by Than Acuff
Crested Butte town league hockey is never better than when the temperatures are dipping down below zero. Granted, I get to hang out in the scorers’ booth with a space heater, but I did my time. “Back when coal was king,” it was -35 every night of town league hockey and I was out there in the open air as water molecules froze into snowflakes without a cloud in the sky. I think it’s called sublimation.
Anyway, Tuesday night at the 9 p.m. game between the Talk of the Town and Colorado West Insulation (CWI) temperatures were sitting at –10 degrees Fahrenheit when the puck was dropped, but the temps did nothing to slow the game down as the two teams battled back and forth all game long.
CWI has Joe Otsuka, the current head coach of the high school team, GJ Santelli, the current assistant coach of the girl’s high school team and Bill Frame, 35-year veteran coach of the mini-mites. Not to mention the father-son duo of Colby and Axel Deer and goalie Andrew “Whetstone Garden Deny” Winogradow. So, they should win, right?
But it’s town league and the Talk has their fair share of talent as well with high school boys assistant coach and former CSU player Billy Watson, Downtown Ashley Brown and a player with the best hockey name this season, Nicholas Koukoutsakis.
Regardless, in the end it came down to one particular player that may have had the game of his life. He’s no slouch on the softball field but hockey is a completely different story when it comes to this guy. But on Tuesday night, this guy was the man.
The game started as expected with Watson and Otsuka trading off goals. Otsuka opened the scoring in the second minute of the game skating to goal and roofing a backhand for a 1-0 CWI lead. Watson won the ensuing faceoff and skated straight to net to tie the game 1-1.
Axel and Lawson Yow did a lot of the hard work for CWI, skating furiously up and down the ice, but it was up to Otsuka again to score as he carried the puck from neutral ice to goal and finished for a 2-1 CWI lead.
CWI dominated a majority of the second period but struggled to find the back of the net while the Talk merely bided their time to surge in the closing minutes. They took over puck possession and pinned CWI in their zone until they poked one in when a Watson shot kicked free and Chelsey Wilson poked in the rebound to leave the teams deadlocked 2-2 heading into the third period.
The Talk capitalized on the switch in surge and this guy came out of his hockey shell. Bruce Winchenbach followed on a rush by Watson and when Watson went down, Winchenbach picked up the loose puck to score for the Talk’s first lead of the game. Otsuka responded a minute later but that was his third of the game and therefore would be handcuffed by town league’s three-goal limit rule.
But Winchenbach wasn’t done as he showed some pinpoint precision of his own, skating into the offensive zone and leaving two defenders stumped with his fancy footwork and picking the low corner with a quick wrister to put the Talk back on top 4-3.
The Talk continued to press and scored their fifth goal of the game when a melee broke out in front of the CWI net and Watson found a seam in the mess to score for a 5-3 Talk lead.
With Otsuka at his scoring limit and CWI down two goals, things were looking dire for the CWI squad until Axel finally earned his just reward. After causing havoc all game with his wide-open style of play, Axel found a lane to net and slipped a backhand by Montana Wiggins to pull CWI to within one.
Wiggins proceeded to pull off back-to-back saves and hold off the CWI attack temporarily but the pressure was relentless and CWI finally broke through once more when Otsuka skated in to drop the puck off for Santelli and Santelli scored to tie the game 5-5 with just over two minutes remaining.
Watson broke loose twice in the final minute to try and break the tie but Winogradow denied both attempts and the game closed with a 5-5 draw.