Record improves to 6-1-1
by Than Acuff
The West Elk Wolverines came off a two-week break from games to fire off three wins and are now sitting at the top of the league standings with a record of 6-1-1.
Two weeks ago, the team headed to Denver for a tournament and finished with mixed results and a lot to work on.
“The tournament in Denver highlighted some areas that we needed to work on and some areas where we needed to go back to the drawing board,” says coach Joey Otsuka.
Otsuka made the most of the two weeks off from games to get the team focused on their revised game plan and, for the most part, saw the fruits of their labor on their recent road trip back to Denver last weekend.
“We changed some things we do with our breakout and defensive play and it was nice to see that over the weekend and the players implementing them,” says Otsuka.
The Wolverines opened the three-game road trip Friday, January 29 against Centaurus, and after a slow start to their scoring, they eventually caught fire to skate to a 6-1 win.
They broke the ice nine minutes into the first period when Ethan Shaw scored during a power play. Goals from Liam Reily and Lucas Solanik in the second period put the Wolverines up 3-0 heading into the third period. Patrick Seifert opened the scoring two minutes into the third period with Solanik and Shaw each netting their second goals of the game before Centaurus poked a late one by Wolverines netminder Logan Brennise.
In the end, the Wolverines outshot Centaurus 52-13 and while it took awhile to break through, the team’s patience paid off.
“The biggest thing we can take from the 6-1 win is that in the beginning we owned the puck so much we probably owned interest on the mortgage and the kids were getting frustrated,” says Otsuka. “It was really good to see patience from teenagers and nice to see those goals come in the second and third period.”
Frustration is hard to hold back, though and the Wolverines had a rough time remaining focused during their game against the Columbine Junior Eagles on Saturday, January 30. Despite outshooting the Junior Eagles 61-2, the Wolverines finished with just a 3-0 win on two goals from Gus Hensley and one from Solanik and a shutout for goalie Cam Curtiss.
While they did emerge with the win, Otsuka did have words to share with his squad following the game reminding them that while there may be an easier way to win, the systems in place are there for when the Wolverines face the tougher opponents.
“It was a 3-0 win but after the game I kind of reamed them. We focus on offensive puck possession combined with a commitment to net-front position and looking for those complex shooting lanes,” says Otsuka. “We’re preparing for the big games where you have to be able to score that ugly goal. It’s what is going to win you championships.”
With Otsuka’s words still ringing in their ears, the Wolverines returned to the ice Sunday, January 31 for their second match-up with the Junior Eagles. Again, rather than play the easy way to the win, Otsuka called upon his players to play a better game of hockey.
“It’s like candy,” says Otsuka. “It feels great at the time and then you balloon out and weigh 400 pounds.”
The Wolverines responded, outshot the Junior Eagles 53-10 but kept their heads on and skated to another 3-0 win. Hensley netted his third goal of the weekend, and Colby Archuleta and Walker Carroll scored the other two.
“We were more poised, patient with the puck and it was a much better game,” says Otsuka. “It was a very mature style of hockey out there.”
The Wolverines will return home this weekend as they host Glenwood Springs in Gunnison on Sunday, February 7 at noon.