Rocky Mountain Center Ice Showdown: CSU taking on CU at Pepsi Center

The CSU hockey team in practice earlier this week slam up against the boards. The Rams have been preparing for their match up with CU-Boulder at the Pepsi Center on Friday for the Rocky Mountain Center Ice Showdown. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
The CSU hockey team in practice earlier this week slam up against the boards. The Rams have been preparing for their match up with CU-Boulder at the Pepsi Center on Friday for the Rocky Mountain Center Ice Showdown. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.

As the temperatures changes and leaves continue to blanket the ground of Colorado, the time is upon us for another battle between CSU and its Boulder rival. The clash between the University of Colorado now takes attention on professional ice.

Over the last four years Colorado State hockey has taken to the ice at the Pepsi Center, bringing together the competitive passion spanning the 47 miles between Fort Collins and Boulder.

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“This is always kind of the highlight of our season,” head coach Kelly Newton said. “To play in front of our fans in a great venue and against our arch rivals, adding the fact that it is a Divsion I league game as well too, obviously it makes it that much more important to win.”

In a span of 60 minutes, the puck will decide which team earns the title of Rocky Mountain Showdown victor. Under one roof on  Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. CSU hockey will look for its first victory over CU at the ACHA D-I club level.

Senior defensemen Kyle Nitchen knows the duel between the Buffs all too well. As a pivotal player on the ice for the last four years, Nitchen takes his experience and dedication into Saturday’s game in hopes of being the in-state victor.

“No I don’t like CU, but that’s just because there’s that CSU-CU rivalry and culture which makes it a lot of fun,” Nitchen said. “CU is probably not even as close as a team as we are; we have way more depth and skill. The games always are going to be close and a tight battle because there is that tension, that pride that both teams are playing for.”

Pride, tension and excitement all come during regular season play, though it often cannot relate to the drive when playing on national-level ice.

“It’s awesome playing in the Pepsi Center,” Nitchen said. “The ice is better than we have ever touched. The venue itself, we have a couple thousand fans that usually come out — it just makes it so fun. There’s the CU side, the CSU side; it has been just a great experience.”

Last season, the Rams swept all four games against the Buffs, along with winning three out of the last four games in the Pepsi Center: 2009 (3-5), 2010 (6-3),2011 (5-4) and 2012 (5-2).

For both CSU and CU, the lineups are compiled with fresh faces and new skates. According to Newton, the CU team, headed by first-year head coach Eric Ballard, faces being a Division I newcomer like CSU.

“The No. 1 strength we have as a team is our speed,” Ballard said. “We got some decent skill and our guys really want to play the game. Energy is great going into Saturday; we just arn’t putting a lot of pressure on it.”

The Buffs are 1-4 on the season after taking one win in the Division I Showcase last weekend. CU has 17 freshmen on its lineup, knowing this season to be about changing the culture and developing from scratch.

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“We’ve got really young team; I understand our limitations,” Ballard said.

Though the Rams have not prepared for specific players on the Buffs team, CSU is confident in its preparation and ability to control the ice. In both Tuesday and Thursdays practices, CSU focused in on one-on-one face offs and power play drills.

“We just need to work hard and not underestimate them,” Newton said. “So the last thing we want to do is be out-played. I think all we need to do is show up and get the win.”
Hockey Beat Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at sports@collegian.com