Sitting at top of Peak Conference standings
by Than Acuff
After a couple of disappointing losses and a tough week of practices, the Crested Butte Titans hockey team got back on track with two huge wins this past weekend, taking down Columbine and Glenwood Springs by a combined score of 15-5. They are now at the top of the Peak Conference standings, with a record of 5-1.
Penalties took down the Titans in their previous two games. Coach Billy Watson addressed that issue accordingly as the team returned to workouts.
“We had to get some discipline things taken care of,” says Watson. “We need to play as a team.”
In addition, Watson paid attention to the team’s efforts on zone entries and continued work on powerplays. That effort paid off in spades in the weekend opener on Friday, January 18 against Columbine High School.
While Crested Butte struggled to find the back of the net in the opening 10 minutes of the game, they had complete control of the pace and puck possession. The effort resulted in a flurry of shots in the 12th minute, only to be denied by Columbine’s goalie, but a penalty had the Titans on a powerplay and they finally connected as Matt Solanik found Joseph Stock open in the slot with a pass and Stock scored.
Then in the final minute of the period the Titans struck again as Rachel Potoker shut down a Columbine forward and then slipped a pass up the ice to find Sam Stepanek breaking free. Stepanek skated straight to net and roofed his shot over the shoulder of the Columbine goalie for a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period.
The break between periods did nothing to slow down the Titans, as they took to the ice and promptly scored twice in the opening minute of the second period. Ted Trujillo started it off, playing the puck off the goalie from behind the net to score and 15 seconds later Stock skated to net to create further havoc. The puck kicked out to Dom Piccaro and Piccaro slipped it back to Stock for the Titans’ fourth goal.
The Titans then suffered a stint of apathy as they appeared content with a 4-0 lead and Columbine started climbing back into the game. A mishandled puck in front of the Titans’ goal led to a Columbine goal three minutes into the second period and then Columbine netted a shorthanded goal midway through the period to add a little pressure to the Titans.
“Once we get up on teams, we tend to get away from our game plan and that definitely hurt us a little bit,” says Watson.
While a shorthanded goal can sting and have serious repercussions, the Titans regrouped to retake the game and added to their lead in the final minute of the second period when Stock scored a powerplay goal off an assist from Kaden Hardesty.
Crested Butte then struck twice in the span of one minute again to open the third period as Stepanek scored on a powerplay and Graham Barrett followed with a goal 30 seconds later for a 7-2 Titans lead.
Sam Stepanek added the eighth Titans goal, giving both himself and Stock hat tricks for the game. Columbine managed one last strike but the deal was done as Crested Butte skated away with the 8-3 win.
“Scoring goals like we did in the opening minute is really good to see,” says Watson. “We talked about maintaining focus between periods and in the second and third periods we came out firing on all cylinders.”
Crested Butte then suited up on Saturday, January 19 to face Glenwood Springs and after a scoreless first period, they found their focus in the second period to score three goals with strikes coming from Jakub Kozanyi, Hardesty and Barrett.
“We had our chances in the first period but had to go over a few things and pulled it together in the second,” says Watson.
Then the game started to unravel for the Titans as Glenwood scored two goals in just over a minute to cut Crested Butte’s lead down to one with eight minutes left in the game.
Watson called a timeout to cool Glenwood off and share some thoughts with his players. The Titans responded as they rattled off four goals in the final seven minutes as Kozanyi netted two to finish his hat trick and Stock and Willy Coburn added in one each, sealing the 7-2 win. Goalie Shaughn Rourke finished the game with 26 saves.
“We had to call a timeout to regain focus and the kids responded—it was great to see,” says Watson. “It was a good weekend, had its ups and downs, but we still need to work on consistency and continuing to play as a team.”
The Titans will host Battle Mountain in Gunnison on Saturday, January 26 at high noon, and Watson is looking for more of the same from last weekend.
“We have to take them seriously and maintain that focus from last weekend and bring it this weekend,” says Watson.