Suffer first losses of season
by Than Acuff
There was no question that the Crested Butte Titans hockey team members would have their hands full when they hosted the Pueblo County Hornets in Gunnison for two games Friday and Saturday, January 12-13.
The Hornets came into the weekend undefeated as well with a record of 5-0, giving up just six goals through their first five games while averaging close to five goals per game.
It took a little while for the Titans to catch up to the pace of the Hornets in the opening game Friday night. With a noticeably bigger and faster team, Pueblo County dominated a majority of the puck possession through the opening minutes. Yet, paced by anticipation, pure hustle and solid goaltending from Shaughn Rourke, the Titans held the Hornets in check when needed and started to catch up to the speed of the game.
“I think they kept it cool for the most part,” says coach Jake Johnstone. “It was their first real test all year and they were excited to see some good competition.”
The Titans’ penalty kill unit handcuffed the Hornets’ powerplay seven minutes into the game, offering a chance for the Titans to build momentum but a second penalty quashed the opportunity. Nevertheless, the Titans killed off another penalty but the constant pressure eventually paid off for the Hornets as they scored during their third powerplay of the first period to go up 1-0.
Pueblo opened the second period back on attack, oftentimes sending a fourth skater to create scoring chances and keep the pressure on the Titans deep in their zone. The Titans stuck to their guns and started to match the Hornets as the game continued.
Pueblo County took advantage of a turnover in neutral ice, switching the point of attack to find the Titans out of position and scored to go up 2-0, but Crested Butte never panicked and remained in the hunt, continuing to set up chances on Pueblo’s net.
Increased pressure in Pueblo’s zone in the third period had the Hornets pressed back, resulting in another power play for the Titans. Unfortunately, the powerplay backfired as Pueblo netted a shorthanded goal to go up 3-0.
The Titans finally broke the seal on the Hornet’s net eight minutes into the third period as Walker Carroll pulled the puck off the boards and drove it at the Hornets net. The puck bounced around before Elijah Waters found the scoring touch to poke it through.
The Titans had a handful of powerplay opportunities down the stretch as their pressure had the Hornets backpedaling but they struggled to convert, falling 3-1.
“The powerplay is where we’re struggling,” says Johnstone. “Still trying to find who is going to be our puck mover on the powerplay, who’s going to take the initiative.”
Despite the loss, Johnstone was pleased with what he saw out of his team.
“I think it was the best game they’ve played all year, start to finish,” says Johnstone.
The second meeting didn’t go as well as Pueblo County took a 1-0 lead in the first period and then tacked on three goals in the second, eventually finishing with a 6-1 win. Colten Crittendon scored the lone Titans goal off an assist from Dylan Frazier.
“I don’t think they were as amped up and ready to go,” says Johnstone. “As a coach when you walk into the locker room you know by the look in their eyes if they’re ready or not.”
While it was the first two losses of the season for the Titans, the schedule is only going to get harder from here and the experience will serve the team well as the season progresses.
“It served as a motivator going forward of where they need to be by the end of the season,” says Johnstone.
He also believes that the talent and intensity is there for his team, and the final ingredient for success is confidence.
“I told the kids that from what I see, I don’t think it’s a rebuilding year,” says Johnstone. “The talent is there, the intent is there, the systems are there, the leadership is there, it’s all there. They just need to believe in themselves. It’s what’s between their ears now.”
The Titans hit the road this weekend to face the Kent Denver Sun Devils and the Palmer Terrors.