It won’t take much motivation for the CSU hockey team to get amped for tonight’s Rocky Mountain Center Ice Showdown.
The Rams square up against bitter rival CU-Boulder. The game is being played at the Pepsi Center and the team is on a two-game losing streak.
“I won’t have to do much to get the guys rallied up for this game,” captain A.J. Hau said.
Tonight is the first of four meetings in the season between the Rams (8-3) and Buffs (6-2). Last year, CSU swept the series 4-0.
First-year head coach Kelly Newton expects a close game between two evenly-matched teams.
“Anytime you step onto the ice with a rivalry, the emotions bring the level of play even,” Newton said. “We’re pretty even this year. It’s going to be a very good game, and I expect it to be a one goal game.”
Expect players spending a lot of time in the penalty box. The battle between the archrivals causes the players to drop the gloves and duke it out.
“Of course there will be some fighting,” defenseman Brady McQuinn said.
Because of the volatile nature of this game, Newton said it is important for his team to keep its emotions in check.
“Guys will want to get the big hit or score the big goal, but it will be the little things that win the game for us,” Newton said.
CSU jumped out to a 6-0 start this season, but has struggled of late, dropping three of its last five to Davenport, Eastern Washington and Denver.
“Those couple losses were good for us and got our heads back on straight and looking in the right direction,” Newton said.
Last season, the Rams finished fourth in the American Collegiate Hockey Association and currently sit in third place in the West division.
The game tonight is more than the rivalry — it’s also about showcasing the CSU hockey team to a broader audience outside Northern Colorado. It is the first time the Showdown has been played at the Pepsi Center, and both schools hope tonight starts a tradition.
“It’s a big step for us and moves us into a different stage and platform. It’s a chance to get a different market of fans and the Denver alumni a chance to see CSU hockey,” the CSU head coach said.
Last year, more than 4,000 fans packed into the Budweiser Events Center to watch the Rams defeat the Buffs 6-3, which was an encouraging sight for a program with D-1 aspirations.
“That was the biggest game I’ve ever played in of all the years growing up in Colorado playing hockey,” McQuinn said.
Hau, like much of the CSU hockey team, grew up in Colorado watching the Avalanche.
“It’s going to be an awesome experience playing in the Pepsi Center. I never thought I’d get the chance to play on the same ice as the Avalanche,” Hau said.
Now, with their chance in hand, the Rams plan on giving CU-Boulder and the crowd all it can handle.
“We’re going to put on a pretty damn good show,” McQuinn said.
Sports writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.