‘Battle On Blake’ outdoor game creates lasting memories for DU, CC
University of Denver seniors Grant Arnold and Gabe Levin could not have been clearer when addressing their teammates before the “Battle on Blake” on Feb. 20 at Coors Field.
“This is a great event, it’s special,” Arnold said. “But if you don’t get the ‘W,’ it’s not as special for us. That was our message as captains – let’s get a job done, there’s three points on the table.”
And so the No. 7 Pioneers did, defeating rival Colorado College 4-1 in front of 35,144 spectators at the home of MLB’s Colorado Rockies.
Keeping the game – the first outdoor NCAA Division I game in Colorado’s distinguished hockey history – in perspective was easier said than done for both teams. A combined 10 players from the two teams, including eight from DU, are from Colorado and a couple more played some of their youth hockey in the state.
“It was really awesome,” said DU freshman and Highlands Ranch native Troy Terry. “It’s one thing for me to come here and be part of DU, that’s really a dream come true. To play in this outdoor game against our rivals and see how many people are supporting it, it was pretty unreal.”
Added Arnold, who is from Centennial and like Terry, grew up attending many Rockies baseball games: “It was very special for me being a senior. When this game was on the schedule, all four seniors were so pumped we could be part of this great opportunity.”
That’s where Levin’s speech came in handy. The assistant captain twice played in outdoor games in junior hockey in Fairbanks, Alaska, and both times, his Fairbanks Ice Dogs team lost.
“I told the guys not to lose sight of what makes it enjoyable,” Levin said. “I told the guys that as fun as it was and as cool of an experience as it was (in Fairbanks), after the game, we took a team picture and no one smiled, no one was happy. I told the guys make sure we play this game the right way because if we lost three points to (CC), it won’t be as memorable. We wanted to remember it the right way and enjoy it the right way, and the way we played allowed us to do that.”
Players with Colorado ties figured in all four DU goals. Jarid Lukosevicius redirected an Arnold feed and Colorado Springs’ Colin Staub scored on a wraparound in the first period. Former Colorado Thunderbird Dylan Gambrell scored a third-period power-play goal and set up another.
DU coach Jim Montgomery added to the list of memories when he inserted junior goalie Evan Cowley of Evergreen for the final five minutes. Cowley had played exceptional in relief of starter Tanner Jaillet two nights earlier in Colorado Springs, but Jaillet was healthy enough to start in the outdoor game.
“It was obviously a classy move by ‘Monty,’” Cowley said. “Growing up here, my goal was to play well enough to get some action in that game. Usually, I don’t soak up the environment at games, but during one of the breaks, I just sat back and took it all in. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
While the game was crucial for the NCHC standings, the experience was the takeaway for both teams.
“It was not the result we wanted, but it was an amazing experience,” Tigers coach Mike Haviland said. “Both teams were nervous at first, but it was an amazing crowd with an amazing feel. It’s got to feel good for hockey in the state of Colorado.”
The game also left a substantial impression on Montgomery, who admitted he felt more than a small urge to lace up the skates again.
“There was a big part of me that wished I could (have played),” he said. “I’m jealous of these guys. They had this experience in front of 35,000 people. The whole crowd singing, you don’t get that in a hockey game.
“That was something that when we talk about memories that will last, that will be one of them.”
— Chris Bayee