Fall in shootout in semis
by Than Acuff
The WEHA Wolverines midget (high school) hockey team wrapped up their season last weekend at the state tournament, eventually falling in the semifinals.
Injuries plagued the Wolverines all season but they persevered and the tournament provided one last opportunity for them to step up their game.
“The injuries this year were insane but you’re going to have that, that’s the X factor,” says coach Joey Otsuka. “We went in very relaxed, in very good condition and with an honest commitment to each other to go as far as we could.”
The Wolverines opened the tournament against Littleton on Friday, March 11 and rose to the occasion building a 2-1 lead in the first period. They gave up three goals in the second, scoring only one in response, to fall behind 4-3 and Littleton then iced the 5-3 win with one last goal in the third period. What didn’t show up on the scoreboard was an honest three goals that the Wolverines scored but that the ref never saw.
“It was a great effort and the tone in the locker room was that we won the game,” says Otsuka.
The Wolverines licked their wounds and returned to the ice later that day to come out on fire, jumping out to a 3-0 lead over Boulder on goals from Lucas Solanik, Jakob Faison and Colby Archuleta. Solanik scored his second goal of the game early in the second period on a powerplay and Danny Stoneberg put the Wolverines up 5-0 scoring off an assist from Gus Hensley.
“We were just dominating and scored really dynamic team goals, things we had been working on,” says Otsuka.
Then things fell apart as Boulder started climbing back into the game, rattling off four goals before the Wolverines clamped down to hold on for the 5-4 win.
“Getting scored on three times in two minutes is like getting ice cold water dumped on you, then being lit on fire and then being told to keep calm,” explains Otsuka. “But, we put our first line out there in the end and told them, just kill the clock, and they did.”
The Wolverines had a much easier go of things Saturday, March 12, cruising to a 6-1 win over Ranch hockey club. Hensley netted two goals and Tristan Spezze, Ian Turner and Gage Meredith each scored one apiece to take a 5-0 lead in the first period. Sam Stepanek tacked on a sixth goal in the second period and Ranch managed just one goal in the third as the Wolverines closed out the game 6-1.
“We absolutely dominated them from start to finish,” says Otsuka.
The Wolverines then lined up again on Saturday to face Arvada, falling behind 2-0 in the first period. The Wolverines battled back into the game as Solanik, Josh Wallin and Archuleta all scored and the teams entered the third period tied 3-3 but Arvada had the last say netting two goals in the third period to finish off the Wolverines 5-3.
“We played a pretty good game against them, we kind of just came up short,” says Otsuka.
With two wins and two losses, the Wolverines advanced to the tournament semifinals for a rematch against Littleton looking to both exact revenge and advance to the championship game.
The two teams traded off consecutive blows in the first period and were notched in a 2-2 tie. They remained locked in a draw through the second and third period and even through the first overtime as the Wolverines missed on a golden chance to win the game and Wolverine goalie Logan Brennise shut Littleton down when they had a clear chance on net.
The game would go into a shootout and that was the final blow for the Wolverines as they came up short, falling to Littleton 3-2.
“That one really hurt,” says Otsuka. “We played a complete hockey game and we had chances to win it in regulation, just an unfortunate turn of events.”
In the end Otsuka admits it was a tough year but that he wanted to make sure of one thing throughout the season.
“This year was about making it the best possible year for the seniors,” says Otsuka. “Give them a chance to go as far as they can in their final year, learn how to be leaders and provide an environment where they can take what they learned now into whatever they do later in life.”
The Wolverines will lose 11 seniors to graduation and head into the CHSSA (Colorado High School Activities Association) league next year. After a week or two to “rest and relax,” Otsuka will return to planning for both the Wolverines and the West Elk Hockey Association.
“Organize, recruit and make sure we have a good fall program,” says Otsuka. “Get kids on skates.”