“It’s all right there”
by Than Acuff
It has to be tough to join forces with a team to win a tournament and then, a couple of weeks later, skate against that same team looking to take them down for the win.
The West Elk Wolverines u19 girls team had that very dilemma last weekend as they hosted the Vail Mountaineers for two games on Saturday and Sunday, February 10-11.
Just three weeks prior, members of the Wolverines team traveled to Vail to combine with players from the Vail squad and win the annual MLK weekend tournament. But this past weekend camaraderie was tossed aside, at least for six periods of play, as the two teams squared off in league play.
From the moment the puck dropped, it was obvious the two teams knew a lot about each other. Each time the Wolverines’ leading scorer, Jansen Lucas, touched the puck, Vail was quick to close down, leaving her little room to move. Conversely, the Wolverines had a similar plan for Vail’s attack and the results were a relatively sloppy opening ten minutes of hockey from both teams.
While Vail did a great job of holding the blue line to keep the pressure on the Wolverines, the Wolverines repeatedly worked hard on defense to remain in position, slowing down Vail’s attack and disrupting their flow with numerous quality back-checks.
Anika Anderson came up with a couple of key saves early on to turn away the few clean looks Vail got on net and the Wolverines killed off a penalty midway through the first period to keep the teams locked in a scoreless tie.
“That first period we were definitely slow,” says coach Jena D’Aquila. “We had a lot of neutral zone play and were turning the puck over and playing a lot of defense.”
Vail finally broke through on the Wolverines with four minutes left in the first period as they attacked the net to fire a shot and follow on the rebound while the Wolverines hesitated to clear the puck.
“Vail was just a lot hungrier,” says D’Aquila.
The Wolverines picked up the pace of their game to close out the first period strong and continued to dictate play to open the second period. Sierra D’Aquila broke loose early on for a clean look at net, only to have her shot fly wide. A minute later Lucas finally got free of the constant pressure to skate to net but she also missed the mark. The Wolverines continued to press with Bryar Robbins working hard up and down the ice to create chaos and the Wolverines defense spot-on in their roles, but the back of the net continued to elude them.
“We have a track record of easing off in the second period so we were telling the girls they had to step it up,” says D’Aquila. “We were getting shots off.”
It wasn’t until the fourth minute of the third period that the Wolverines cashed in on their effort. Sophie Hall pushed the puck up the boards to Lucas on the fly and Lucas held off a lone opponent to fire a wrist shot into the upper corner, tying the game 1-1.
“That goal really fired up the team,” says D’Aquila.
Both teams traded off attacks throughout the closing minutes of the game but it all came down to one last play. As the Wolverines pressed, a Vail skater found room up ice to take the puck all alone to goal as the final five seconds ticked down. Anderson remained in place in net as the player approached and when the Vail skater looked to go to her backhand for the game-winner, Anderson shifted and stuffed her cold to save the tie for the Wolverines. Anderson finished the game stopping 25 of 26 shots.
The two teams met again on Sunday and skated to a scoreless draw.
“I think the girls have more in them and I thought they played down a little in both games,” says D’Aquila.
The Wolverines hit the road this weekend for two games against Summit on Sunday, February 18 to wrap up the regular season. They will then head into the state tournament as the number three seed looking to return to the championship game once again.
“We are expecting the girls to step it up and finish strong,” says D’Aquila. “They’re strong individually and as a team and are strong both mentally and physically. They just have to want it consistently. It’s all right there.”