Strong finish bodes well for post season
by Than Acuff
The Crested Butte Titans hockey team buckled down winning four of their last five regular season games to finish the season 10-4, fourth place in their conference and enter the state tournament the 12th seed out of 24 teams.
They opened the final stretch with a loss and then upset win over Valor Christian. Two days later they took down Coronado 5-3, suited back up on the next day to edge out a 3-2 win over Kent Denver and then rested, recovered and refocused to close out the regular season with an 8-1 win over the Palmer Terrors on Saturday, February 18.
The Titans were the stronger team on paper, or the internet, and had beaten the Terrors earlier in the season 5-2, and with the Titans surging, another win was expected. But as the first period opened and progressed, the Titans were tested.
“The first 90 seconds we could tell we just had to be patient,” says coach Joey Otsuka. “Five minutes into the first period we could tell it was going to be an exercise in attention to detail and keeping up the same level of play.”
The Titans opened the scoring eight minutes into the first period when Sam Stepanek finished off an assist from Slater Weil. Two minutes later Gage Meredith scored and the Titans were cruising, outshooting Palmer 22-6 in the first period alone to build the 2-0 lead. About the only things potentially holding the Titans back were penalties in the fist period as they racked up a total of 10 minutes in penalties throughout the period. Nevertheless, the Titans remained unfettered.
“We get penalties but we don’t get very deterred because we have a lot of success with penalty killing,” says Otsuka. “It’s not really a big distraction.”
Jordi Nichols tacked on a third Titans goal three minutes into the second period off an assist from Lucas Solanik and then penalties got in the way of the Titans. Palmer scored a minute later and then back-to-back penalties slowed the Titans down but once they returned to full strength, they returned to their systems to build a 4-1 lead. Patrick Seifert scored in the 12th minute and then Meredith netted his second goal of the game 40 seconds later to close the second period strong.
“Halfway through the second period it became apparent that we were going to win,” says Otsuka.
Otsuka then turned to his third and fourth lines to get more time with the post season approaching.
“I wanted to get the three and four lines more experience and play because we’ll need them in the playoffs,” says Otsuka.
The Titans then sealed the deal in the third period rattling off three unanswered goals starting with a strike from Seifert 40 seconds into the final period. Graham Barrett put the Titans up 7-1 four minutes into the third and then Nichols added a goal in the ninth minute to cap the 8-1 win.
The four-game wining streak to close the regular season has the Titans pegged as the 12th seed in the state tournament. They open the tournament against Liberty and if they win that, they head to the Front Range for the second round to face Valor Christian. Otsuka sees his team growing stronger as the season progresses and as they enter the post season, he feels they are prepared to make a run.
“Our first home game we played terrible and that loss at home has motivated our guys to play well at home,” says Otsuka. “That motivation is still there. Now it’s about maintaining discipline and whether the storm no matter what happens. They need to draw on a lot of strength this next couple of games.”