Tigers’ gritty defensive effort forces decisive battle for Gold Pan

bergh vs duColorado College got the strong start and superior goaltending it needed to force a regular-season finale that decides ownership of the Gold Pan rivalry trophy with a 2-1 road win at No. 6 Denver on Friday night.

CC junior goalie Alex Leclerc made save after save (26 stops) all night long, including an early National Collegiate Hockey Conference Top Plays nominee  — according to the league’s Twitter account – six minutes into the third period. Leclerc has allowed only five goals in the past four games.

“Alex played a hell of a game,” CC senior Mason Bergh said in a radio interview.

Denver pulled its goalie with 1:43 left and generated some pressure but the Tigers kept the Pioneers at bay.

The Tigers’ win evens the season series at 1-1-1 and sets up the decisive game Saturday night at World Arena. Denver (19-9-5, 11-9-3-3 NCHC) retains possession of the Gold Pan with a tie. With Friday’s win, the Tigers (14-17-4, 8-12-3-0) are 3-2-1 in their last six games at Magness Arena.

“We wanted to give ourselves a chance to fight for it on Saturday night,” Bergh said. “We have played each other 20 games during my career so it’s not hard to get up for this.”

“They did a good job locking it down in the third period,” Denver coach David Carle told pioneers.com.  “(Leclerc) was really good. Pucks were sticking to him.”

Sixth-place Colorado College got all the goals it needed in the first period starting with a breakthrough goal for Bergh.

He scored just 1:26 into the game to end a 20-game scoring drought dating back to Dec. 1. The power-play tally, which came on CC’s first shot of the contest, was assisted by Bryan Yoon and Trey Bradley.

“I definitely needed it and it was good to get the team going early,” Bergh said. “I tried to keep (the pressure) out of my head. Hopefully more good things to come but more importantly we get the win. We tried to push hard here at the start and we did a good job.”

Bradley made it 2-0 when he lifted in the puck off a rebound on a hard shot by Bergh with 1:39 left in the first period while on a delayed penalty that was drawn by Bergh.

The Pioneers battled back when Colorado Springs native Colin Staub scored as he fell to the ice to cut the margin to 2-1 midway through the second period.

But Leclerc and a gritty defensive effort by the skaters in front of him did not allow the Pioneers to get any closer.

“The guys did a good job grabbing that momentum back,” Tigers coach Mike Haviland said. “You could see the effort from everybody doing all they can to get a win on the road. I am real proud of them.”

Ice chips

CC’s win clinched the No. 2 playoff seed for No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth, which lost 5-4 at top-ranked St. Cloud State earlier on Friday. … DU leads fourth-place Western Michigan by a single standings point so CC’s first-round playoff foe remains undecided. WMU won 5-1 at Miami earlier. … With a goal and assist, Bergh has 99 college career points. … Fifth-place North Dakota’s streak of 16-straight top-half finishes in conference play, the longest in the nation, has officially ended with WMU defeating Miami.  No. 5 seed UND will be at either WMU or DU next weekend.

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