our league for sure. Against a team like that, you can’t try to exchange chance for chance.”
The rest of the period got exceptionally rough. A scrum erupted in the Tigers’ zone when the Pioneers’ J.P. Testwuide tried to shove a rebound through Bachman. Both DU’s Tom May and CC’s Scott McCulloch got four minutes for roughing and 10-minute misconducts.
“They made it very chippy, but we persevered and got through it,” said Testwuide.
The Pioneers had a few chances to cut the Tigers’ lead, but were unable to capitlize. O’Connell casually gloved a Testwuide backhand.
“That’s who we are,” said Gwozdecky of his team’s struggles to score. “We’re a team that is not going to score a lot of goals, so we have to be very strong defensively.”
“The second period could have been the ugliest period of hockey all year long,” said Owens.
At the other end, Cheverie displayed some good goaltending as well, robbing Tigers’ captain Scott Thauwald from the slot on a two-on-one.
Denver finally got on the board on a power play early in the third. Chris Butler fired a shot that snuck past O’Connell on the left side at 3:02, briefly giving the Pioneers life.
However, the period dissolved into more penalties, making exceptionally difficult for either team to gain momentum.
The two teams combined for 110 minutes on 43 penalties in the game.
“It was a very difficult game to play,” said Owens. “You think it’s going to be hard, but then you think, ‘No, it’s DU-CC.’ But it was a hard game to play. There were so many whistles and so many errant passes and it was just difficult to get into. Last night was such an emotional drain for us. Overall, I was disappointed. Some of the guys are just fried, and it bothers me that they are fried. Next weekend could be a three-game series. Now we get ourselves ready for the playoffs.”