Survives Front Range mayhem to win two over Summit
by Than Acuff
Physical is one way to describe the Crested Butte Titans hockey game against Resurrection Christian on Thursday, January 3. “Bloodbath” was another description, albeit somewhat hyperbolic. In the end, officials handed out 110 minutes in penalties and the Titans lost two players to injury as the team fell to Resurrection Christian 2-1.
Despite the seemingly brutal game, the Titans recovered to win their next two games against Summit on Friday and Saturday, January 4-5, by a combined score of 11-0.
The Titans headed into the game against Resurrection Christian aware of the strengths of their opponent but unfettered in their approach.
“They’re a fast team and a physical team and we knew that going in,” says coach Billy Watson.
Confidence and hard skating carried the Titans through the opening minutes of the game, resulting in an early strike as Dom Piccaro scored off an assist from Joe Coburn two minutes into the game.
The Titans had an opportunity to build on that lead soon after as a string of penalties gave them a handful of powerplay opportunities but they struggled to score. Resurrection Christian, on the other hand, capitalized on one of their two powerplays to tie the game late in the first period.
The second period proceeded without a single goal but an uptick in penalties as each team was hit with repeated offenses, leaving both squads hot under the collar and all tied up 1-1 with one period left to play.
Resurrection Christian took advantage of another powerplay six minutes into the third period and held onto their slim 2-1 advantage until the bitter end for the win.
“A couple of injuries threw the kids off a bit and we had to scramble together some lines,” says Watson. “I think we got caught up in their game instead of playing ours.”
With both captains, Luke Collins and Sam Stepanek, out with injuries sustained during the game, the Titans returned home that night and laced up their skates the next day in Gunnison to host Summit out of Breckenridge. While a bit dinged up, the Titans looked no worse for wear once the puck dropped, with the additional advantage of playing against their former coach, Joey Otsuka, who is now on the bench for Summit.
“Going in, we knew Joey is very systematic and knew some of his systems so we went over those before the game,” says Watson. “We were well-prepared and fired up to win.”
The Titans were flying from the moment the puck dropped, following on shots and recovering defensively to prevent odd-man rushes. Piccaro came close, following on a rebound five minutes into the game; Chris Myers charged back soon after that to break up an open one-on-one for Summit and when the Titans killed off a penalty, it became clear that Crested Butte’s pace was an immediate advantage.
All of their early work paid off finally as Coburn cycled the puck behind the net and back up toward the point as the Summit players spun around. As Coburn looked to drop it back to the point, defenseman Jakob Kozanyi skated in off the weak side point and Coburn slid the pass across to him and Kozanyi scored.
Two minutes later the Titans struck again as Adam Collins fired a low shot on target. The Summit goalie made the initial save but the Titans presence in the slot paid off as Joseph Stock stuffed home the loose puck for a 2-0 lead.
The Titans came close to tacking on a third goal as they spent the majority of the final two minutes of the period in Summit’s zone but Summit managed to hold Crested Butte off to remain just two goals down.
“We had great puck movement and were playing well as a team,” says Watson.
The Titans netted their third goal of the game three minutes into the second period, fueled again by great hustle as Hunter Wright gathered the puck and found Kaden Hardesty skating up ice. Hardesty tipped the pass around an oncoming defenseman and skated straight to net to beat the Summit goalie one-on-one for a 3-0 Titans lead.
A bit of a let-down by the Titans followed and Summit started to take over puck possession but the defensive work of Jack Lambert, John Smith and Rachel Potoker proved impenetrable, leaving Summit nothing as they entered the Titans’ zone.
Crested Butte soon recovered with the Piccaro, Coburn and Graham Barrett line wreaking havoc up and down the ice. Their effort set up the other lines for success and they capitalized when Slater Weil scored off and another assist from Wright and Crested Butte was in control with a four-goal lead.
Barrett eventually put the game out of reach in the final two minutes of the second period to score another no-angle goal and the Titans skated through the third period in control for the 5-0 win. Titans goalie Shaughn Rourke finished the game stopping 27 shots for his fourth shutout in nine games.
“We simplified the game and it was good to get our game back in check,” says Watson.
The Titans returned to the ice Saturday to face Summit once again and a similar result followed as they cruised to a 6-0 win. Matt Solanik, Stock, Ted Trujillo and Barrett all scored in the first period, with Piccaro getting the lone goal in the second and Barrett capping the win with his second goal of the game in the third period. Liam Reily recorded a shutout in his first outing as a varsity goalie for the Titans.
“They came out with a little different system but we adjusted a little bit and it worked,” says Watson.
The Titans hit the road this weekend for two games against Pueblo County on Friday and Saturday, January 11-12.
“We learned a lot about ourselves over the weekend,” says Watson. “We just had to take a step back and simplify things. We know Pueblo will be a big and physical team. If we can just stay disciplined and stick to our game plan, we’ll be all right.”