Alumni game, fundraiser this Friday
by Than Acuff
Crested Butte Titans boys hockey is a tale of two teams and it all depends on which team shows up. The Titans opened the season with a solid effort on the road before falling in shambles to a solid Castle View team, only to rally two days later to fire off an 8-2 win over Coronado.
There’s no question the loss to Castle View stung, as it was the first home game of the season, and the Titans played relatively flat all three periods, struggling to find the net. Coach Joey Otsuka chalked the loss up, in part, to a bout of home opener nerves and looked to the team to amend the loss this past weekend as they were set to host two home games facing Mullen on Friday, December 16 and Rampart on Saturday, December 16.
Unfortunately, Friday’s game was cancelled as a storm raged across the state of Colorado, but Rampart rallied to make the trip to Gunnison on Saturday, December 17 and the Titans delivered, skating to a 5-3 win over the Rampart Rams.
With limited ice time and an effort by coach Otsuka to help the players learn a little creativity on the ice, workouts opened with more open play and then he started instituting certain systems the week leading up to the two games.
“We worked on creativity and finding their own little wrinkles and then threw in some basic concepts but not any specific plays,” says Otsuka. “We also got work in on our breakouts more and, for the most part, I saw some of that in the game.”
The game got off to a rough start for the Titans as Rampart scored a minute into the game and the Titans teetered on the precipice of falling into a hole early in the game. Fortunately, the team got a spark from the second line of Jordi Nichols, Lucas Solanik and Gage Meredith as their play immediately swung the momentum of the game back in Crested Butte’s favor. The first line then took the cue to press harder and the effort played out as a centering pass from Graham Barrett bounced around in the slot as Rampart struggled to clear it and Patrick Seifert punched it through, tying the game 1-1.
Crested Butte continued to press and possess, knocking on the door over and over again and eventually outshooting Rampart 17-9 in the first period alone. The only thing truly standing between the Titans blowing the game wide open early came down to the effort of the Rampart goalie as he repeatedly turned away Titan shots.
The Titans appeared to finally find the seam past the Rampart goalie seven seconds into the second period, but the goal was disallowed, leaving the game notched in a 1-1 tie until the sixth minute. The Titans won a face-off in their zone and found Josh Wallin open in the neutral zone with a quick pass. Wallin turned up-ice and pushed the puck to Barrett, who skated in behind the Rams’ defense and to net to score for a 2-1 lead.
“That was all about a quick transition,” says Otsuka.
Eighteen seconds later the Titans struck again. After setting up shop in the Rams’ zone, the Titans worked the puck around before finding Seifert alone on the far post and Seifert finished the play to put the Titans on top 3-1.
The second line continued to set the tone for effort and play and their work rate set up the first line for continued scoring success.
“We certainly didn’t plan it out that way but their work really tired out the other team,” says Otsuka. “The first line had a really good week of practices and went into the weekend with a lot of confidence.”
The Titans maintained their effort and pace throughout the next several minutes, stringing together long sessions of possession in the Rampart zone and moving the puck as they worked through their systems. The teamwork played out in a fourth goal for the Titans as they cycled the puck around and out to the point and defenseman Aiden Gunderson ripped a low wrist shot that beat the rampart goalie to the low corner for a commanding 4-1 Crested Butte lead.
“We focus on the second period being the most dangerous period for the other team because their goalie is in front of our bench and if we can maintain possession, we can just change out players all day long,” explains Otsuka. “Patrick’s and Aiden’s goals were a direct result of that.”
But as the Titans do in so many of their sports, when they are primed to blow the game completely out, they tend to ease off the throttle.
Rampart scored right away following the Titans’ fourth goal and then had Crested Butte on their heels for the next two minutes. Fortunately, Crested Butte held off the surge and another strong shift from the second line returned order to the game and the Titans managed to maintain a two-goal lead heading into the third period.
Still, the game was far from put away and the Rams looked to climb back into the game. The two teams traded off penalties midway through the third period but neither could capitalize on the power-play situations and Crested Butte kept their lead intact.
Then disaster struck as a Rampart player scooped up an errant Titan pass behind the Crested Butte net and beat Titan net-minder Cam Curtiss with a wrap-around goal, pulling Rampart to within one of the Titans.
While the Titans first line appeared gassed in their final couple of shifts, the second and third lines did their jobs and returned the momentum back in Crested Butte’s favor.
“We try to make sure every line physically and mentally ready to play and do more and those two lines did just that,” says Otsuka. “At that point I just waited for the other team to call a time-out and then just lean on them during the break.”
Curtiss made the needed saves down the stretch and when Rampart pulled their goalie for one last hurrah. The Titans took advantage as Solanik slipped the puck into the empty net, putting the finishing touches on the 5-3 Titans win.
“I think we could have had a lot more and would like a higher shooting percentage but I think it was a great win,” says Otsuka. “It’s good to get a home win and that sets us up for success on home games in the future.”
The Titans head into the holiday break with plenty of work ahead of them. With three rinks open now, Crested Butte will garner some much-needed ice time over the next three weeks as they prepare for their return to league play in the new year.
“We’ll do a lot of competition stuff, individual skill work and then we will get back to our systems,” says Otsuka.
And let’s not forget the annual Alumni Game. This year’s Titan team will take on the Wolfpack Alumni from years gone by on Friday, December 23 at 7:15 p.m. at Big Mine Ice Arena.
The high school team will also be hosting a fundraiser, “Puck Toss”—$5 gets you a puck and fans will toss them toward a target between the second and third period, closest to the bull’s-eye wins $100, with the remaining proceeds going to support the high school hockey program.