Colorado at Colorado State
Edora Pool and Ice Complex
Fort Collins, CO
November 16, 2019
Colorado State and its archrival, Colorado, are only 50 miles apart in the physical world, but they reside much further from each other in a cultural sense. CU and Boulder are the relative Hollywood. They have Mork & Mindy, Michael Scott (who moved there after he left Dunder Mifflin), the South Park guys, and that line about the stolen mattress in the 2016 Chainsmokers/Halsey hit “Closer.” Boulder, of course, was also the home of JonBenét Ramsey, the victim of one of the most famous murder cases in modern history, and the town’s role in that tragic story can generally be summarized as “look at what a perfect life the Ramseys had before JonBenét was killed.”
Fort Collins has…pretty much none of that. It’s the Rust Belt on the Front Range: chronically overlooked and underrated, but with a fierce pride and a blue-collar ethic that can’t be duplicated in a place that enjoys every luxury and is frequently told how great it is. You can walk around CSU’s campus on a gray, blustery Saturday afternoon in November, make your way through tailgaters getting ready for a big football game between the Rams and visiting Air Force and, aside from those ubiquitous, region-defining mountains in the background and maybe a few extra cowboy hats, you might as well be at Michigan State or Cincinnati. It’s a welcoming, unpretentious place filled with hardworking people like Andrea at the Silver Grill in Old Town, who can deliver the best cinnamon roll west of the Mississippi, and probably east of it too.
Of course, the differences between CU and CSU also extend to hockey.
The Buffaloes play in a gorgeous rink brightened by natural light and built into their campus rec center, while the Rams play at the Edora Pool and Ice Center (usually known by its fun acronym, EPIC), a decent-enough facility but one located a couple miles from campus and downtown Fort Collins, and hosting numerous activities unrelated to the university. If you want to distill things down to one line, Colorado has a school-branded Zamboni with a bold “GO BUFFS!” down the side, and Colorado State has a generic Olympia.
“It’s hard, because when you go to try out for a team, you want to know what they can offer you,” sophomore defender Darby Easterday said. “Well, we need to double our dues based on the ice, because we have off ice, we don’t have campus ice. We struggle, we really do. And then we have problems with getting that ice, where we have 6 a.m. practices and 10 p.m. practices, welcome to CSU hockey. The boys team takes X, Y, and Z, and we’re in a battle with EPIC right now to get better practice times.”
Fellow blueliner Kristen Perry, the team’s captain, agreed: “We’re not handed the luxuries of not paying for practice ice, or game ice, and not having to schedule against youth hockey.”
“Just the ease and what our team can offer incoming freshmen and recruits is not as appealing as, say, [the University of Denver] or CU,” Easterday added.
Those inconveniences relative to their primary recruiting competition can have a chilling effect on the Rams’ depth and talent level, particularly in a climate where most other ACHA Division 1 teams are fully-funded or are club teams that receive a bit more support from their universities.
“We don’t have the depth that other teams do,” Stephanie Talone, a senior forward and the club’s president said. “Our bench, we’ve got two lines, and that’s it. We don’t have healthy scratches, we have to find people to help us take stats. It’s such a hard thing to do.”
“There isn’t the top-notch talent of an NCAA player coming down or leaving NCAA, or even girls [who played] AAA,” Perry said. “We don’t have many of those, a lot of our players are girls who have come from house leagues. So it’s more like we start not with what CSU can give you, but what you can give to CSU, and how we can build upon your skill.”
What do you do, given those circumstances? Sure, you’re allowed some time to complain about it, that’s human nature, but whether you’re in Fort Collins or Buffalo, at some early point you stop talking and get to doing.
You start by making your home a little better however you can, and for Colorado State, that means being one of the ACHA’s most active teams in the community.
On October 19th, the Rams hosted a First Responders Night during their game against Denver.
“For that, we just connected with the Larimer County K-9 unit,” senior forward Katie Hurley explained. “We knew they had been in need of some money, not all of the K-9s have tactical harnesses, they don’t all have bulletproof vests, so we wanted to help give back to the community.”
“We did a cool silent auction, we did a K-9 puck drop, we raised over $1300 for them, and we presented that money to them last week at their training. They were very appreciative, and it was a lot of fun, actually.”
More recently, a couple Rams volunteered to referee the Guns vs. Hoses charity game between the Fort Collins police and Northern Colorado firefighters, held at the Budweiser Events Center in nearby Loveland, the home arena of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles.
“We did Fall Clean Up, which involves helping out elderly people in the Fort Collins area who can’t necessarily sweep up their leaves by themselves, clean up their yard, stuff like that,” Easterday said. “So we coordinated with our club sports office to set that up. We helped two families out, split up the team, took two houses, took a day, and cleaned up the yards.”
Spearheaded by Hurley, a local native and a season ticket holder since she was five years old, the team has also worked to cultivate a relationship with the Eagles and unify the Northern Colorado hockey community, whose growth she feels has come in stops and starts.
