Wolverines bear down to pull off two wins
by Than Acuff
A short bench and injuries continue to work against the West Elk Wolverines U19 girls team, yet they rose above the clamor this past weekend to win two games over Steamboat Springs Saturday and Sunday, December 17-18.
Coach GJ Santelli knew it was going to be tight each week putting together enough skaters for games. While he has enough players to play, the bench is short and any injury or illness would seriously compromise the team.
As a result, Santelli looked to the younger ranks to help out the team and after a series of informal tryouts from players from the U14 WEHA Wolverines, Santelli and his coaching staff of Katie Brawner and Molly Cannon have added four players to their roster when they are available.
This past weekend, two of the younger players were called into action for the second of two games and the payoff was huge as Wolverine players were dropping with injuries and both Jansen Lucas and Ruby Barron stepped into the fray to provide a much-needed spark for the team.
“I didn’t know if we were coaches or medics this weekend,” says Santelli. “But we brought two players up and we needed them.”
Steamboat brings a quick breakout to the ice and has a host of talented players with both speed and skill, and they play far above their record. That reality came to light in the first game between the two teams as Steamboat set the pace and peppered the Wolverines net.
Goalie Anika Anderson was on point, turning away multiple shots and the Wolverines took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal from Lauren Shrieves. The Wolverines built a two-goal lead four minutes into the second period when Sierra D’Aquila scored off a pass from Kathryn Guerrieri.
“That was a beautiful goal,” says Santelli.
But with such a short bench and players skating numerous shifts, Steamboat’s play started to wear down the Wolverines. Steamboat scored a minute later and proceeded to pepper the Wolverines zone with attacks and firing shots. Anderson continued to make the needed saves and the Wolverines cleared the puck of harm’s way, holding onto their slim lead into the third period.
Fatigue was setting in even further on the Wolverines and with five minutes left Santelli called a time-out to regroup the team for one final stand.
“We just needed to catch our breath,” says Santelli.
Steamboat continued to press and with one minute left, they called a time-out, eventually pulling their goalie and putting their top six skaters on the ice searching for the game-tying goal.
Tension peaked with 17 seconds left in the game on a face-off in the Wolverines zone. Kendl Santelli won the draw, dropping the puck to Guerrieri and Guerrieri lifted the puck, sending it down the ice. The puck landed on edge and rolled down the ice, eventually hooking just inside the post for the empty-net goal, sealing the 3-1 Wolverines win.
“If we didn’t win that draw they probably would have tied the game because they had their six best skaters on the ice and were just pounding us,” says Santelli. “That was really the play of the game.”
In the end Steamboat finished the game outshooting the Wolverines 36-12 but the effort of Anderson in net proved to be the big difference in the outcome.
“Anika held us in the game the entire time,” says Santelli.
The girls then called on their U14 contingent for the second showdown of the weekend on Sunday and the added fresh legs made all of the difference as the Wolverines skated to a 5-2 win.
The game opened with an all-out back-and-forth battle with the two teams trading goals throughout the first period. Steamboat struck first three minutes into the game and were dictating play until the eighth minute when Hailey Shrieves fired a slapshot from the point that dropped in front of the net off the Steamboat goalie and Barron crashed on the loose puck to push it past the goalie.
The Wolverines got caught puck-chasing on defense as three Wolverines were scrambling to catch one Steamboat player and she passed the puck off to an open teammate in front to score for a 2-1 Steamboat lead.
But like just like their namesake, the Wolverines retained their “ferocity and strength out of proportion to their size,” tying the game one minute later as Kendl stole a breakout pass at the blue line and fired a low wrister past the Steamboat goalie, leaving the teams tied 2-2 heading into the second period.
Steamboat earned a power-play five minutes into the second period and was looking to break the tie but the effort of D’Aquila and Lucas on the penalty kill kept the Steamboat power play off balance.
Later in the second period, a crushing penalty from a Steamboat player earned her a “two and ten” and the Wolverines took advantage of the power-play as Izzie Dethloff fired a shot from the point through traffic to give Crested Butte a 3-2 lead with one period to play.
Tension continued to mount once again though as Steamboat outnumbered the Wolverines and worked their bench to try to wear the Wolverines down. With another Wolverine out due to injury for a couple of shifts, assistant coach Molly Cannon made the call to pull Dethloff back to play defense in an attempt to keep legs as fresh as possible.
“We had to go to four-D because playing a three-D rotation is just brutal,” says Santelli.
In addition, both Lucas and Barron were pushed to the wings to offer some pace on the outside and the two young players provided a huge spark for the team’s pace.
“The new recruits on the wings really picked up the play for us and the rest of the girls fed off of that,” says Santelli.
Sophie Hall put in a couple of huge shifts to keep the Wolverines pressing and they got a break with six minutes left in the game when a centering pass from Barron hit off a Steamboat player’s skate and trickled into the net for a 4-2 Wolverines lead.
Hailey Shrieves then iced the win on a slapshot in the final minute of play as the Wolverines closed out the two-game run with a 5-2 win.
“It was a tale of two games,” says Santelli. “We started to cover the stuff they showed us in the first game and we just hung in there. We told the girls the only way they would win is through teamwork.”
The Wolverines now head into the holiday break and will use the time to work on individual play before they return to action the first week of the new year when they face the league-leading Aspen Leafs.
“Katie and Molly will be working with the girls on skills and conditioning and then we will get ready for Aspen,” says Santelli. “We mark those games on the calendar every year.”