“We proved we belong in the league”
After a huge break from league play, the Crested Butte Wolfpack returned to action this past weekend winning two out of four league match-ups.
The four-game stretch started with the Gunnison Blades on Wednesday, January 9 in Gunnison.
The Blades are solid as always with two players in particular that stand out: Quinn Travis and Tarran Reinecke. As a result, coach John Mortell had a plan for those two players and believed if the team ran their systems in place with some focus on Travis and Reinecke, everything should work out.
“We were focusing on Quinn and Tarran—those two guys are great players,” says Mortell. “We used our physical abilities to keep them in check.”
In the end the plan worked almost flawlessly as the Wolfpack skated to a 3-1 win with Cameron Curtiss in net. He had been called up from Bantams to replace an injured Montana Wiggins.
“Cameron had the best game of his life,” says Mortell.
Curtiss established his presence in net early with two big saves, including shutting down Travis on a shot in close.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack did their job in front of Curtiss, spreading out the ice and hustling for every puck within reach.
The Wolfpack struck first as Sam Reaman played the puck up the boards to Dylan Curtiss. Dylan skated to net and dropped it back to Reaman, who stuffed the puck off the near post and in.
The Blades threatened a number of times but the Wolfpack defense was there to sweep loose pucks away with Liam Mortell and Emerson Wohlers spot-on in position and Danny D’Aquila out there doing the grunt work.
The Blades tied the game 1-1 three minutes into the second period when Travis poked a loose puck past Curtiss. The goal could have rattled the young netminder but he came up with another big save 30 seconds later to establish himself once again between the pipes.
“It didn’t take him out of the game he was having at all,” says Mortell.
The Wolfpack came up with a big penalty kill midway through the second period and then pounced on the Blades. Reaman and Dylan mixed it up in the corner again with the Blades defense and Dylan skated clear with the puck. Dylan skated to net and drew a defenseman to find Ian Dethloff open on the weakside and Dethloff finished for a 2-1 Wolfpack lead.
The Wolfpack struck again with two minutes left in the second period when D’Aquila carried the puck out up the boards into neutral ice. A Blades player clobbered D’Aquila but not before he pushed the puck through to Reaman. Reaman beat the one remaining defenseman and scored, giving the Wolfpack a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.
Both teams fell into several minutes of slop hockey but the Wolfpack’s hustle proved the difference as they skated away with the 3-1 win.
“It was awesome hockey, the team was super-motivated,” says Mortell. “They could have competed with any team in the state.”
Three days later, the Wolfpack kicked off a three-game home stand against three teams from the Front Range, all of which have anywhere from 12-15 league games under their belt compared to the Wolfpack’s three.
“That makes a huge difference,” says Mortell.
They opened against the Arapahoe Warriors, the second-place team in the league, and Mortell could sense a different Wolfpack team before the game.
“There was a strange energy in the locker room,” says Mortell. “It felt like it was their first game of the season.”
Adding insult to injury, the Wolfpack had just two lines to work with, while Arapahoe skated four lines.
While the Wolfpack held the Warriors to one lone strike in the first period, Arapahoe lit them up for six goals in the second period and added a seventh in the third period to beat the Wolfpack 7-1, with Reaman scoring the lone Wolfpack goal.
The Wolfpack returned to the ice Saturday night to face the Foothills Flyers, determined to switch gears from their performance earlier in the day.
“They’re focus was completely different,” says Mortell. “They wanted the puck and they used the entire rink.”
Dylan continued his efforts as the captain of the team, leading by example. Dylan is everywhere on the ice, chasing loose pucks behind his own net to set up breakouts out of the zone, carrying the pace through the neutral ice and then setting up scoring chances.
The Flyers struggled to stay with the pace set by Dylan and the rest of the Wolfpack all game long.
Dylan slipped through the Flyers defense in the opening minutes to score on a backhand.
Two minutes later the line of Dylan, Reaman and Dethloff struck again as Dethloff scored off a rebound.
The Wolfpack then set up shop for the first three minutes of the second period in the Flyers defensive zone, peppering the net with shots.
Foothills hung on as long as they could before Dethloff, Reaman and Dylan all scored to take a 5-0 lead into the third period.
Josh Melnick tacked on two goals in the third period to cap the 7-0 Wolfpack win.
The Wolfpack closed the weekend Sunday morning against Littleton. While the Wolfpack came out strong and played even with Littleton, they eventually fell 3-1 and Mortell believes experience made the difference.
“Littleton has been in that situation a lot more battling like that,” says Mortell. “They seemed to be able to make just a couple extra moves.”
Overall, Mortell was pleased with his team’s showing against the Front Range squads.
“I didn’t like the Arapahoe game—that one got away from us—but I think we proved we can play with any Midget Major A team in the state,” says Mortell. “We proved we belong in the league.”
The team has the next weekend off and after a “hard week of practice” will return to action with games in Craig and Aspen January 26-27.