“Overall they adjusted very well”
by Than Acuff
The Crested Butte high school boys hockey season finally got under way this past weekend as the Titans hit the road to face the Coronado Cougars and returned home with a 5-1 win.
Workouts for the players started back in October as several players spent the fall season on the West Elk Hockey Association’s club team. The high school team started their season three weeks ago but hadn’t seen any game action until Saturday, December 2.
Heading into the first game, coach Jake Johnstone was pleased with what he was seeing out of the team and looking forward to the challenge.
“Things were looking good going into the weekend,” says Johnstone.
The Titans opened the game sluggish in the first period, a situation Johnstone chalked up to the road.
“They spent three to three and half hours getting there so the first couple of periods they were still trying to find their legs,” explains Johnstone.
Despite the sluggish play, the Titans jumped out to a 1-0 lead as Aiden Gunderson scored 11 minutes into the game, with Scerek Romero and Luke Collins getting the assist.
Coronado tied the game up in the opening minute of the second period but the Titans closed the second period, retaking the lead as Walker Carroll scored off an assist from Collins and Slater Weil.
“We had some high traffic in front of the net,” says Johnstone.
The floodgates then opened for the Titans in the third period as they added to their lead in the third minute when Collins scored. Less than three minutes later Matt Solanik scored for a 4-1 Titans lead and then Sam Stepanek capped the 5-1 win, scoring in the 14th minute off an assist from John Smith.
While it’s always nice to open with a win, Johnstone still sees plenty of room for improvement.
“We still had some bad habits in the game,” says Johnstone. “We need to find some better touch around the net and tighten up on defense.”
Johnstone did like what he saw out of the team’s transitions, touting the team’s work rate and the defense’s work with the puck.
“All six defensemen are returning from last year so they moved the puck and used each other well,” says Johnstone.
When Johnstone took over the program this year, he wanted to instill a more fluid style with his team, looking to them to make decisions based on what they were seeing and being flexible when Johnstone made adjustments based on what he was seeing, a “read and react” style of play. And, for the most part, Johnstone saw some of that in the first game of the season already.
“Coronado tried to force us up one side and we started moving the puck up the other side,” explains Johnstone. “They adjusted to then start shutting off the boards all together and we started finding seams up the middle so, overall, we adjusted very well.”
But there’s plenty of work to be done as the team continues with workouts to prepare for their next league games when they head to the Air Force Ice Arena Friday and Saturday, December 8-9 to play Woodland Park.
“The effort was there and we controlled the puck for the majority of the time—we just have to figure out how to put everything together at once,” says Johnstone. “I always tell them, never be satisfied.”