Team wins league to earn first berth to states
The Crested Butte Wolfpack hockey team dominated the league tournament winning three games in a row to advance to the state tournament for the first time in the team’s history.
At the beginning of the season, coach Phil Martin and his senior players expected nothing less.
The team won an impressive 12 games in a row heading into the final weekend of the regular season but lost its last two games to Durango.
The losses meant the Wolfpack entered the playoff tournament the number two seed and faced Grand Junction in the first round. The Wolfpack made quick work of Grand Junction to advance to the final four league playoff and meet an unknown Moffat County team in the first game Saturday, February 23.
The Wolfpack took a 1-0 lead in the first eight seconds of the second period on a goal by Robbie Holleran but Moffat County responded with two goals of its own to take a 2-1 lead into the final period.
The Wolfpack continued to pressure the Moffat County net but their goalie proved worthy of the challenge, turning several Wolfpack shots away.
"Moffat had an incredible goaltender," says Martin. "He took up so much of the net."
John Tharp finally found an opening to tie the game 2-2 eight minutes into the third period.
Moffat County threatened to break the tie in the final minute of the game, but a backcheck by Sam Evans broke up the play, sending the game into overtime.
The Wolfpack took just one minute of overtime to make the difference, when Evans dove at the blue line to keep the puck in the Moffat County zone. Seconds later, Mo Gillie found Evans open and fed him for the game-winning goal to advance to the next round.
The next game early Sunday morning gave the Wolfpack a shot at revenge against Durango.
The Wolfpack worked all week long on defending against Durango’s breakout and the strategy worked.
During the two previous games in which Crested Butte faced Durango, Durango got early leads on the Wolfpack. This time around,the Wolfpack struck first when Holleran found the net nine minutes into the first period.
But Durango came roaring back, scoring three goals in a row to take a 3-1 lead in the second period.
The Wolfback responded with Holleran and Gillie each scoring to tie the game 3-3 but Durango broke the tie with a goal to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.
The Wolfpack remained focused following their strategy to shut down Durango’s offense and Holleran and Tharp each scored in the final period for the 5-4 Wolfpack win and a spot in the league tournament finals.
"We worked on forcing their breakouts up the middle where they would run into two defenders and possibly a third with the wing pinching in," says Martin. "It was the fastest paced game the league has ever seen." Gunnison defeated Durango, resulting in a Gunnison Valley showdown in the finals.
For the third time this year, the Wolfpack won the valley rivalry, handing the Gunnison Blades a 5-3 loss.
Crested Butte took a commanding 4-0 lead on a goal by Holleran, two from Tharp and the fourth goal coming from Kyle Hecker.
Tharp netted his third goal of the game four minutes into the third period and the Wolfpack held on for the win and a trip to the state tournament.
"To beat them in that game was unbelieveably great," says Martin. "Everyone on the ice played great."
The Wolfpack now heads to face the big boys of Colorado high school-age hockey as they match up against teams from Pueblo and Boulder, as well as the Colorado Junior Eagles.
"We’re going up against much bigger teams but we’ve got momentum and we’ve got drive," says Martin. "To accomplish what we have so far is incredible."