Redemption was the theme of the game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Eastern Washington Eagles.
After Buffs captain Scott Cooley went down early in the second period and had to be carried off the ice in a stretcher, the team pulled together for a thrilling 5-2 victory Saturday night at the CU Recreation Center.
“There was an advantage [to Cooley’s injury] in that the team decided to win the game for him,” Buffs head coach Ken Fikis said. “He’s the captain and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Two minutes into the second, Cooley tried to free the puck from the corner, but he was nailed with a clean but nasty hit. The hit caused Cooley’s leg to awkwardly bang against the boards, leaving him lying on the ice clearly in pain. About 20 minutes later, paramedics arrived and took Cooley out in a stretcher.
After the game, Fikis said he was notified that Cooley had a broken tibia and fibula, and was taken to Fort Collins for surgery.
About 30 minutes after the devastating hit, play resumed and it was clear both teams made the most out of the injury timeout to rest their legs. Both clubs came out more physical and it was clear the intensity was ratcheted.
Then again, spectators were made aware immediately that this would be an intense showing of physical prowess early in the first period. Both teams flew out of the gate and threw their bodies at each other.
There was little offense to speak of until late in the period when the Eagles managed to get multiple shots on goal. However, goalie Kevin Litinsky stood tall and gave the Buffs a chance to calm down.
“I like to face a lot of shots,” Litinsky said. “With each shot, your confidence boosts a little.”
With the clock winding down in the first, the boys in gold managed to get multiple players down low and force the play with a great forecheck. While the Eagles’ goaltender was busy dealing with the multiple bodies battling in front of him, forward Conor Williams snuck a pass to defenseman David Starr, who pushed the puck into the net. The Buffs went into the locker room up 1-0.
Shortly after Cooley’s injury, the Eagles tied the game. But 13 minutes into the second, the Eagles gave the Buffs their first power play of the game. The team made the most of it when after a bit of circling deep in the Eagles’ zone, forward Andrew Neitenbach found the puck on his stick near the blue line and hammered a beautiful slap shot home to take the 2-1 lead.
“We didn’t have a shot on net during the power play and needed one,” Neitenbach said. “So I put it there and good things happened.”
Neitenbach again showed his special teams prowess while killing a penalty near the end of the second period. Instead of blindly clearing the puck down the ice, which is normal while on the penalty kill, he found a streaking Williams who wristed a beauty from the high slot past the Eagles’ goalie.
After the goal, the Eagles came on strong on the offensive end, getting multiple scoring chances. However, Litinsky was more than up to the challenge, seemingly stopping everything that moved. His biggest test came when, after a scrum in the corner, defenseman John Park threw his stick and was charged with unsportsmanlike conduct. The Eagles were awarded a penalty shot.
Litinsky made the save look easy, letting the wrister from the top of the right faceoff circle sink in to his chest equipment.
“I don’t see a lot of [penalty shots], but I was confident going in,” Litinsky said. “I like breakaways. I would rather have a penalty shot than a penalty because I know one save and we’re out of trouble.”
After the penalty shot, the Eagles came on harder offensively, ending in a scrappy wrap-around goal. It immediately made no difference, though, as forward Erich Seufert hammered back CU’s two-goal lead after a beautiful cross-ice feed from forward Max Myers.
CU ended the period coming on strong in the offensive zone, knowing the Eagles were fatigued.
“We knew they were playing their ninth period of hockey [in three days] and that most of all they just wanted to get back on the bus home,” Fikis said. “So I told the boys, ‘Let’s just go all out.’”
Forward Sean Carpenter added a power play goal in the third period for the final margin.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Adam Alberti at Adam.Alberti@colorado.edu