'Enough is Enough'
Colorado College Flips Script Against Rival Denver
Late last Friday night, Earth, Wind and Fire's 1978 hit 'September' bellowed loudly from a boisterous Colorado College locker room — and with good reason.
Earlier in the day, the Tigers had driven up I-25 to take on a team, the Denver Pioneers, who had beaten them in 14 consecutive games, with all 14 CC losses coming since Mike Haviland took over as head coach in Colorado Springs prior to the 2014-15 season.
But while the bus route itself — through small towns like Monument and Castle Rock, flanked by the Rocky Mountains to the west — was the same as it's always been, Friday's trip for Colorado College felt different.
"They believe in themselves, and as a staff, we believe in them," said Haviland, in his fourth season with CC. "It's a fun group to be around. They put their work in. I think the belief was a lot different driving up here than it was maybe the last couple years."
That belief translated into a hard-fought 4-4 tie at the home of the reigning national champions — in a game in which, after junior Mason Bergh dramatically scored a game-tying extra-attacker goal with 6.8 seconds left in regulation, Christiano Versich scored in double overtime to give CC an extra NCHC standings point.
The game, of course, is a draw for NCAA purposes, since no one scored in the first (5-on-5) overtime session. But a comparison of the mood — and, yes, the music — inside each locker room after the game made it clear that Friday's game did in fact produce a winner.
"It's a great feeling," Haviland said, trying to speak over the celebration behind him. "Obviously, I thought it was a real good hockey game, right from the start. We never quit, and we kept coming, finding a way. And we found a way to win it on the 3-on-3 on the power play."
"Certainly a great feeling," continued the former Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach, before pausing to smile. "It's been a long couple of years."
Colorado College is one of two teams in the nation — the other, Boston College — without a senior on its roster. The Tigers' junior class, then, represents the team's veterans. And it's been a long couple of years for them, too — with six wins as freshmen, eight as sophomores.
Meanwhile, just up the road, their in-state rival spent those two years playing itself to the NCAA Frozen Four, ultimately winning the title in the same building that Haviland helped coach the Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Now, at the midway point of the 2017-18 regular season, the Tigers — No. 17 in the current Pairwise — are 7-7-2. This weekend, in addition to controlling each game for long stretches at a time — "It's the first time in a long time that we did that to them," said Haviland — they also displayed a degree of resilience that had been lacking in recent years.
Friday, for instance, Denver scored two goals in the final two minutes of the second period to take a 3-2 lead. For Bergh and his teammates, this time, that setback didn't matter.
"Enough is enough," said Bergh, the team's leading-goal scorer, with 10. "We've been through enough here as a junior class especially. We came in and said, 'You know, forget about that goal. Let's come out flying.' And we did just that, and put some pressure on them. We just kind of put that goal behind us, where in the past we've let that kill us."
"They believed, and there was no panic," Haviland added. "It was just, 'Hey, we think we got a chance to go back, and let's play the way we've been playing for the 40, put pucks on the net and see what happens.'"
Bergh's late-game heroics — scoring the tying goal after a scramble in front of the Pioneers' netminder Tanner Jaillet — overcame a would-be game-winner by Denver's Jaakko Heikkinen with 2:28 left to play.
"Having poise in their zone," said Bergh of the key factor leading to his goal. "Obviously we were a man up, so tried to find that open guy, and we got pucks to the net. A lot of guys were crashing the net, and I just kind of pulled it out of the chaos and had a wide open net. It was a lot of hard work and a no-quit attitude at the end there."
Saturday, behind CC goaltender Alex LeClerc's 37 saves, the teams tied again, 1-1, in Colorado Springs. Denver returned the favor with a 3-on-3 OT goal from Liam Finlay to earn the extra point. Still, the Tigers walked away from the weekend with a sense of success, even with increased confidence after shutting down star forwards Troy Terry and Henrik Borgstrom — a duo who, after a hot start to the season, have uncharacteristically combined for no goals and just one assist in Denver's last four contests.
"They're special players, and we knew that going in," said Bergh, whose line — featuring sophomore Nick Halloran (9th in the nation in points per game, with 1.38) — is no slouch, either. "We just kind of said, 'Whenever they're on the ice, frustrate them. They want to make cuter plays, and we just have to play them hard.'"
The Tigers and Pioneers will square off again, in another home-and-home weekend series, in mid-February. And with their 14-game losing streak in the series now -in the rear view mirror at last, that bus trip from Colorado Springs to Denver may continue to be one the Tigers relish instead of dread.
"This team never quits," Haviland said. "They believe that they can play with anyone in the country... This is a whole different team right now than we've had since I've been here."
And after years of frustration, it's also a team that's finally decided — as Bergh put it — that "enough is enough."