To celebrate the occasion of playing in an NHL arena, Denver and Colorado College hockey grappled like NHL rivals.
DU triumphed 2-0 in an unusually chippy college hockey game Friday night at Ball Arena, which was as packed and as loud as an Avalanche game for the Gold Pan rivalry’s first-ever visit to the venue. The announced attendance was 17,952. The combined penalty total was 14.
Jared Wright and Connor Caponi scored for the Pioneers (20-7), and goaltender Magnus Chrona added to his stunning shutout streak against the Tigers. He now hasn’t allowed a goal to the rivals in 306:07, dating back to Feb. 25, 2021. In the opposite net, Team U.S.A. goalie Kaidan Mbereko kept the game close. He made one glove save so good that it fooled the goal horn and the DU faithful.
The Pioneers snapped a two-game losing streak by winning their eighth consecutive game against Colorado College and 12th in the past 14 meetings. They need to win just one of the last three matchups this season to retain the Gold Pan trophy.
A pseudo-home crowd for Denver seemed to savor the big stage as much as the athletes: DU students showered Colorado College with profanities and gleefully waved farewell to CC defenseman Jack Millar as he was sent off for a game misconduct and a five-minute major penalty late in the second period.
That was the crux of the drama that had been building for 35 minutes, but not the end. Millar and Denver forward Carter Mazur were going at it all night, starting with an early exchange of shoves and words away from the puck. Later in the first period, a kerfuffle broke out around the Denver net front. Four players were formally penalized for roughing — Justin Lee and Rieger Lorenz for DU, Hunter McKown and Noah Laba for CC — but just about everyone on the ice got involved, including a wrestling-style takedown from Denver that went unnoticed during sentencing.
There was no leg room left in the CC box when Nicklas Andrews joined for interference 90 seconds later.
Just as the extracurriculars had seemingly settled down, Millar pushed Denver wing Jack Devine out of the way to get to Mazur along the end boards. He cross-checked Mazur in the head-neck area, un-helmeting him.
Mazur joined the fans in waving Millar goodbye. With three minutes remaining, McKown shoved Mazur to the ice from behind after a penalty against Mazur. It was the kind of game that Avalanche forward and DU alum Logan O’Connor, who was in attendance, would be proud of.
Caponi was the unlikeliest of scorers for Denver. The junior fourth-line center was on the finishing end of an NHL-worthy feat of stick-handling by McKade Webster. He received the puck at center-ice and took on three opponents, navigating through them with the kind of creativity reminiscent of Nathan MacKinnon’s one-man show vs. St. Louis last May at Ball Arena.
Wright opened the scoring five minutes into the game with a savvy redirect. It was his seventh goal of his freshman season, igniting the crowd for the first time.
An excited Mazur said three days before the game that he was hearing it would be a lower-bowl sellout. Colorado hockey fans must have heard: They filled the upper level, too.