DENVER — The Colorado Buffaloes men’s club hockey team is enjoying an accomplishment the football team can’t claim – they beat Colorado State.
The Buffs rallied from an early three-goal deficit to beat CSU 5-3 on Thursday at the Pepsi Center. The win snapped the Buffs’ four-game losing streak to their in-state rival, who they haven’t beaten since February 2008.
Playing under the same lights as the Colorado Avalanche might have had a positive effect on the Buffs. Last year, the Buffs couldn’t seem to close out tight games. Maybe it was the rivalry in the air, but the Buffs finished strong this time.
When the game began, however, it was CSU who was strong as they dominated the first period thanks to some physicality and sloppy passing from CU.
CSU forward Kollin Vandersluis scored the first goal of the night about five minutes into the game. However, Colorado tried to answer, but forward Conor Williams missed a fast break goal-scoring opportunity with 8:45 left in the first period.
Three minutes later, CSU forward Derek O’Donnell scored the second goal of the night. The Rams added their third goal with 38 seconds left in the period.
When the first period ended, it became apparent the Buffs needed to make a change or extend their losing streak against CSU to five games.
“I think we let the nerves get to us in the first period,” forward Max Myers said.
Nerves seemed to have dissipated in the second period as the Buffs became a much more physical team.
CU dominated possession of the puck for the first five minutes and after two missed one-on-one opportunities from forward David Starr and forward Erich Seufert, Myers put the Buffs on the board with an unassisted goal with 12:08 to go in the second.
The Buffs drew closer when forward Andrew Neitenbach scored the team’s second goal with 1:19 left in the second period.
As the period drew to a close, CSU forward Ben Smoot charged CU goalie Kevin Litinsky. Smoot drew a penalty and was taken to the penalty box for the first two minutes of the third period.
When the final period began, Starr had two opportunities to tie the game, but one shot hit the right post and the other went over the top left corner. The Buffs, however, dominated possession again just like they had in the second period.
CU tied it 3-3 with 9:46 left in the game on a pass from Seufert to Myers for his second goal of the game. Less than two minutes later, Neitenbach’s pass to forward Matt Ullrich gave the Buffs the go-ahead goal.
Trailing for the first time, the Rams dominated the puck in the final minute of the game. But Litinsky made four crucial saves down the stretch and when CSU pulled its goalie, the Buffs scored an open-net goal to ensure victory.
Myers summarized the game as wonderful and said the team showed a lot of heart coming out by shutting out the Rams after the first period. Litinsky described the team as showing amazing heart and said they never quit.
But the turnaround could also be credited to the coaching staff after head coach Ken Fikis told the team after the first period that they had to be physical.
“We told them they have to use the body more,” Fikis said. “We started banging them, they started turning over the puck and good things happened.”
Although turning up the heat helped the Buffs to victory, they will play CSU again at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in the CU Recreation Center. Fikis said he doubts the second game of this heated rivalry will be as physical as the opener, especially if he does decide to play his third and fourth-line players more. Fikis also said his team couldn’t afford any more injuries after losing defensive captain Scott Cooley for the season because of a broken leg about two weeks ago.
Litinsky estimated he saw at least 40 shots and described the feeling as tunnel vision. But he knew how big of a win this was.
“We needed to change something and that was the physical game,” Litinsky said. “That momentum carries into tomorrow’s game. We’re playing in our barn.”
Contact CU Independent Social Media Editor Zack Shapiro at Zashapiro@colorado.edu.