Avenge pre-season loss to valley rival
The Crested Butte Wolfpack avenged a preseason 7-2 loss to the Gunnison Blades with a 6-3 regular season win over Gunnison on Friday, January 11 at Big Mine Ice Arena.
The win was an important step for the Wolfpack in its quest for a league title. While it’s still very early, it’s a strong indication of what the Wolfpack team is capable of this season.
Play was wide open for the opening 10 minutes of the first period with teams trading off opportunities on net without success. Both Crested Butte goalie Zach Van Dyke and Gunnison net minder Derrik Brown managed to find and stop the puck in the thin layer of snow blanketing the rink’s surface.
As is often the case in games between fervent rivals, the first goal can yank the momentum to one side in a heartbeat, and that’s exactly what happened 13 minutes into the game.
The Wolfpack breakout found Robbie Holleran open on the wing in the neutral zone. Holleran carried the puck up the boards, drawing two Gunnison defenders and slid it through to Connor McGuire in the slot for the goal and a 1-0 Wolfpack lead.
On the ensuing face-off, Holleran gathered a loose puck and skated straight to the Blades’ net to stuff the puck into the upper triangle for a 2-0 lead.
Gunnison responded to cut the Wolfpack lead in half as Blades skater Luke Schumacher put Gunnison on the scoreboard in the closing minute of the opening period to cut the Wolfpack lead in half.
The Blades threatened to tie the game in the opening minutes of the second period with two golden power play opportunities, but Van Dyke stopped both to hold off the Blades temporarily.
Four minutes into the second period the Blades tied the game as Shane McGuinness netted a short-handed goal.
One minute later, Holleran responded for the Wolfpack, breaking through the Blades defense to fire a shot off the goalie’s pads that trickled in.
Gunnison’s play dominated a majority of the second period as they continued to pressure the Wolfpack holding tight at the blue line and disrupting the Wolfpack’s breakouts with solid fore checks.
It seemed every time the Wolfpack looked to find some space and clear the puck of its zone, the Blades were there to stuff it back down their throat.
Gunnison’s hard work paid off as they stopped a Wolfpack breakout in its tracks kicking the puck to McGuinness. McGuinness turned to the Crested Butte net and fired a wrist shot past Van Dyke to tie the game once again.
The two teams took the ice in the third period locked in a 3-3 tie and, once again, the first goal would be the most important.
The Wolfpack netted the all-important goal when Sam Evans battled on the boards for the puck in the Blades zone. The puck squirted out off the boards to Eric Jernigan in front of the Gunnison goal; he slipped it through the five hole, giving the lead back to Crested Butte.
More work by Evans along the boards created another goal for the Wolfpack as Evans fed John Tharp high in the slot with a pass.
Tharp tipped the puck to Jernigan on the far post and Jernigan finished once more to build a 5-3 Wolfpack lead with nine minutes left in the game.
Van Dyke came up with two more of his 16 saves that night in the final seven minutes of the game and Tharp scored the Wolfpack’s sixth goal of the night to put the game out of reach of the Blades for good.
The Wolfpack hits the road to face northern division teams Steamboat Springs and Kremmling on Saturday and Sunday, January 19-20.