Chase Engdahl is one of the veterans of Colorado Mesa University’s hockey team. Before coming to the Grand Valley, the team’s captain played in many important games for previous teams.
However, one game will stand out more than any other. That game took place Nov. 4. Forget the result of the game: a thrilling 5-4 comeback win in overtime against Colorado School of Mines. For Engdahl, what happened prior to the game brought out the emotion of an already passionate player.
“That was one of the most emotional moments of my life if I’m being honest,” Engdahl said. “Pretty much had to hold back tears. I had a frog in my throat. It was mainly due to the support that everybody in this building showed.”
As part of the second-annual Pink The Rink Charity event, Engdahl participated in the ceremonial puck drop. The guest of honor? His aunt, Bonnie Coffer, who in January was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was able to defeat the disease and drop the puck in front of an attendance never seen before at Glacier Ice Arena. The stands weren’t just packed, standing room was hard to find. People circled around the boards in multiple rows, standing and cheering on CMU.
“The fans definitely came to support,” defenseman Tony Falcon said. “I think that’s definitely gonna show in the funds that we ended up raising.”
“I think the obvious one [difference] is attendance,” Engdahl said. “We thought we had a big crowd last year. Compared to tonight it was nothing. I’ve never seen that many people crammed in here. We had the boards wrapped, the fans in the stands were shoulder-to-shoulder. Hands down the biggest difference was just overall support, and I think overall support from not only CMU, but the community.”
The community had no problem rallying behind the team this year. U.S. Bank had their logo stitched on top of those ever-so-popular pink jerseys. Sponsors were on the back of the “Puck Cancer” and “Pink The Rink” t-shirts fans wore to the game. Even pink towels were handed out to people as they arrived to the game.
The rink was lit in pink as the Mavericks took the ice, people cheered on the ceremonial puck drop and banged on the boards to hype themselves up prior to the game starting. At first, it was a frustration for the Mavericks and their fans. After two of the three periods of regulation, CMU trailed 4-1 to the visiting Orediggers. The emotions were there, fights broke out and players on both sides were ejected.
The emotion of everyone in that arena reached new heights in the final period of play. CMU was able to tie the game. Engdahl, playing in his final Pink the Rink game at CMU, had a clear message to the players with the score 4-4 with six minutes left to play.
“We don’t fucking quit,” Engdahl said to his teammates. “We finish this game out.”
For the majority of the final six minutes the Mavericks played with a man down, they did not quit. CMU took the game into sudden-death overtime. This time they were a man up, and Marcus Eliasson capitalized. The puck hit the net and the building reached a new decibel level of loudness. The comeback complete, a story that couldn’t be written any better if someone tried.
“I’ll be honest, I told Marcus Eliasson that I loved him,” Engdahl said. “I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. That goal meant a lot to me personally and it meant a lot to the team, the community and the school.”
“I was sitting there trying to hold back the tears as well,” Falcon said. “Just seeing the support from our fans and the community, to come out with a win was definitely very emotional, especially in overtime.”
After the game, players shared an even more personal and touching moment with some of the fans who came out to support them. Winners of the jersey raffle were put into a room where they got to pick a jersey. A family member won Engdahl’s jersey. The hero of the day, Eliasson, was able to give his jersey to his girlfriend. Fans and players shared hugs and handshakes before a photo of the players and raffle winners ended the festivities.
While it’s uncertain the amount of money the game raised, players are hopeful it can match last year’s record-breaking $10,000. And for Engdahl and Falcon, their goal of bringing a hockey culture to Grand Junction was validated that day.
“When we first got here there was probably about 30 people in the stands,” Falcon said. “Going from 30 to probably over capacity and boards being wrapped all around, two layers of people on the boards as well. It’s pretty amazing to see how far this team and this program have come. And I hope to see it keep getting bigger even after we leave here.”