Lethargy and energy. Indifference and urgency. Losing and winning. The line between defeat and success is fine, and the Buffaloes have been on the wrong side of it for much of this season.
“Tomorrow is a new day,” Colorado head coach Eric Ballard said after Friday’s demoralizing loss to CSU, another low point in a season full of them.
What a difference a day makes.
The Buffs avenged the defeat by beating the Rams 6-3 Saturday night behind a five-goal explosion in the second period. Six different Buffaloes scored in a game that felt like revenge before the puck dropped.
The Rec Center was packed with black and gold, as few Rams made the trip south. Colorado fans were as angry about Friday night as the players were.
“The energy in the building was really good, and the guys fed off it,” Ballard said. “There’s no question that the CU fans tonight were the sixth man.”
A rowdy group of Colorado students followed CSU goalie Alex Steidler from one end of the ice to the other. Their taunting was merciless; insults ranged from personal (“Your mom hates you!”) to institutional (“I went to CSU for middle school!”). They yelled his name for minutes at a time and once erupted in a frightening rendition of Matthew McConaughey’s chest-pounding, cocaine-fueled voodoo chant from “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
But at the start of the game, the Buffs’ fire was slow to ignite on the ice.
The Rams dominated the first period in attack time, but the Buffs’ defense and freshman goalie Alex Palumbo didn’t break. No one found the net in the first 17 minutes. Colorado killed the CSU’s power play after a penalty called on senior Derek Marenholz and capitalized late in the period on a power play of their own, when junior Nate Grush snuck one past Steidler.
Compared to the first, the second period was an eruption. Steidler broke, with freshman Mitchell Bondur the first Buffalo to beat him in the second period, followed by sophomore Rich Wigton a minute and a half later.
Rams Mitch Coan and Connor Abitz answered both scores, but they would never get closer than two goals behind the Buffs.
CSU couldn’t keep up on the scoreboard, so they began matching every Colorado goal with a hit. The Rams’ Luke Fiegl crushed the Buffs’ David Coleman into the boards, leaving him on his knees for several harrowing moments before he stumbled off the ice. Coleman, cleared by Colorado’s trainers, returned after two minutes on the bench and sent a screamer past Steidler for the Buffs’ third goal of the period.
“Coleman has a heart the size of a basketball,” Ballard said. “He plays like he’s 6-foot-5 and he’s about 5-foot-6.”
After this, Palumbo atoned for another Ram goal by making an instinctive glove save of a slap shot in a face-off. He was a wall the rest of the night. Junior captain Hurley Kane added a breakaway score and Marenholz finished the Rams by netting one with only 7.7 seconds left in the second period.
The third period was as ordinary as the first. Colorado didn’t score, but they didn’t need to. The Rams never posed a serious threat in the final frame, and when the horn sounded, the Buffs hugged at Palumbo’s net before coming to center ice to salute the fans that supported them so rambunctiously.
“After last night’s game, we had a lot more to prove,” Ballard said. “We’re a good hockey team when we give 60 minutes of play.”
Colorado was noticeably more focused than in Friday’s effort, which Ballard credited for the win.
“It’s not about X’s and O’s, and it’s not about who has a better power play or penalty kill or forecheck,” he said. “It is, absolutely, 100 percent about intensity.” That intensity showed.
“There were some choice words in the locker room, and a few threats for a Monday morning skate at 6 a.m.,” Ballard said of the aftermath of last night’s defeat.
His words must have made an impact.
Colorado, now 2-12 for the season in the Western Collegiate Hockey League, still has a long journey before they become a relevant hockey power again. But for one night, the Buffaloes played like their namesake.
Contact CU Independent staff writer Tommy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.