Colorado College hockey made history last Saturday. The team and buses of fans traveled to Coors Field for the Battle on Blake, the first outdoor game ever in the 66-year history of the University of Denver and Colorado College rivalry. It was the first time Coors Field had ever held a hockey game, though it won’t be the last. The CC vs. DU game was the precursor to another intense rivalry game to be played in Coors Field this Saturday between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanches.
Before Battle on Blake, DU and CC had played each other just a few days before in the World Arena. CC took the lead first but DU eventually tied it up, sending both the teams into the second period with a score of 1-1. But a scoreless second period meant it was still anyone’s game in the third period. Then the Pioneers exploded in the final seven minutes, scoring three times and claiming the win, 4-1.
After a frustrating defeat like that, fans were hopeful that the Tigers would strike back on Saturday. But in the middle of Coors Field, in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a CC hockey game, a total of 35,144, nothing seemed to go right for the Tigers.
Most of the first period was scoreless as the teams faced off. It wasn’t until the 16:14 mark that DU got on the board first, partially based on two unpredictable and unfortunate bounces. DU’s first goal glanced off a Tiger skate into the goal and then, about a minute and a half later, an unusual bounce off the board sent the puck right to DU who had a wrap-around at the right post, sneaking it past freshman goalie Jacob Nehama. The first period ended 2-0. It was not an auspicious start.
But the Tigers didn’t give up the fight. Less than four minutes into the second period, the Tigers scored to cut DU’s lead in half. Freshman defender Cole McCaskill defeated DU’s goalie with a strong shot from the right circle inside the near post.
“I actually don’t remember much from the goal…it was one of those plays when your instincts take over and you almost don’t know what you’re doing,” said McCaskill. “I just remember getting the puck in the high slot and then I remember shooting it through the defender. After that I just remember seeing the light go on behind the net and my teammate grabbing me.”
McCaskill’s goal was the only goal of the second period. However, DU continued to significantly out shoot the Tigers in shot attempts. DU had 15 shots on goal in the first and second periods while CC only had eight and six, respectively. Nehama held his own however, outflanking DU on most of their attempted shots. With strong freshman performances by McCaskill and Nehama, the Tigers were still in the game when the third period started.
Unlike the first period, the third period didn’t remain scoreless for very long. The Tigers got into penalty trouble, leaving the Pioneers to score two power-play goals in a span of just 15 seconds. CC’s first penalty was for interference but while that DU power play was still on the clock, the Tigers got a team penalty for having too many players on the ice. It was a costly accident as the Pioneers dominated during a brief period of 5-on-3 play.
“I didn’t mind our first period and we stayed around with our goal,” said Head Coach Mike Haviland. “Then they get the 5-on-3 and made us pay. We need to get back to the way we were playing a couple of weeks ago.”
In a heart-breaking moment for fans, the Tigers came back to score again during their own power play. But the goal was dismissed by officials on the grounds that the net was not properly moored. Soon after, the game ended with a final score of 4-1. DU came away with the win in this historic game.
However, despite the loss, the players are still able to appreciate the opportunity to make history.
“I think playing on Coors Field was a very special time and something that I will always remember,” said McCaskill “Looking up in the crowd during the second period I just remember seeing the stands filled all the way up to the top deck, and thinking that it was a once in a lifetime experience.”
While the setup was definitely a unique experience for both players and teammates alike, it may have contributed in part to the lackluster response from fans during the game. CC student fans, used to the right in their face action of the World Arena may have felt distanced from the team. Because of the complexities of building a hockey rink in the middle of a baseball field, even the relatively close student section still felt far away from the ice; visibility of the game was poor in comparison to the World Arena. The novelty factor also seemed to bring out scores of attendees who seemed to care more about drinking over-priced beer than watching hockey. The slow start to the game and the frustrating series of errors and accidents proved detrimental to holding these fans’ attentions.
Unfortunately, Tiger fans missing the familiarity of the World Arena will have to wait a little longer, as the team is traveling this weekend.
The team is determined to put the losses behind them as they continue to move forward in their season.
“Denver has a great team, there’s no doubt about it, that’s why they are top 10 in the country, but I don’t think [Battle on Blake] reflects our abilities as a team,” said McCaskill. “We have played well this second half of the season and are on a bit of a skid lately. We just need to get back to doing what works for us.”
Next up for the Tigers is a trip to Oxford, Ohio to play Miami University. Last time the two teams faced off, the Tigers swept Miami. Hopefully the Tigers can get back on track and gain some wins as the regular season draws to a close.