Back and forth all night long
by Than Acuff
It has been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It has also been said that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, you are insane.
Well, the old dogs (though they’re really not that old) are no longer insane, as the Alumni finally got their act together to pull off a 5-4 win over the Titans high school hockey team in the annual Alumni hockey game Saturday, December 30.
For years the Alumni team was a junk show. The last time they won was back in 2014. Before then and since then they hadn’t won. The problem was, while flush with talent, their attitudes, and a little bit of booze, often got in the way of their game as they lost year in and year out to the high school team.
Sure, they would come out firing, dominating play with a renewed vim and vigor but as the games would wear on, the Alumni would wear out, and the discipline of the high school players would eventually pay off.
But change was in the air this year with temperatures above freezing and the rink crew in t-shirts as they prepared the ice. But, with Icetro Pete Curvin at the helm, there would be ice and it would be good. A resurface an hour before the puck drop never froze so Curvin hopped back in the Zamboni minutes prior to the game to clean up the excess water, leaving the two teams about as good a surface as one could ever ask for, given the recent spate of warm weather.
The energy at Big Mine Ice Arena was electric with friends, families and former coaches from throughout the years in attendance, including Bill Frame. Frame was the first face nearly every single one of the players on the ice that night saw as he has spent decades as a mini-mites coach.
The Alumni bench looked stuffed as usual with players hailing from both the old Wolfpack hockey days as well as the recent Titan days. And while the number of players always seems to get in the way, there was a sense of organized chaos that would play out well.
On the other bench sat a noticeably smaller Titans team, both in size and numbers. Fortunately they had coaches Jake Johnstone and Billy Watson, Cody Skinner (friend of the Collins family) and Graham Barrett suited up to bolster their roster.
The game opened as it always does, with the Alumni pressing into the Titans zone but the Titans had the first strikes on net as both Barrett and Watson got clean looks to goal only to be denied by Cam Curtiss. Watson and Barrett threatened again as the puck trickled by Curtiss but Dakota Wiggins was on the line to swipe the puck clear of danger.
The Alumni reorganized to counter-attack and set up shop in the Titans’ zone, eventually breaking the scoreless tie six minutes into the game as Ashton Mabry finished off an assist from Danny Stoneberg for a 1-0 Alumni lead.
The Titans responded a little over a minute later though as a shot from Barrett tipped off and over Curtiss’ shoulder and into the net to tie the game 1-1.
Titans’ skater Dylan Frazier brought a new pace to the Titans play flying up and down the ice. Frazier was back on defense to shut down an odd man rush by the Alumni and then back up ice to create chance in the Alumni zone. The work of Frazier and Luke Collins eventually opened the door for the Titans on offense as Skinner dropped two Alumni in neutral ice to then find Johnstone on the far post and Johnstone stuffed the puck upper 90 for a 2-1 Titans’ lead at the end of the first period.
The Alumni got their breath during the break to retake the momentum at the start of the second period until a high elbow earned them a penalty and their mouths started to get in the way of their talent. Once cooler heads prevailed, the Alumni started knocking on the door once again, looking to tie the game. Gus Hensley slipped free up ice to get a look on net but Clayton Freed made the save. A minute later the Reaman brothers connected as Ben Reaman found Sam Reaman cross-ice with a pinpoint pass to initiate an attack. Sam skated to net to force the issue and after a melee, Patrick Seifert snuck in to poke the puck past Freed, tying the game 2-2 midway through the second period.
Four minutes later, Sam found the back of the net to keep the momentum in the Alumni’s favor as they carried a 3-2 lead into the third period.
The third is typically when things fall apart for the Alumni as attitude and exercise-induced minor asphyxiation spell their demise. Both Curtiss and Freed came up with a series of brilliant saves early in the period until the Titans seized on confusion in front of the Alumni net and Sully Marshall pushed the puck through a flurry of skates and sticks to tie the game 3-3.
A minute later the Titans retook the lead when Johnstone skated behind the Alumni net and slipped a puck to Skinner in the slot for the finish and a 4-3 Titans lead.
But short shifts and a calm demeanor paced the way for an uncharacteristically strong third period by the Alumni as they proceeded to climb back into the game. Sam Evans skated through neutral ice to pick up the puck and spin a no-look pass to Ben, who was splitting the Titans defensemen. Ben skated straight to net, dropping the two lone defensemen and beat Freed with the shot to tie the game 4-4 midway through the third period.
The Alumni then struck again with four minutes left in regulation, winning a faceoff in the Titans’ zone and swinging the puck to Josh Melnick. Melnick made the most of his moment in the sun to feed the puck into the slot and Colin Dill was in place to drive it home—sealing the 5-4 Alumni win.