In the first game of the Gold Pan series, the No. 5 University of Denver Pioneers hosted Colorado College at Ball Arena for the first time. The momentous affair drew 17,952 in attendance. After getting swept on the road against St. Cloud State University last weekend, Denver hoped to get back in the win column.
In net for Denver was senior goaltender Magnus Chrona who entered the night 15-7-0 with three shutouts this season. Opposite him was freshman Kaidan Mbereko.
Mbereko had an impressive 0.920 save percentage on the year and represented Team USA in the 2022 and 2023 World Junior tournaments.
Seconds into its start, Denver’s Sean Behrens dished a heavy hit it to deny entry at the blueline. This more or less set the tone for the highly physical, back-and-forth game. Puck management struggled in the opening minutes, but by 5:02 the Pioneers began to figure it out.
Aidan Thompson set the play behind the net. He passed to Kyle Mayhew at the top of the circle and Mayhew’s shot-pass was tipped in by Jared Wright parked at the netfront.
At 12:28, Thompson was kicked out of the faceoff circle and sent to the box for a faceoff violation. Denver spent most of it in CC’s end, and the kill was successful.
A couple minutes later, Rieger Lorenz, Justin Lee, Noah Laba, and Hunter McKown were assessed matching roughing penalties because of some extracurriculars after the whistle in front of Chrona. Shortly after, Nicklas Andrews took an interference penalty, and Denver would get the powerplay.
Behrens made a slick pass to the crease and Casey Dornbach had the tip, but Mbereko made the save. King followed up with a shot from the slot on the next play, but Mbereko had an answer for that one too, and the powerplay ended.
After the offensive zone faceoff, Tyler Coffey darted to the net to shoot on Chrona, it bounced off his body, but Coffey did not put on the brakes and drove into him. Behrens escorted him out of the crease as the net came off its moorings.
Denver closed out the first period on a high note. The puck management in the opening minutes left a little to be desired, but they did begin to settle it more and started connecting tape to tape. The Pioneers outshot Colorado College 12-9.
At 4:11 into its start, Justin Lee took a holding penalty and Denver went back on the kill. Matthew Gleason got inside Carter King and ripped a shot on net, but Chrona made the stop. Denver withstood the kill.
At 10:47, McKade Webster drew a hooking penalty and DU went back on the powerplay. Colorado College had an especially good kill – getting sticks in shooting lanes and some luck in moments of chaos at the netfront.
Shortly after CC’s kill, Justin Lee drew skaters to him deep in his zone and sent a pass up to Brett Edwards. Edwards broke the play out into the neutral zone and passed to McKade Webster. Webster got around two CC defenders and angled a pass back across the slot to Connor Caponi streaking in opposite of him. Caponi one-timed it in to give Denver the 2-0 lead. It was his first goal of the season.
At 6:21 left in the second, CC’s Jack Millar cross-checked Carter Mazur in the head. The play was reviewed for major considerations. No matter what, DU was going on the powerplay. The officials decided it was a five minute major and a game misconduct.
Dornbach ripped a one-timer from the net at the left circle, but Mbereko made the save. On the next play, Tristan Broz tried to lift it in from the side of the crease, but Mbereko made another big save.
A penalty just before the final buzzer put Denver on the penalty kill to start the third period.
Because of Lee’s roughing penalty, Denver was shorthanded to start, but the kill remained perfect.
At 13:57, Colorado College called a challenge on a play they believed had direct contact to the head. There was not a call made on the ice, but CC wanted Lane Krenzen’s hit to Patrick Cozzi near the blueline reviewed.
The primary point of contact appeared to be to the shoulder-center chest, and the officials agreed. There was no penalty assessed. After the major and game misconduct from the second period. Tensions were high. The game was chippy to start.
Nearing the midway mark in the final period, CC’s Connor Mayer took a high sticking penalty and Denver went on the powerplay. Colorado College cleared it early, and Denver reset in search of their first powerplay goal of the game.
Behrens had a great chance just after it expired to set up Shai Buium. He pulled up on the play and found Buium at the right circle, but Mbereko flashed the glove.
Two minutes later, Behrens had another grade A chance in the crease. The offensive side of his game was really activated tonight.
For the final half of the frame, Denver controlled zone time in CC’s end. Denver was forcing turnovers and driving play up ice in transition.
With three minutes left, Carter Mazur was called for interference on Hunter McKown, but because McKown retaliated with a shove, he earned a roughing call. Both teams played at four-on-four.
Colorado College called Mbereko to the bench, and in the final minute the time would run out. Denver won 2-0. Magnus Chrona earned his fourth shutout of the season and his fifth consecutive shutout over Colorado College with 23 saves.
The Pioneers created 41 shots on net and 66 total shot attempts. Though the powerplay couldn’t convert, it was not for a lack of dangerous chances, and the penalty kill was perfect through three kills with only two shots allowed on net. Full credit to Kaidan Mbereko’s night in net. He made 39 saves and was tested a lot with 16 saves on the kill alone.
The teams will meet again next Saturday in Colorado Springs for game two.
Kaidan Mbereko on how his World Juniors experience primed him to play on a big stage: “Playing at world juniors, you’re obviously playing the best 18-19 year old’s in the world,” he said. “So for me, it’s fun to bring my best and bring it back from those tournaments. It’s (about) bringing my best every day and trying to elevate my teammates’ play just like they’re going to try and do the same to me.”
David Carle on the powerplay and Mbereko’s performance: “I thought the powerplay was good. We generated looks. I thought we had zone time,” said Carle. “(Kaidan Mbereko) was excellent. We had some looks from the bench: Rieger Lorenz is a big boy, he was right in front of his eyes, and his hand comes out of nowhere a few times to snatch a few with his glove. I thought he was excellent tonight at reading plays and his hockey sense really showed.”
David Carle on Magnus Chrona: “We’ve talked a lot about him this year: his demeanor, his professionalism day in and day out. He’s a rock back there, and as good as he was last year, he looks even better this year. I’m really proud of the player and the person that he continues to become.”
Magnus Chrona on the matchup: “The rivalry series is a great event for us. We take a lot of pride in winning the Gold Pan.”
Chrona also detailed the ways in which this Colorado College team was different from last year’s team, “From my standpoint, they were more structured this year. They worked on their structure in the offensive zone. Last year the only shots I basically got were dump-in’s or throw-in’s on the net, but now it’s more structured. I (faced) low to high shots on net and rebounds. They’ve improved a lot from last year.”
Denver Captain, Justin Lee on the atmosphere in Ball Arena, “I thought it was great, especially with all the fans, alumni, and other people showing up. It’s great for the state of Colorado.”
When asked if it compares to the Frozen Four atmosphere, Lee said, “I thought it was better, in my opinion. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere.”