Titans enter playoffs on a win streak, fall at state

“Before the game, I told them that sacrifice hockey is what the playoffs are all about.” 

by Elijah Waters and Than Acuff

The Crested Butte Titans hockey team prepped for playoff hockey last weekend with a couple of victories only to have their season cut short as they fell in the first round of the state tournament.

On Friday, February 16 the Titans hosted the Mountain Vista Golden Eagles for a tough interdivision matchup. The Golden Eagles controlled the puck for long stretches during the first period. Just when it looked like the Titans would escape the period in a scoreless tie, Ted Trujillo’s backhand rebound off of Walker Carroll’s shot gave the Titans the lead with just 17 seconds left in the first period.

The much-needed momentum carried into the second period. Early in the period, Sam Stepanek took a pass from Joe Coburn and got behind the defense to extend the lead to 2-0. Later in the second, the Titans allowed the Golden Eagles to climb back into the game when Luke Collins went to the box for elbowing. It took just over a minute for the Golden Eagles to cut the lead to one on a power play goal. The teams headed to the locker room for the second intermission with the Titans leading 2-1.

The teams traded penalties in the third period with neither team able to take advantage. With 1:30 left in the game, an icing call sent the puck back to the Titans’ zone for the faceoff and what promised to be a frantic finish. With playoff positions on the line, the Golden Eagles chose to send out six skaters and no goalie to try to tie the game. With just 15 seconds left, Dylan Frazier corralled the puck and sent it the length of the ice for the empty net goal to seal the 3-1 victory for the Titans. Goalie Shaughn Rourke made two of his 37 saves in the last 90 seconds. The gritty victory was just what the Titans needed heading into the playoffs.

“Before the game, I told them that sacrifice hockey is what the playoffs are all about,” said coach Jake Johnstone. “We just need to play it all the time.”

On Saturday, February 17 the Titans hosted division rival the Palmer Terrors for senior day. The Titans surrendered one goal per period enroute to a 9-3 thrashing of the Terrors. Senior Colten Crittendon was the Titans point leader with four assists. Fellow seniors Michael Hensley, Walker Carroll and Finn Wilson each had a goal. Senior Sam Covelli added an assist.

Others scoring goals were Luke Collins (two goals, one assist), Joe Coburn (two goals, one assist), Sam Stepanek (one goal, one assist), and Hunter Wright. Chris Myers added an assist.

During the second intermission, the Titans recognized the nine seniors playing their last regular season home game.  Seniors recognized were Walker Carroll (forward/defense), Sam Covelli (forward), Colten Crittendon (defense), Dylan Frazier (defense), Clayton Freed (goalie), Aidan Gunderson (defense), Michael Hensley (forward), Sully Marshall (forward) and Finn Wilson (forward).

“We played hard,” said captain Crittendon. “We have some momentum going into the playoffs. We just have to keep it going.”

Unfortunately, that momentum failed to continue in their opening state game against the Denver East Angels on Tuesday, February 20. After a blistering opening minutes of the game, the Titans were moving the puck and setting the pace. Eventually though the Angels soon caught up and started taking back the momentum.

The Angels pressed into the Titans zone and kept the throttle down taking shots and following rebounds. Rourke made a couple of big saves early on but six minutes into the game the Angels broke through for a 1-0 lead.

“The first couple of shifts were good, we were moving,” says Johnstone. “But we started playing soft and we gave them way too much ice to skate with.”

Kaden Hardesty started setting the tone for the Titans with big speed and physical play creating an opportunity by slicing past three Angel players only to have his shot turned away. But his effort inspired the team and they regained their early game pace to play even with the Angels to close the first period.

Unfortunately, the Angels tacked on a second goal in the final 20 seconds of the period for a 2-0 lead and a major penalty on the Titans at the sound of the horn meant they would open the second period down 2-0 with five minutes of penalty killing to do.

“We didn’t even know we were given a five minute penalty until the Zamboni was off the ice and saw it go up on the scoreboard,” says Johnstone. “The kids stayed positive on the bench and knew that if we killed off the penalty, we’d come out of it super jacked up.”

While Denver East scored its third goal early on in the penalty, the Titans managed to kill off the rest of it and did exactly what Johnstone hoped, came out of it jacked up.

Less than a minute after serving the penalty, the Titans broke the seal on the Angels net as Carroll slipped a pass through the slot to an open Trujillo and Trujillo slammed it home.

The Angels then picked up a five-minute major as well to give the Titans a golden chance to pull even closer. While the Titans have struggled all season on the powerplay, they netted a goal one minute into their powerplay as Dylan Frazier’s shot was deflected and Carroll picked up the loose puck to score.

But they struggled to capitalize during the rest of their powerplay and the Titans suffered another five-minute major in the third period. They spent the third period unable to find the game-tying goal as Denver East continued to win puck battles eventually falling 3-2 to end their season.

“It was a tough ending to the year and, in the end, penalties definitely held us back,” says Johnstone. “Overall, hockey is more of a mental game, read and react, and I think the guys really adjusted to that over the season and could read the game a lot better and that will make them more successful moving forward.”

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