The University of Colorado men's hockey team bounced back from a disappointing 4-3 loss to in-state rival Colorado State in December by edging the Rams 7-5 on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd at the CU Ice Arena.
With the victory, the Buffs extend their winning streak to four games and improve their overall record to 20-7, while also claiming the season series with the Rams, three games to one. The Buffs' other victories came by scores of 5-3 and 4-2. The Rams fall to 19-8-1 on the season.
CU, ranked No. 1 in the ACHA West region, likely will retain that ranking over No. 2 CSU and may receive the region's top seed for ACHA Nationals in March.
Head Coach Ken Fikis was proud of his team's performance and the contributions made by every line.
"We have a tendency of getting leads and then blowing it," he said. "Tonight we got a lead, kinda blew it, but then the kids decided it was time to play. It was really great on the bench. I'm really proud of them. We got goals out of every one of our lines tonight."
It didn't take long for either team to establish a physical presence on the ice; seven penalties were called in the first period alone, four against the Buffs.
CU took the early lead on a power play goal from A.J. Koller at 4:32 of the first period, but CSU answered four minutes later with a goal from Parker Harrison.
The Buffs had two 5-on-3 advantages within a minute-and-a-half span of the first period, but were unable to capitalize on either attempt. Harrison scored his second of the game for CSU in a 4-on-4 situation at 13:56, and Andrew Gillis scored for the Buffs two minutes later to end the period.
"It was a real physical game," Gillis said. "That's what added to the intensity, and that's what got the crowd into it."
CU came out of the locker room with a vengeance, scoring its second-straight goal just 22 seconds into the second period; Mark Viau picked up the goal, with assists from Scott Portnoy and Andrew Neitenbach.
Both teams took a number of penalties in the period as defensive play increased. The Buffs scored their third straight goal on a shot from David Starr just over halfway through the game to take a 4-2 lead after two periods.
After a comparably defensive-minded second period, scoring broke wide open in the third. CSU's Alex Juhrs and A.J. Hau silenced the home crowd with two goals 17 seconds apart in the first 44 seconds of the third to tie the game at 4-4.
CU answered with a power play goal from Conor Williams four minutes later to take a 5-4 advantage. The scoring onslaught continued with another CSU goal three minutes later to again tie the game.
The Buffs finally took the lead for good with 6:43 left in the game as Starr snuck one past Rams goaltender Mike Dlugos.
Kevin Litinsky made several big saves in goal for CU as time ran out. Viau iced the Buffs' victory with an empty-net goal with 5.9 seconds left in the game.
"This is huge for our entire program," Gillis said. "It sets us on the right pace for nationals and definitely sets us for a number one seed in the country after this hopefully."
The Buffs will be off until Friday, when they face the University of Northern Colorado at 7:30 p.m. at the CU Ice Arena.