“We allowed a team of a lower caliber to compete with us”
The West Elk Wolverines hit the road this past weekend to face Foothills for two games on the Front Range, coming away with a win and a tie, results that did not sit too well with coach Joe Otsuka or the team.
“We collected three of four points but they should have been a stone-cold lock for four points,” says Otsuka.
Otsuka assigns part of the blame to the holiday break. While the team held workouts as well as they could, the distractions of the holidays and the disruption to the players’ schedules had a rippling effect.
“We came out of the break as best we could,” says Otsuka. “It wasn’t a complete victory.”
The effects of the holiday break were evident in the opening minutes of the first game as the Wolverines fell behind 2-0 in the first six minutes. Despite the early deficit, Otsuka had prepared his team for such an occasion and cooler heads prevailed.
“We’ve talked about, no matter what happens in the first 10 minutes, it’s a long game,” explains Otsuka. “We just want to set the tone for the game in the first period.”
The Wolverines shook the dust off and regrouped to rattle off two goals in a span of 25 seconds midway through the first period, capped by a goal by Gus Hensley on an assist from Patrick Seifert.
Foothills had the final say of the first period though, scoring in the waning minutes to take a 3-2 lead into the second period.
While the Wolverines started taking control of the game as the second period progressed, they continued to suffer through peaks and valleys in their play. While one line would step on the ice and hit on all cylinders, a lull would follow in the Wolverines play, allowing Foothills to stay in contention.
“We started getting more organized in our team play but struggled finding and stabilizing our energy level and finding consistent play,” says Otsuka.
Isaac Evans and Josh Wallin connected in the second period to tie the game 3-3 and the Wolverines started to click in the final period, stringing together long stretches of puck possession.
“In the third period we were able to really contain them and dominate,” says Otsuka. “We got lots of chances but the Foothills goalie was standing on his head in net.”
The Wolverines finally found a seam past the Foothills net minder 11 minutes into the third period and continued to cause havoc in front of the Foothills goal. Evans fired a shot through traffic and while the goalie made the initial save, Jake Wallin followed on the rebound to score and seal the 4-3 Wolverines win.
“It was a great play and something we’ve been working on,” says Otsuka. “You have to create havoc in their place of business. For a transition game, it was a good win.”
The two teams lined up against each other on Sunday, January 4 for a rematch with the Wolverines, playing a much more consistent game of hockey all three periods.
Unfortunately, Foothills managed to take advantage of the few chances they got and the two teams spent all three periods battling back and forth on the scoreboard.
Colby Archuleta and Sam Reaman connected on an early power play to put the Wolverines up 1-0 but Foothills scored the next two for a 2-1 lead. Reaman and Evans each scored in the second period on two more power plays, but Foothills answered back and the two teams finished the second period notched in a 3-3 tie.
Reaman put the Wolverines back on top midway through the third period and with the game in control, the Wolverines looked destined for two wins on the weekend. But a defensive miscue allowed Foothills one last chance and they acted on it to tie the game in the final minute.
“We really picked it up and played better as a team but had six mistakes maybe the entire game and they capitalized on four of them,” says Otsuka.
Overall, Otsuka was a little disappointed with the final results of the weekend, believing they let one win get away.
“We allowed a team of a lower caliber to compete with us,” says Otsuka. “I know that they know they left a point out there.”
The Wolverines varsity have this weekend off while the JV squad will host Craig in Gunnison on Saturday, January 10 at 8 p.m. and in Crested Butte on Sunday, January 11 at 10 a.m.
The varsity team returns to play the weekend of January 16-18 when they head to Littleton for a tournament. Until then, Otsuka will have his team continue to work on what’s in place already with some fine-tuning.
“Rinse, wash and repeat and get more comfortable in our roles,” says Otsuka. “Replicating and executing.”