Win dedicated to Andy Bamberg, creator of the chalice
It had been a while since I’d seen the Crested Butte Storm men’s hockey team in action and right now, I believe, they may be playing their best hockey in the history of the franchise. It showed this past weekend as the Storm finished the Southwest Cup tournament with three wins and a tie to take the 2010 title
I chalk their improvement up to two things.
First, it’s the ice time. I’m a huge fan of Big Mine Ice Arena but the Storm’s workouts as a team and playing in the Gunnison league shows.
Second, over the course of the past two years the Storm paired down their team to a core group of five or six players, pulled in some players from the Pigs and picked up a couple new guys. It’s a potent mix of speed and experience.
The Storm opened the weekend tournament against Telluride on Saturday, March 27. Despite out-shooting Telluride nearly two to one in the game the Storm were down 4-3 facing a Telluride power play in the third period.
Rather than packing in the defense looking to kill the penalty, the Storm remained aggressive to the puck, offering up a short-handed opportunity.
Veteran Storm player Bob Piccaro took advantage of a scrambling Telluride defense and stuffed the game-tying goal top shelf, near post, to avoid a disappointing defeat and offer a chance for the team to regroup for its second game against Western State College later that day.
The Storm had little trouble finding the back of the net against Western State. The Western goalie did what he could to seal the holes in his defense, holding the Storm to a 1-0 lead midway through the second period but a short-handed goal by Mike O’Laughlin opened the flood gates on the Western State net.
The Storm tacked on seven more goals after O’Laughlin’s strike to skate away with a 9-1 win.
The Storm faced the biggest challenge of the weekend Sunday morning against Gunnison squad B&B Printing. B&B Printing was a mix of former Gunnison Blades all-stars and friends from Front Range club hockey programs, as well as former Wolfpack goalie Zach Vandyke.
After two and a half periods of tight hockey, the Storm netted a couple of late-game goals for the 5-2 win and advanced to the finals for a rematch with B&B Printing.
It was an interesting mix of fans at the Gunnison indoor arena for the Southwest Cup finals and offered some insight to the age difference between the two teams. While the parents of the B&B players were in force in one set of stands, the children of the Storm players were running loose throughout the arena while their fathers were busy with the championship game.
That said, the question remained, would the Storm team have the legs for back-to-back wins over the plucky young B&B squad?
The Storm took control of the pace from the drop of the puck, out-skating B&B up and down the ice. Persistent back checking and flawless position play from defensemen Deuce Wynes, Jeff Black, Adam Ofsterdahl and Sean Norton continued to disrupt the B&B attack and offer numerous counter attacks by the Storm.
The Storm struck in the third minute of the game when Tom Collins, made famous for breaking a puck in three pieces with his shot this winter, found Paul O’Connor breaking loose up-ice with a pass.
O’Connor held the puck looking for the goalie to commit one way or the other, and when he didn’t, O’Connor opted to pick the upper triangle near-post for the 1-0 Storm lead.
Twenty seconds later, Wynes cycled in off the blue line in the B&B zone to take the puck and drop it back to O’Laughlin at the point. O’Laughlin unleashed a blistering slap-shot through traffic that found the top shelf over Vandyke’s shoulder.
A penalty gave B&B a power play and a chance to climb back into the game, but the Storm’s hustle left B&B confused for the entire penalty.
Black came out of the penalty box to scoop up a loose puck and find O’Laughlin breaking up-ice with a pinpoint pass.
O’Laughlin finished with a backhand and the Storm was sitting on a 3-0 lead going into the second period.
The pummeling continued in the opening minutes of the second period as the Storm struck again in the second minute. Norton broke up a 2-on-1 counter by B&B and found Wynes cross-ice with a pass. Wynes skated to net to draw a defender and slipped the puck to Kyle Crawley in the slot for the one-timer and a four-goal Storm lead.
B&B recovered midway through the second period to set up a couple of chances on net, but Mike Potts came up with a couple saves and the Storm countered with a late goal by Joe Erickson to build a 5-0 lead with one period left to play.
B&B’s young legs, paired with the Storm’s hesitancy, opened up a comeback in the third period. B&B connected for three straight goals cutting the Storm lead down to two with eight minutes left in regulation.
Frustration got the better part of both teams as they traded off penalties through the final minutes of the game.
B&B pulled their goalie with a little over a minute left to play and had two golden opportunities on net but Potts shut them down to preserve the win and earn the Storm the 2010 Southwest Cup title.