Though the No. 9 Denver Pioneers reclaimed the Gold Pan trophy from arch-rival Colorado College with a 1-1 tie in front of a sold-out crowd at Magness Arena, the players afterward were a little subdued, as they would have preferred to claim it with a win. Goaltender Juho Olkinuora made 35 saves, while his Tigers counterpart Joe Howe stopped 33 in a defensive battle.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Pioneers captain Paul Phillips. “We wanted to win it (the Gold Pan), and that was a goal from the beginning of the year, but a tie isn’t how you want to do it. It was a hard-fought game, back and forth. Take a positive from it: we did win it.”
The first period featured a lot of up-and-down action and shots from the perimeter for both clubs, but few good scoring chances. It was also very clean, with the first penalty not called until nearly the 15-minute mark, on Larkin Jacobson. CC’s power play was completely ineffectual, and as Jacobson left the box, he collected the puck near his blue line and raced up the right-side boards, unleashing a snap shot from the top of the right circle that beat Joe Howe stick side at 17:11.
CC had another power play for the final two minutes of the period, but the best scoring chance came when Denver raced up two-on-one off a turnover and hit the post.
The second period unfolded much like the first, right down to CC scoring the tying goal from nearly the same spot Denver had in the first. The Tigers briefly tilted the ice in their favor midway through the period, generating sustained pressure, and it finally paid off when the forecheck enabled Peter Maric to get the puck near the Pioneers goal line in the right corner. He passed to Jordan DiGiando in the right circle, and his quick wrist shot beat Olkinuora top shelf stick side at 10:46.
“It could have gone either way,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “It was a good road, playoff-type game for us. What I liked tonight is that we competed hard and won more puck battles. I thought it was a good team tie because I thought our lower lines were pretty good tonight. Joe gave us right from the beginning that thought that he was dialed in and we’d have a chance to win tonight.”
Through two periods, CC hadn’t taken a single penalty. However, the Tigers’ Jared Hansson got called got called for hitting from behind just 24 seconds into the third. It appeared to be a momentum shifter when Nolan Zajac’s rifle from the top of the slot beat Howe high stick side at 1:15, but the goal was waved off because David Makowski’s stick hit Howe when he tried to deflect it out of the air.
“I think it took the wind out of our sails,” said Phillips. “You get so excited when you score a goal, and then you see it’s called off, and it’s kind of tough. You have to kick it back into gear. We still have a power play, and it’s still a tie game, and I don’t think we adjusted to that.”
CC regrouped and killed off the penalty, then generated several good chances, including a breakaway by Eamonn McDermott that forced Olkinuora to make a sprawling save.
“Both goaltenders played great,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “You’re never quite sure what’s going to be the key moment of the game, but we scored the power-play goal, the interference call on it, it was the right call, but at that point of the game, you don’t think that’s going to be, at least you don’t hope that’s going to be a major factor. It certainly was as far as the end result was.”
In the overtime, the Pioneers regrouped and had the best of the play, including a point blank blast from Ty Loney that Howe stopped to preserve the tie. The two squads play again in Colorado Springs Saturday.
“It’s going to be a battle tomorrow in Colorado Springs,” said Phillips. “We know that. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a pride game there, because they don’t want to look embarrassed, especially in their own building.”
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