Wolverines notch two more league wins against Front Range Team

“It was a very proud moment for the program”

by Than Acuff

The West Elk Wolverines entered the holiday break with the bitter taste of a scoreless tie left in their mouths, and while hitting the ice hard for extra workouts might be one solution, head coach Joe Otsuka had something else in mind for the first week of the break.

The team had been working hard for nearly two months already and Otsuka brought some levity to the situation while still getting the kids touches on the puck and some fitness by introducing a 3v3 intrasquad tournament.

“We had a disappointing tie our last game and I really wanted some refocus on the team,” says Otsuka. “I think it was a complete success.”

Otsuka followed that up by returning the team to regular workouts the second week and emphasized discipline. The work paid off as the Wolverines skated to a couple of wins over Heritage by a combined score of 9-1 on Sunday, January 3.

“We zeroed in the laser and focused and it really paid off,” says Otsuka.

The Wolverines took control of the game from the opening drop of the puck, dictating pace and possession and keeping the Heritage attack at bay. While they never stepped up their play in the scoreless tie, their improved effort made all the difference, building a 3-1 lead in the first period against Heritage.

Danny Stoneberg opened the scoring for the Wolverines in the ninth minute of the first period. Heritage responded a minute later, but Gus Hensley found the back of the net almost immediately, following the Heritage goal with the assists coming from Josh Wallin and Jakob Faison. The Wolverines closed the first period with a 3-1 lead as Colby Archuleta scored off an assist by Tyler Koch.

“We didn’t have any new game plan,” says Otsuka. “It was just an adjustment of attitude. It really sunk in for the players.”

The teams played through a scoreless second period but Patrick Seifert scored 30 seconds into the third period to put the game out of reach and Hensley tacked on his second goal of the game to finish off Heritage 5-1.

“We pretty much dominated them from start to finish,” says Otsuka. “We had complete possession of the puck and made very smart decisions with the puck.”

The two teams faced off again later that day and while Heritage looked to rattle the Wolverines with their play, the Wolverines remained focused on the task at hand: disciplined hockey.

The Wolverines jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the first period and then Tristan Spezze scored during a power play in the 10th minute for a 2-0 lead heading into the second period.

The Wolverines tacked on two more power play goals in the second period as Ethan Shaw and Ian Turner each scored and they skated through a scoreless third period to hand Heritage a 4-0 shutout.

“We have a really big guy in front who can be effective so we worked on just shooting the puck during the power play,” says Otsuka. “We usually just pass the puck around and you just have to go in and make the move.”

While Otsuka felt Heritage brought a fairly chippy game to the ice, he was happy to see his team play quality, composed hockey rather than getting dragged into the extracurriculars.

“Our kids were very stoic in nature and it was a very proud moment for the program,” says Otsuka. “It was a really good weekend for our club but it was just a weekend. We have to do those things again and again until it’s second nature.”

The Wolverines are slated to host Moffat County this weekend in Gunnison, with games at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 8 and at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 10.

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