Though Denver hosts Colorado's major-league franchises, the Springs still hosts excellent team sports. Take the Colorado College Tigers hockey team — since 1937, the program has won national championships, sent players to the National Hockey League and fostered a legendary rivalry with the University of Denver Pioneers.
"When I first got here, I knew more about [the rivalry], I think, than other guys, just because I grew up here," says R.J. Enga, who has seen the relationship through several lenses. He played right wing for the Tigers from 1991 through 1995. After stints with minor-league teams, including four seasons with the Colorado Gold Kings and a league championship with the San Diego Gulls, Enga rejoined the Tigers as assistant coach in 2014.
"It was a hard-fought contest," he recalls of CC-DU games. And the fans flock to that intensity. CC's associate athletic director Scott Lowenberg calls the teams' games at the Broadmoor World Arena "the hottest ticket to get in Colorado Springs," usually selling out both here and in Denver.
Locals will attest that the Tigers and Pioneers' rivalry is nothing new. They have been duking it out for an impressive 66 years.
"It was an intense rivalry the whole time I was involved," says Dave Moross. "People took it very seriously." Moross was a sportswriter for the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper starting in the 1970s. After the Gazette bought the Sun and shut it down in 1986, Moross joined CC as its sports information director and stayed nearly 30 years.
He recalls one standout meeting during the 1977-78 season. DU had soundly beaten CC during all four regular season games. But after an upset series victory against the University of Minnesota, CC advanced in the conference playoffs to square up one more time at DU in a two-game, total-goals format.
"Denver may have been the league champion that year, and CC won 6-3 the first night, then lost 4-3 the second night, but won the total goal series 9-7," says Moross. "So with a record under .500 for that year, they got an at-large bid to the NCAA playoff." Though the Tigers were eliminated in the first round at Bowling Green, the victory against DU was sweet.
But as intense as things have gotten, the rivalry hasn't crossed into the malicious rivalries that major-league sports sometimes see.
"I was up at Detroit Red Wings and Avalanche games where there were fights on the ice, fights in the stands, fights in the concourse of the arena," says Moross. "I don't think the DU-CC rivalry ever reached that level of intensity where fans were trying to kill each other or anything like that. It's always been in good fun."
In 1993, Tigers coach Don Lucia and Pioneers coach Frank Serratore agreed to up the ante. They created the Gold Pan, a trophy that travels home with the season series winner. Originally, it was an actual rusty prospector's pan from Cripple Creek. But between the 2003 and 2004 seasons, while in Denver, the pan went missing. In 2005, a new trophy was introduced — a sculpture of a gold pan engraved with the colleges' logos.
"It was nice to have a short-term goal you could accomplish and be proud of as a team within the regular season," says Enga. "All those games, we always felt like we tried to raise our level."