Two years in the making
After two years of heckling and hatred from local fans and opposing teams, the Eldo emerged at the pinnacle of local hockey, winning the 2009 town league hockey title at Big Mine Ice Arena on Friday, February 21.
Prior to the start of last year’s town league hockey season, the Eldo was favored to take the title. Yet, with a target on their back all season long, they succumbed to the pressure, falling short of the pre-season predictions.
This year, with no one to point a finger at them, the Eldo was free of all the pressure of expectations and managed to play through the regular season minus the hatred/envy of the local fans and their opponents, for the most part.
Sure, some teams, and fans, still held a grudge against the Eldo, feeling that the team had somehow manipulated the draft two years ago to build a town league hockey powerhouse. Yet, after falling short of their destiny last season, they were largely left alone this year.
They finished the regular season with a record of 5-0-1 and headed into the post-season the second seed behind Mikey’s Pizza, which also finished 5-0-1 but with fewer goals allowed and thus the first seed.
Friday night opened at Big Mine Ice Area with a battle for third place between the Brick Oven and the Last Steep. The Brick Oven took the third-place trophy home with a 6-2 win as Chris Tanis scored three goals and Dick Whiting, Frank Konsella and James Brennan had one apiece.
Last Steep skater Sean Hartigan had both assists on Dave Daumit’s two goals, including a blistering slap-shot from just inside the blue line.
With the consolation game over and the Crested Butte Parks and Recreation crew laying down a fresh sheet of ice, the stage was set for the championship game.
The two teams had met once during the regular season and it ended in a tie, adding to the tension preceding the showcase showdown between the two title contenders.
Mikey’s Pizza owned the opening three minutes of the game, led by the slicing and dicing of Chris Eaton as he weaved his way through the outstretched sticks of the Eldo forwards and found seams between the typically impenetrable defensive line of Paul O’Connor and Bob Piccaro.
The effort of Eaton paid off three minutes into the first period, when O’Connor was caught cheating in off the blue line on offense and Eaton carried the puck end-to-end to score.
The goal woke the Eldo up from their early game confusion as they looked to Guy Ciulla up top for some offensive punch.
Ciulla broke through twice for golden opportunities on goal but Mikey’s Pizza net minder Reed Schaub turned both attempts away.
It took a hard-nosed effort from forward John Hickey to set up the Eldo’s first goal midway through the first period, as Hickey battled behind the net to win the puck and found Piccaro slipping in off the blue line with a pass.
Piccaro settled the puck, looked up to find his target and picked the low corner clean with a backhand, tying the game 1-1.
Ciulla broke the Schaub snafu on his third attempt, taking a pass from Kurt Olson in the neutral zone and skating to net to score, giving the Eldo a 2-1 lead.
With Mikey’s Pizza working to shut down O’Connor and the Eldo looking to close off Eaton, the two teams battled back and forth through the second period. Both Schaub and Eldo goalie Tom Brother were challenged with shots in close and both came up with key saves to keep the game tight.
Ciulla broke free in the neutral zone with three minutes left in the second period, and rather than look in close for a shot, Ciulla opted to fire a slapshot on the move, catching Schaub off-guard and giving the Eldo a 3-1 lead.
With Eaton creating havoc every time he handled the puck, the ice opened up for his teammates and Bill Frame made the most of the chance, working hard along the boards. Frame slipped in off the blue line in the Eldo zone to beat two Eldo players to the puck and found Mike Larsen alone in the slot with a quick no-look pass. Larsen took the gift and stuffed it past Brother to cut the Eldo’s lead back down to one.
The Eldo responded two minutes later when O’Connor carried the puck behind Mikey’s net and found Olson in the high slot with a pass through traffic. Olson settled the puck and slipped it past Schaub to rebuild the Eldo’s two-goal lead heading into the third period.
As the fans basked in the glow of a propane heater and sipped fresh Eldo keg beer, O’Connor barked out instructions to his team, reminding them of their roles on the ice. The team heeded O’Connor’s words, playing solid fundamental hockey in the third period, while Mikey’s Pizza suffered several untimely penalties, quashing their hopes of a third-period comeback.
Ciulla put the icing on the cake with 43 seconds left, taking a pass off a face-off and drilling the puck into the back of the Mikey’s Pizza net for the 5-2 Eldo championship win.