On what would have been Scott Winkler's 24th birthday, his old teammates celebrated with one of the most memorable performances of their careers at Colorado College.
The Tigers, dedicating the night to the late forward who died unexpectedly shortly after graduating last spring, battled tooth and nail before prevailing by a 3-1 count over the University of Denver at a sold-out World Arena and reclaiming possession of the coveted Gold Pan with a weekend sweep of their archrival.
"Tonight was a special night," said senior left wing Alexander Krushelnyski, whose long bank shot into an empty net with 45.5 seconds left iced the victory. "Obviously it's all smiles right now, so surreal, just soaking it all in. It's my last year here and I'm enjoying it. Nothing makes me happier than to bring the Gold Pan back."
Krushelnyski's 100th career point launched the partisan crowd of 7,641 into jubilation just five and a half minutes after freshman winger Alex Roos snapped a 1-1 tie with a top-shelf backhand through a pileup in the DU crease at 13:54 of the third period.
With its third consecutive triumph, CC completed a weekend sweep of the Pioneers and pulled to within five points of them in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings with four games remaining in the regular season.
Colorado College, which also got a first-period goal by junior defenseman Aaron Harstad, improved to 6-9-5 in league play and 6-18-6 overall for the campaign.
"It was an incredible team win this weekend," Krushelnyski said. "The guys played phenomenal. It was Winks' birthday today, which makes it even sweeter. It's just all smiles right now. It's all smiles."
The Tigers, who opened the weekend with a 3-2 victory at DU's Magness Arena on Friday night, finished this one with a 36-26 advantage in shots on goal. But, ahead 2-1, they still needed a splendid glove save by senior netminder Josh Thorimbert on Denver's Trevor Moore in the final minute to preserve their 2-1 lead before Krushelnyski's clearing attempt off the glass in CC's zone found its way into the vacated Pioneers cage.
"I thought if I got it out, Roos would be going and maybe he could score," said Krushelnyski, who became the 74th member of the program's elite Century Club with his 41 goals and 59 career assists. "That's all I was thinking."
Thorimbert finished with 25 saves, including 13 in a scoreless second period, as Colorado College extended its current undefeated streak to four consecutive games (3-0-1) and improved to 4-2-2 in its last eight. The Tigers, 2-1-1 against DU this season, hoisted the Gold Pan for the 12th time in the trophy's 21 years of existence.
Matt Tabrum provided the only chink in Thorimbert's armor, tying the game at 1-1 late in the first frame after Harstad staked CC to a 1-0 lead with a rising one-timer from the point following Jeff Collett's faceoff win in the Denver end at 16:06.
Freshman Jaccob Slavin also helped set up Harstad's tally while senior defenseman Eamonn McDermott and sophomore center Cody Bradley earned assists on the game winner by Roos. Senior goalie Sam Brittain made 33 saves in the Pioneers cage.