Last night 4,105 people gathered at the Budweiser Events Center to watch the CSU hockey team battle the University of Colorado in the third of four Rocky Mountain Face-Offs. The fans gathered in the parking lot as if it were a football game.
As the game began, the ice was green by way of lights in the rafters, but by the end it would be CU who was green, green with envy. The Rams beat their archrival 6-3, taking the overall series 3-0 with one game to go.
“Tonight these 21 guys are a part of Ram hockey history,” said head coach Eric Sunness. “It was a wonderful game — hard fought, the team played the way the game is meant to be played. It was a big win, probably one of the biggest in our program’s history.”
The first period looked as if it were going to end without a goal. However, the Rams remained tenacious, and with six seconds left in the first, CSU’s Dane Cella was on the receiving end of an on-the-back pass from Dale Dinnebeck.
He shot the puck hard into the goal, leaving the press box looking for a replay to find out how the goal was scored. Eric Griffin was also given an assist for his role in the play.
In the second period both teams got to work right away, and not just with their fists. In the second period CSU forward Casey Schermerhorn, scored with 2:36 left on the clock, making the score 2-0.
But CU responded quickly, scoring a goal with 15:32 left in the period. The action continued and after a 4-on-4 that netted nothing for either team, CSU defensemen Brad Hau was called for a penalty, leaving CU with the perfect opportunity to strike.
And they did.
Nine seconds into the power-play CU’s Andrew Neitenbach scored with an assist from CU leading scorer Conner Williams, leaving CU with one goal to make up.
Fire burning in their eyes and hearts, CSU knew they had to respond. Team captain Tim Stiller got a breakaway and raced full speed toward the CU goal. He smashed into the goalie, scoring the third goal for CSU of the night.
“I was dreaming all week about scoring a goal,” Stiller said. “When I finally scored a goal, I don’t know I think I blacked out.”
Late in the second period CU came back strong and scored a third goal of its own with 6:10 left in the period. The period ended without an additional goal, but a CU player would begin the period in the penalty box after taking on two Rams and not letting up.
The Rams stayed cool throughout the game, not letting the crowd or CU get into their heads.
“These players are very disciplined and show a lot of class,” Sunness said. “We told the boys ‘don’t react to the crowd noise.'”
They didn’t react to the noise and the game went without much ruckus, but an observer could tell there was no love lost between the two teams. Chants of ‘Dirty Hippie’ helped to set the mood and the third period.The third began with a bang. CSU leading scorer Aj Hau took a shot, and moved to the other side of the goal where he waited for a perfect pass and scored the seventh goal of the game, lifting CSU up 4-3.
Using their stellar defense and great goaltending (courtesy of Mike Dlugos, who had more than 30 saves) the Rams were able to keep the Buffaloes scoreless the rest of the game.
“We all worked as a team. We all played 60 minutes,” Dlugos said. “We had to keep it simple, tighten up our D-zone. We came together in the third. It was a whole team effort.”
The Rams weren’t done scoring, as Dan Malone skated past a defenseman, fooled the goalie and put the puck in the net, putting the Rams up 5-3.
After the Buffs pulled their goalie with less than a minute left, and Fort Collins native Ben Smoot put the final match to the CU ice cube, melting all hope for the visiting CU team with an empty netter and a 6-3 lead.
Last night’s win can be attributed to home ice, rowdy crowd or CU’s bus trip. But that would be wrong, according to coach Sunness. It was won with hard work, dedication and assistant coaching by Lee Arnold and Kelly Newton, both of whom the team admires and looks to for guidance and leadership, Sunness said.
The Rams celebrated last night, but will be focused and ready for the final game of the series Saturday in Boulder.
Sports reporter Keith Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.