March 10, 2023 | SPORTS | By Michael Braithwaite, Co-Editor-In-Chief
The No. 3 University of Denver Pioneers came into Saturday’s game looking to win their 11th straight game against Colorado College. However, the victory did not come easily.
Coming into their regular season finale winless in their last 12 games, the Tigers sought to make a statement on the night when they honored their six graduating seniors. The crowd at Ed Robson Arena seemed to understand this too – not only did the 3,894 fans in attendance set a new single-game attendance record (one that was only a few weeks old), but they brought an enthusiasm and energy to the matchup that the Tigers had been missing in recent weeks.
As pucks flew, hits hit, and horns blew, it seemed every fan in the audience reacted accordingly, mesmerized by the action on the ice, and ample action there was.
Near the end of a first period full of action on both ends of the rink, CC forward Matthew Gleason ‘24 found the back of the net on a power play rebound. Then, midway through the second period, DU got one of their own during a 4-on-4 period, tying the game.
However, after just three and a half minutes of play, the Tigers responded with yet another goal of their own. While up an extra skater on a delayed penalty, forward Hunter McKown ‘24 received a pass from teammate Nicklas Andrews ‘24 at the blue line and buried a shot into the back of the net. A potential DU comeback suddenly seemed to stall, and Ed Robson Arena was bursting with energy at the sight of their hometown Tigers firing back against their biggest rival.
This energy carried well into the third period, with CC continuing to hold even against the No. 3 ranked team in the nation. However, with just over eight minutes remaining in the contest, the wheels began to fall off.
A rebound off goalie Matt Vernon ‘23 in the 13th minute of the period ended up at the stick of forward Brett Edwards, who promptly sent the puck behind the senior goalie for the Pioneers’ second goal of the night. Then, just 52 seconds later, an eerily similar situation resulted in an eerily similar score. This time, it was forward Aidan Thompson who buried the puck into the net off a deflection. All of a sudden, a 2-1 CC lead had flipped to a 3-2 deficit.
“We’ve played two periods in a game a lot this year – you’ve gotta put together 60 [minutes] to win,” said head coach Kris Mayotte postgame on Saturday night. “We started panicking with pucks. When all you do with the puck is give it back to them, it’s hard to win that way.”
Falling into that deficit, after holding a hard-fought lead for so long, sunk CC’s momentum. An empty net goal put Denver up by two scores with just over 38 seconds left in the final frame, but the Tigers’ hopes of pulling even had faded long before.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort, but I think we got passive,” said Mayotte. “We tried hanging on to a win, and just [gave] them too many opportunities, and were on our heels the entire [third] period.”
The loss against Denver concluded a volatile regular season for the Tigers. While the team held a strong 10-10-1 record through mid-January – including multiple victories against ranked opponents such as No. 19 Minnesota Duluth and No. 3/4 St. Cloud State – they immediately embarked upon a 13-game winless streak.
Those 13 games were mostly highlighted by a lack of offense. Eight of the contests were decided by two goals or fewer, and in 10 of them CC’s offense was held under two scores.
Some of this decrease in offensive production could be attributed to the loss of forward Gleb Veremyev ‘26, who sustained an injury in mid-November that required season-ending surgery. Before the injury, Veremyev had racked up two goals and five assists and was pairing well with fellow first-year forward Noah Laba ‘26 in CC’s offensive zone.
However, the season simply concluded in a disappointing manner compared to the promise of its start. Despite a 6-4-1 conference record and a No. 2 ranking in the National Collegiate Athletic Conference before their lengthy winless streak, the Tigers finished 6-15-3, just two ties improved from last season’s 6-17-1 conference record.
In a hockey conference that can best be described as the Southeastern Conference of college hockey, going .500 is considered a great season. Even the vaunted Pioneers, who showed no championship hangover by finishing the season ranked No. 3 in the country, lost five of their 24 conference matchups, and only won by a single score in five of their victories.
The Tigers had seemingly set themselves up for this success going into the bulk of their conference play. That was before the offense went cold and before they stopped playing all three periods of games.
As the Tigers get set to play their NCHC first-round playoff matchup against No. 8 Western Michigan, it is time to look to the future of the team. The Tigers said goodbye to the six members of their senior class on Saturday – goalie Matt Vernon, defenseman Bryan Yoon, defenseman Chad Sasaki, defenseman Connor Mayer, forward Patrick Cozzi, and forward Noah Prokop – they will soon be welcoming an excellent incoming group of players.
Moreover, first-year impact players such as Laba, Vermyev, and goalie Kaidan Mbereko – the latter of whom was named to the watch list late in the season for the Richter Award, given out to the best men’s Division I ice hockey goalie – will look to further develop their skills in offseason training.
As Sasaki said in the video that played during his senior tribute after Saturday’s game, “Just to be a part of building the foundation for something new, it’s been really special.”
A new era of CC hockey has come upon us. The only remaining question is when the team will finally realize their lofty potential.
CC’s playoff series against No. 8 Western Michigan will take place in Kalamazoo, Mich. on Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11.