“This is the best hockey you will see all season”
by Than Acuff
Since 1995 hockey teams throughout Colorado have traveled to the Gunnison Valley for a shot at the Southwest Cup title. And for almost all of those 21 years of Southwest Cup action, three men have laced up the skates: Storm players Paul O’Connor, Mike Potts and Willy Miller.
Those three have hoisted the coveted Chalice several times over the years but for the second year in a row, they were denied. B&B Printers of Gunnison defended its 2015 title, edging out a 5-4 overtime win over the Storm on Sunday, March 6.
The two teams faced each other Friday night in the opening game of the tournament, with the Storm getting the best of B&B, skating to an 9-5 win. The Storm went on to win its next three games, while B&B recovered from the opening loss to rack up enough wins to advance to the finals on Sunday for a rematch.
The two teams are a testament to then and now. While the Storm managed to get some help from young guns Ryan Maddux and Don Turner, the rest of the team’s players are well into their forties. Meanwhile, B&B players are almost exclusively in their twenties and the team is a who’s who of Gunnison hockey, including the Stanley brothers, a Cavarra, Scott Shondeck and Andy Howard, to mention just a few.
The difference in age was barely discernible once the puck dropped, though. While it was clear B&B looked to stretch the ice with their speed and leave a player dangling in neutral ice, the Storm was spot-on in defending against their strategy.
The Storm struck first, taking advantage of a face-off in the B&B zone and dropping the puck to O’Connor at the point. O’Connor found Mike O’Loughlin circling around in the high slot with a quick pass and O’Loughlin ripped his shot off the post and in.
And while B&B’s strategy had the potential to bite them in the ass, the Storm needed to take advantage of it early and often. Unfortunately, they did not, including missing out on two powerplay situations, and Kevin Stanley was stout in net.
The strategy also provided ample opportunities for rushes into the Storm zone, and while Potts was equally spot-on in net, B&B eventually broke through late in the period. As the Storm collapsed to cover the front of their net, Shondeck was left open on the point and he made them pay, drilling a slapshot through traffic to tie the game 1-1.
B&B continued with their wide-open style but the hustle of Adam Ofsterdahl for the Storm helped to break up two odd-man rushes and turn the puck back up-ice. Once the Storm got settled into their offense and mixed in hard work in the corners with puck movement, they were able to exploit B&B for a second strike as O’Loughlin fired away and Miller tipped it in.
B&B tied it back up four minutes later as a melee broke out in front of the Storm net and Howard picked through the flesh pile and pushed the puck past Potts, tying the game 2-2.
Hoping to seize on the swing in momentum, B&B continued to press, only to get caught out of position as Maddux sprinted free up-ice with the puck and two Storm players in tow. Maddux drew the lone B&B defenseman and slipped the puck over to O’Loughlin for him to finish the job and a 3-2 lead heading into the third and final period.
Disaster struck for the Storm in the opening minute of the third period as B&B exploited two mistakes to light the lamp, as Braden Mota and Howard both struck to give B&B their first lead of the game.
Additional disaster struck for the Storm as a goal was called off. While players in the slot for the Storm declared it was over the line and swept out by a B&B player, the refs saw it differently and waved off the goal.
Down, but far from out, the Storm kept plugging away and tied the game back up two minutes later as Maddux pulled to puck off the boards and found Tom Collins open at the point. Collins took the time to size up the target before blasting his shot over Stanley’s shoulder, tying the game back up 4-4.
The work of Stanley and Potts in net would hold the tie through regulation and late into the first overtime. Both Potts and Stanley came up huge in overtime and the teams traded off rushes on net, but it wasn’t until the final 20 seconds of the first overtime that the game was decided. As the Storm pressed, B&B cleared the puck up the boards and Howard sprinted out on the loose puck and straight to net to take a little of what he learned playing Juniors both in the U.S. and Canada to beat Potts, giving B&B the 5-4 OT win and their second consecutive Southwest Cup title in a row.
Jim Stanley, former Powder Pig and father to two B&B players, said it best at the game: “This is the best hockey you will see all season.”