Opening night provides flashes of hot action
Opening night of the revamped men’s competitive league hockey season wasn’t everything one could hope for but it was definitely a good start to what may become a great season of local hockey action.
Every team consists of players who, while strong individually, have rarely played together. As a result, individual play was the fallback strategy with glimpses of organized team play shining through at random times throughout the games.
In addition, the teams do not have names yet, let alone uniforms, making for a Lights versus Darks scenario in both games Friday night, January 4.
Still, opening night was not without its highlights and was a breath of fresh air from both the slower pace of the open coed town league and the agro setting of the Pigs, Storm and Cutters match-ups from the former men’s competitive league.
Furthermore, the new men’s league attracted a handful of players who had given up men’s competitive league when the morale, and morality, of the game dissipated.
Players like Jack Gibbons, one of the original Pigs players who had moved to Master’s league play, suited up, as did former Storm standout John Featherman, to name a few.
The opening game of the 2008 men’s competitive league season started off slowly with one team showing up with six players and their opponent a mere seven players. The low numbers resulted in a wide open first period of four-on-four hockey.
For those of you who don’t know, the game is played with five players per side plus a goalie. When it drops down to four-on-four it makes for exciting offensive output on the ice with plenty of room and time for players handling the puck.
Darks struck first one minute into the game, as Bob Piccaro took a pass from Jeff Ryba and flicked the puck in the upper triangle on the near post.
The Darks continued to control the game for the entire period, shelling Lights net minder Mike Potts with shots. Some of Crested Butte’s top scorers in history were getting wide-open opportunities on Potts, but his play was near flawless, turning away numerous point-blank shots.
The Lights had a brief flurry with three minutes left in the opening period, linking together a series of shots and rebounds, but Darks goalie Tom Brother was unbeatable, coming up with several stops holding the Darks’ 1-0 lead.
The Darks netted two more goals in the closing minutes of the first period, with Piccaro in on both strikes. Piccaro found Tim Seifert in front of the net with a pass and Seifert finished for a 2-0 lead. One minute later, Piccaro followed up on a rebound from a Matt Whiting shot to stuff the puck top shelf, giving the Darks a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.
Then, Brian Murphy showed up for the Lights, igniting a three-goal second period. It took just 20 seconds for Murphy to make his presence known in the game as he gathered the puck at the point, evaded an onrushing Darks’ defender and fired a wrist shot to the lower corner, past the outstretched blocker of Brother.
Lights player Sean Norton took advantage of the open format of four-on-four play a minute later. After scooping up the puck in front of his net, Norton skated end-to-end through a couple of hapless poke check attempts by his opponents and beat Brother one-on-one to cut the Darks’ lead down to one goal.
The Darks responded firing a series of shots on net to counter the Lights’ onslaught, but Potts held tight to turn them back. While most goalies may lose their momentum after giving up three goals, Potts appeared to gain momentum despite the three early strikes, leaving the door open for the Lights to complete the comeback.
His team responded as Murphy drifted out of the defensive zone behind the Darks defenders to receive a clearing pass and a clear path to the net. As Darks goalie Brother skated out to cut off the angle, Murphy showed the wrist shot but pulled the puck across to his backhand and slipped the puck by Brother for the game-tying goal.
By the end of the second period, more players for both teams showed up and they switched to regulation five-on-five play. The change drastically reduced the amount of open ice, created more pressure on the puck and thus forced both teams to switch from individual efforts to team play.
Tom Collins kept the charge of the Light brigade alive in the opening minutes of the third period, scoring on an assist from Norton to give the Lights their first lead of the game.
After a scoreless second period, the Darks used a power play in the third period to find its offense again and respond to the Lights’ four-goal scoring streak.
Skating with a man advantage, Ryba took a pass from Whiting and fired a no-angle shot past Potts to tie the game once again 4-4.
The Darks took the lead back midway through the third period as Gibbons dropped the puck back to Featherman at the point and Featherman fired a low slap shot through traffic to give the Darks a 5-4 lead.
The Lights responded with back-to-back goals from Collins and Murphy. Murphy, always prone to hang out in the neutral zone, flicked a clearing pass onto Collins for Collins’ second goal of the game, to tie the game one last time 5-5.
Murphy continued to drift in the neutral zone for the Lights and was handed a gift with five minutes left in the game.
As the Darks’ defenders pinched in off the blue line on offense, the puck squirted past them to Murphy for one last one-on-one. Murphy carried the puck straight to goal, beating Brother on the one-on-one and giving the Lights a 6-5 lead.
Potts held tight in the closing minutes of the game to preserve the slim one-goal lead, giving the Lights the first win of the 2008 men’s competitive league season.
Fans showed up for game two of opening night and were treated to more individual highlights. Due to low turnout from both sides for game two, players from the early game filtered in on the two teams of the next game and the game finished with 12 goals scored between the two teams.
Men’s league action will continue every Friday night with games at 7 and 8:45 p.m. unless there’s a conflict. Such is the case on Friday, January 11 with a Wolfpack game scheduled. As a result, there will be a men’s league game at 8:45 p.m. and the 7 p.m. game is rescheduled for Sunday, January 13 at 9 p.m.
Teams will continue to share players as the season continues in an effort to provide enough players per team each game.