Play at home this Friday and Saturday
by Than Acuff
Flat was the one word heard rumbling around the fans when the Crested Butte Titans hockey team fell to Castle View 8-1 on Thursday, December 8. Fortunately, they rebounded their next game to pound Coronado 8-2 on Saturday, December 10.
“The biggest thing was that it was a classic example of when the kids couldn’t see the rink through the lights,” says head coach Joey Otsuka. “Meaning, they were just nervous.”
The Titans had nothing to match the pace Castle View set early on. Every time Castle View gained possession of the puck, their players were skating up-ice looking for quick transitional opportunities. That became painfully clear during a Castle View goal in the seventh minute of the first period winning a face-off in their defensive zone and scoring with one long pass up-ice to take a 3-0 lead.
“That is a Hail Mary–type play that just happened to work,” says Otsuka.
The Titans had their chances to climb back into the game with a power play for the final three minutes of the first period but they continued to struggle to find any cohesion on attack.
The game went from bad to worse in the second period as Castle View tacked on four more goals with the fourth strike coming on a great tip during a Castle View power play for a 7-0 advantage heading into the third period.
Castle View tacked on an eighth goal during a power play early in the third and the Titans’ lone strike came in the waning seconds of a power play as Patrick Seifert flicked a pass over the stick of a defenseman and Graham Barrett punched it past the Castle View goalie. Despite the barrage, there were a couple of bright spots.
“We had 27 shots to their 29 shots and us putting 27 shots on them tells me the systems are working,” says Otsuka. “It’s just a matter of maybe they’re holding the stick too tight and the shot quality was not quite there. If you put 27 shots on them, you should get more than one goal.”
And while Castle View seemed a step higher than the Titans, Otsuka and the players have their next meeting on January 21 circled on the calendar.
“The next game, I would suspect, will be a lot closer,” says Otsuka.
Remarkably, two days later, an entirely different Titans team showed up in Colorado Springs to take on the Coronado Sabrecats. While Coronado struck first late in the first period, the Titans responded 90 seconds later as Josh Wallin finished off an assist from Barrett, leaving the teams tied 1-1 after one period of play.
Then, the Titans took complete control of the shooting and scoring, starting with a power play goal from Seifert six minutes into the second period. Sam Stepanek scored three minutes later off an assist from Colton Crittendon and then Crittendon capped the three-goal barrage when he scored off an assist from Michael Hensley. The Titans finished the period outshooting Coronado 23-5.
“In the second period our pressure was so strong and we were able to maintain possession, get shots off and still get changes in because the play was down in front of our bench,” explains Otsuka.
The Sabrecats struck back in the opening minutes of the third period to cut into the Titans’ three-goal lead, but that would be the end of the scoring for them as the Titans rattled off four more goals. Jordi Nichols, Gage Meredith, Luke Collins and Chris Myers all scored in the third period to blow the game open for good as the Titans skated to an 8-2 win.
“We showed up to play, we stayed disciplined and worked in twice as many line changes to keep players fresh and really bear down on them,” says Otsuka. “Our defense played really well both offensively and defensively. They scored three of the goals, which is huge.”
The Titans will return home for two games this weekend in Gunnison as they face Mullen on Friday, December 16 at 7 p.m. and then host Rampart on Saturday, December 17 at 1 p.m. Both Mullen and Rampart have been struggling this season with Mullen winless and Rampart with just one win, but Otsuka continues to be wary of each and every opponent.
“These are two really big trap games for sure,” says Otsuka. “If we show up thinking we’re playing an 0-5 team, we’re going to play like that. You gotta show up every game because any given week, any team can win. But, if we show up expecting we want revenge against our last poor showing at home, we will play well and I think the fans will be in for a good couple of games.”