Watching the April 7 NCAA Division I hockey semifinal was tense.
In a packed living room a few blocks off campus, fears that DU might lose segued into instantaneous cheers for the Pioneers’ overtime victory. Walking home afterward, I still could hear hollering from a nearby bar.
There was an unspoken understanding that beating Michigan—arguably the strongest competition left—may have paved the way for a championship win.
Saturday, April 9, brought nervous excitement. Every restaurant and bar near campus had a watch party planned, and after seeing the crowds Thursday night, my roommates and I planned to arrive more than an hour before puck drop.
The first spot we tried had a line wrapping around most of the bar. Packed picnic tables lined the fan-filled parking lot. A sea of hockey jerseys greeted the eye. Figuring we might have a better chance at a seat elsewhere, we headed to another campus favorite, which was equally crowded.
The line crept forward as a few people were let in every 10 minutes or so. Fans buzzed with predictions for the game. “5:3 DU,” one student said. “One to nothing, DU,” said another. Nobody guessed that Minnesota would win, but nobody guessed the correct score either.
I finally got inside with less than an hour before the game. Amid the variety of students, alumni, fans and assorted onlookers adorned in crimson, gold and white, not a single Mankato Mavericks jersey could be seen.
One student at the corner of the bar wore a Minnesota Wild hockey jersey but taped a sheet of paper reading “SKO PIOS” over it. “I can’t have anyone thinking I’m rooting for Minnesota tonight,” he said. A flagrantly underprepared undergraduate said to her friend, “Argh, I want to run back and get my jersey.”
The roar of the crowd overpowered the pre-game coverage on the televisions. Anti-Mankato chants broke out when the Mavericks took the ice. The floor, bar and stool I was sitting on shook violently when the Pioneers appeared on the screens. As the announcers read off the starting lineups, Denver goalie Magnus Chrona got the loudest cheers.
A standing ovation and full-lunged singalong accompanied the national anthem. Fans quickly launched into a “Let’s Go Denver” chant that was overtaken by “Let’s Go Pios” from the other end of the bar. An enthusiastic “We Love Bobby” (Brink) chant followed.
The initial excitement was tempered by Minnesota State’s strong first-period performance, dominating possession and significantly outshooting Denver. DU received a penalty, sparking complaints from the crowd. But one student responded, “That was, unfortunately, a great call.” After aggressive play from Minnesota, another shouted, “I hope that guy’s going to the box!”
The DU fans fell silent, then erupted into loud boos at Minnesota’s first and only goal.
The second period went much like the first. An aggressive Maverick offense dominated and left Denver few opportunities to take control, let alone shoot the puck. The crowd grew notably somber with each passing moment. Minnesota’s first goal played on the televisions, eliciting loud boos and profanities from the crowd. “That’s just a replay,” one student yelled. “It still hurts to watch,” replied another.
The group’s tone changed dramatically as the third period began. This was it: Twenty more minutes on ice for the Pioneers, and all their fans watching from thousands of miles away to see DU earn its spot as the nation’s best Division I college hockey team.
DU hit the ice hard, charging through the first five minutes. “We’re getting aggressive now,” one fan shouted. Many drinks were thrown into the air when DU scored its first goal with a bit more than 14 minutes remaining in the game.
The Pioneers quickly made up for lost time with a second goal. The crowd roared as DU took the lead for the first time. A “Defense!” chant broke out immediately, underscoring a change in mood. DU not only had an opportunity to win, but also was on track to do so.
After Denver’s third goal, a fan at the bar turned to me and shouted, “Me and him?” pointing at a guy to his right. “We’re going to kiss if we win. You better get the camera ready!” The confused stranger he had pointed at laughed and disappeared into the crowd.
“We should have bought champagne,” an alum said as Minnesota pulled its goalie with three minutes left in the game.
The gloomy nervousness that had plagued the bar for the first two periods was gone. The fans began chanting “One more goal!” moments before an open-net shot from the Pios.
With a scoreboard reading Denver 5, Minnesota 1 at the two-minute warning, we knew it was over. Drinks rained down as strangers, friends and families started to celebrate. The bar staff gave up trying to keep fans from standing on tables. Eyes were glued to the screen, watching the clock tick down, bringing the national championship closer.
Deafening cheers rang out while we counted down the final 10 seconds. “It’s over,” someone yelled excitedly. “We did it!” shouted another. The air filled with a cacophony of shrieks, cheers, laughter and high fives. The masses thinned out quickly as the fans returned to campus afterparties and post-game reruns. The University of Denver’s Pioneers hockey team had won the national championship for the ninth time.