“I’ve known Chris Stewart [the team’s first head coach, who currently is the Eagles’ president and general manager], for the longest time,” she said. “His son-in-law was actually my coach for a few years. Former Eagles players are directors of my old hockey organization, and have been my coaches too. As I got older, I kind of knew them going into college. I’ve actually had a few friends who were interns for the Eagles too, so I kind of wanted to have that relationship between our team and theirs.”
“I think especially with the Eagles moving up in leagues and divisions, and then being an Avs affiliate, hockey in general in the entire state has come together, I think it’s becoming bigger and bigger, and it’s really fun to see.”
Another way to beat adversity is through sheer will.
There are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate your level of resolve during a hockey game of course, and although the Rams dropped the home half of their rivalry series against Colorado by a 3-1 count, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. Consider these facts:
- The Buffaloes took an early lead on a Kenzie Zaumseil shorthanded rebound goal, following a CSU turnover. However, just before the end of that same body checking penalty to CU’s Cali Gonzalez, Talone flipped an innocent-looking backhander towards the goal off left wing that surprised Buffs netminder Lexi Hartmann and tied the game.
- In the dying moments of the first period, Colorado star Mariah Dally scored a spinning rebound goal just as the buzzer sounded to give her team the lead back. While just about everyone in the rink outside of those from Boulder thought the puck crossed the line after the period ended, a legal goal was signaled on the ice, and it remained on the board after a brief discussion. Rather than buckle after the play, which was either backbreaking or unfair depending on perspective, the Rams dialed up their intensity even further and kept the visitors off the board for the next 33:30 of game time.
- Rams goalie Teagan Ries battled as much as anyone against the effects of CSU’s short bench that became more and more evident as the game went on. She closed with an incredible 80 saves on 83 shots in what easily qualifies as one of the ACHA’s best goaltending performances this season.
- Although CU’s shot count might give off a different impression, Colorado State remained very competitive throughout, with breakaway threat Megan Johnston and opportunistic Kallie Clements generating consistent chances for a squad that was within one goal of the Buffaloes for all but 6:30 of the evening.
- All of this occurred just nine months removed from the teams’ last meeting, a 13-0 drubbing by Colorado at the 2019 Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League playoffs – a game that saw Dally deliver the further ignominy of a Michigan-style lacrosse goal in the late going, with the contest long decided.
“I know this is a CSU rebuilding year, but things are changing,” Perry observed.
“It’s definitely on the push forward, especially from the games last year. So I think it’s back in that mentality that it’s always back and forth between us, always some good hockey, and it definitely gets a little chippy. It’s really close to the heart with Colorado.”
“I think our culture is really marked by going into every game as ‘don’t go outskill these girls, go outwork these girls,’ because that’s what we have,” Easterday said. “We don’t have the NCAA skill, but we have a group of girls that’s willing to put their hearts and souls in it, because we show up to things like this rink, it’s not the easiest to get to, and stuff like that. So we have the mentality of ‘don’t outskill, outwork.’”
“These girls that are committed, all 15 of us now, we’re really committed,” Talone added. “We’re willing to work as hard as any other bench with twice as many players.”
The Cache la Poudre River runs just north of campus and central Fort Collins, and gets its unusual name from a corruption of the French phrase for “where the powder is hidden.” The incident behind the moniker took place in the 1820s, decades before the United States Army established a camp named after Colonel William O. Collins (an Ohioan, incidentally – this Rust Belt thing runs deep), when a band of French fur trappers was caught in a snowstorm and forced to bury their gunpowder to protect it from the moisture.
That powder is still in the ground today, at least metaphorically, for those able to survive the snowstorm and willing to dig for it.
A couple things happen when a college hockey team demonstrates the resolve that’s characterized its town and its school since the beginning. First, people will take notice and support it, even if it loses more than it wins. And there’s little doubt that’s started to become the case: the crowd at off-campus EPIC was bigger, louder, and more engaged (including numerous homemade signs) than the one that witnessed the teams play the night before on the campus of the more-recently-successful team.
Even more importantly, that effort alters the players making it, both in terms of their relationships with their teammates, and internally – after all, CSU and not NYC is the place where, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Blessed are those who get that powder.
“I would not change our program,” Perry said. “I think having to fight for what we get, and having to deserve everything we have on this team, compared to other schools being handed stuff, makes us who we are. Every girl wearing that jersey is out there to give it 100 percent for themselves, and for the person next to them.”
“Adversity humbles us, and it makes us want to be here, makes us want to play hockey,” Hurley said. “It’s not a chore for us, it’s a privilege to play.”
“Because we don’t come from such high-end backgrounds, we all know what it’s like to work hard, and we’re willing to do that for the people next to us, and that’s kind of what makes our team, what drives our team is knowing that you’re going to play not only for yourself, but for the person next to you, for the coach behind you. I think this team is not just a team, it’s not just a sisterhood, it’s truly a family.”
“A Ramily, if you will,” Easterday quickly corrected.