Solid season ends in Denver
by Than Acuff
after an incredible opening round win in the state tournament on Wednesday, February 20, the Crested Butte Titans’ hockey state tournament run came to a screeching halt on Friday, February 22, falling to the fourth-ranked Chaparral Wolverines 7-4.
Wednesday’s game had all the trimmings of a home-state tournament game. Fans from up and down the valley, some with players on the team, some just fans of local hockey, filled the Jorgenson Events Center for the showdown between the Crested Butte Titans and the Rampart Rams out of Colorado Springs. In the end, fans were treated to an incredible game as the two teams battled back and forth for two and a half periods before the Titans erupted for three goals down the stretch to seal the 7-3 win.
“It was incredible,” says coach Billy Watson.
While the Titans showed glimmers of superiority, they struggled to take control of the game in the first period. Rampart struck first four minutes into the game but the Titans struck back three minutes later when Graham Barrett took a pass from Dom Piccaro up the boards and blew past the Rams’ defense to bury the backhand.
While Rampart’s passes appeared off-target, the Titans team seemed somewhat out of sync through most of the first period and the two teams muddled through their shifts until the 15th minute. Ted Trujillo eventually broke free through the Rampart team during a penalty kill and, while his shot was turned away, Matt Solanik followed on the rebound to score a shorthanded goal and give the Titans a 2-1 lead at the close of the first period.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we were having trouble with our breakouts,” says Watson. “We went over our breakout and talked about getting the puck deep and winning the battles in the corners.”
The adjustment had an immediate effect in the second period as the Titans pulled ahead 3-1 four minutes into the second period. Joe Coburn did what he has done all season, battling in the corner for the puck, and came away from the scrum to find Joseph Stock in the high slot and Stock picked the upper corner over the shoulder of the Rampart goalie for the only goal of the period.
Rampart responded early in the third to pull back within one, and Barrett gave the Titans some breathing room scoring his second goal of the game on a powerplay. But Rampart came right back to score again and they were down just 4-3, midway through the third period.
“We were running our breakouts better but we kind of let them hang on,” says Watson.
Ten minutes into the third period, one particular shift turned the game in Crested Butte’s favor. Piccaro, Barrett and Trujillo ramped up the pace of the game during their shift and that carried over to the line of Kaden Hardesty, Solanik and Sam Stepanek. With Rampart scrambling to keep up, that line dropped the hammer as Hardesty capitalized on an assist from Solanik to put the Titans up two goals once again.
Rampart called a timeout to try to stem the tide but the Titans came out of the break with momentum in their favor. Trujillo took the puck coast-to-coast to score for a 6-3 lead and then Piccaro set the final nail in the Rams’ coffin with a tip in traffic to seal the 7-3 win.
“They were running their one and two lines most of the game and I was able to run three and four and we basically wore them down,” says Watson. “The kids really wanted to make a statement moving into the next round with a big win.”
The Titans needed an even bigger effort on Friday, February 22 as they headed to Denver to face the fourth-ranked Chaparral Wolverines. Chaparral brings more than just one line to the ice as they have a solid core of top-shelf club-level players on their roster.
“I told the guys it was going to come down to the six inches between their ears,” says Watson. “They’re a fast team but we had all of the necessities to beat them.”
After poring over game film with the team, the Titans had what they needed to hold Chaparral in check and did so for most of the game.
Barrett put the Titans on top in the opening minute of the game but the Wolverines tied it up two minutes later. Crested Butte retook the lead when Stock scored on a powerplay but Chaparral rattled off the next three goals to take a 4-2 lead four minutes into the second period.
Down but not out, the Titans battled back and Hardesty scored off an assist from Barrett but Chaparral held them off and pulled ahead 5-3 late in the second period. A Wolverines penalty late in the period, though, set the Titans up with a powerplay to open the third period and Watson laid it on the line for his team.
“I told them if they wanted a chance in the game, they needed to capitalize on the powerplay,” says Watson.
His team answered the call 30 seconds into the third period as Stock scored on the powerplay to pull the Titans back to within one and the momentum in their favor. But an ill-timed penalty gave Chaparral the break they needed and they scored on the ensuing powerplay to go up 6-4. They tacked on a seventh goal later in the period to finish it off, ending the Titans’ season.
“I think we maybe got a little too ambitious after that powerplay goal,” says Watson. “The speed we could handle but I think their size got to us.”
While the departure from the tournament was a tough pill to swallow, Watson was happy with what he saw from the team over the course of the season.
“We had some low points and some high points but they always seemed to come back from the low points,” says Watson. “At the end of the season they were playing incredible and it was great to see, we were beating teams in every aspect of the game. Ben [Reaman] and I saw tremendous improvement. It was great working with Ben and the kids really responded to him.”