Host two games this weekend
by Than Acuff
It’s always hit or miss what you’re going to get out of the Kent Denver Sun Devils hockey team. One thing is for sure, they are a solid Front Range program that competes against some of the top teams in the state on a regular basis, so they’re always a tough opponent.
Despite Kent Denver’s reputation, the Crested Butte Titans boys high school hockey team appeared unfazed by the potential brick wall as they came into the first period flying up and down the ice, leaving the Sun Devils spinning trying to keep up.
“It was great,” says coach Billy Watson. “We’ve been struggling with coming out with intensity in the first period and it was good to see.”
Sam Stepanek and Matthew Solanik offered up the first early chances for the Titans as they both skated past somewhat stationary Sun Devils to create opportunities. Kent Denver had one lone threat early on but Titan goalie Shaughn Rourke was on point to turn it away and the Titans continued to set the pace and tone for the game.
They finally opened the scoring eight minutes into the first period as the Kent Denver goalie stopped a shot from the point but the Titans crashed the rebound and after a couple of swats at it by several players, Joe Coburn reached behind the Sun Devil goalie to poke the puck in.
Kent Denver looked to counter with several solo attacks but the Titans’ defense proved unbeatable, led by some pinpoint poke checks and fast footwork from Jack Lambert.
Meanwhile the Titans continued to outshoot the Sun Devils and tacked on a second goal 13 minutes in when a shot from Kaden Hardesty was pushed wide but Graham Barrett found a no-angle seam just inside the near post for a 2-0 Titans lead.
Three minutes later the Titans’ pressure caused additional mayhem for Kent Denver. A high puck dropped in front of a Kent Denver defenseman and as he tried to settle it, Ted Trujillo skated through him to gather the puck, skate to net and score for a 3-0 Titans lead at the end of the first period.
“We were winning with physical play, limited our turnovers in the neutral zone and were getting tons of shots and had great presence in front of the net,” says Watson.
Crested Butte’s first period enthusiasm seemed to wear off in the second period as they came out a little flat and gave up a couple of penalties. Fortunately, Rourke continued to turn away the few shots he saw and the Titans’ defense penalty kill did what needed to be done to hold the three-goal lead throughout the entire second period.
“Our penalty kill has been pretty strong this year,” says Watson. “We do a lot of work on our power play so the penalty kill gets a lot of repetition.”
The Titans opened the third period in another penalty kill situation and handled it with relative ease. Rourke came up with a one-on-one stop and then six minutes into the third period the Titans struck again. Stepanek skated the puck behind the net, turning the heads of the Sun Devils and found an open Joseph Stock in the slot with a pass and Stock stuffed it home for a 4-0 lead.
Additional penalties had the Titans killing off more time for the remainder of the period but Kent Denver struggled to find any rhythm in the powerplay and Crested Butte held on as Rourke recorded his second shutout of the season.
“He really held them off at the end,” says Watson.
With the holiday break and CHSAA rules in place, workouts for the Titans have been somewhat spotty. They did get the annual alumni game in and came away with a 6-4 win and Watson got the kids out for a little pond hockey tournament when he could.
“Really, anything helps,” says Watson.
They return to workouts this week as they prepare for three games when they head to Ft. Collins on Thursday, January 3 and then host Summit this weekend in Gunnison. Games are on Friday, January 4 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, January 5 at 1 p.m.
“We’ve got three really tough games coming up,” says Watson.