“The final result doesn’t write the whole book”
[ by Than Acuff ]
After posting an undefeated record during the regular season to take the Mountain Conference title and taking down a perennial state title contender in the state semifinals, the Crested Butte Titans hockey season came to a crushing close losing in overtime in the 4A state championship game on Thursday, March 18.
Due to a truncated season and post season, only four teams made the state tournament and after winning their conference title, the Titans punched their ticket to the Frozen Four earning the number one seed and drew the Cheyenne Mountain Indians in the semifinal game.
Cheyenne Mountain has a long and prolific history in the post season providing a stout challenge for Crested Butte. In addition, the Frozen Four was held at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado, a magnificent arena for the high school players and ramping up the energy of the already electric setting.
“There were definitely some nerves, you’re on the big stage and the Budweiser Events Center is a cool arena,” says head coach Billy Watson. “But, the kids were feeling good going into it.”
With the Titan defensemen led by Adam Collins shutting off the boards and blocking shots, Crested Butte gained a noticeable advantage after the initial shaky opening minutes.
“It took us a minute to get into our flow,” says Watson.
But one thing they may not have counted on was Cheyenne Mountain’s physicality. All season long Crested Butte had a noticeable advantage against opponents in size and physicality but they faced a worthy opponent in Cheyenne Mountain.
“They were the only team all season long that could challenge us physically,” says Watson.
Despite Crested Butte’s growing advantage up and down the ice, the Indians struck first scoring in the 12th minute. Soon after though Crested Butte was on the powerplay and immediately tied the game up as Rowan Piccaro drove to the net from the wing and punched it through.
Some adjustments between periods had the Titans setting the pace and possession in the second period and while the Indians managed to hold off Crested Butte, another powerplay in the 13th minute of the second period set the Titans up to take the lead. The Titans won a face off in the Indians’ zone and Grady Lipoma fired the puck at the net. The Indian net minder made the initial stop but Piccaro was there to poke in the rebound for a 2-1 lead.
The Indians tied it up once again on a powerplay five minutes into the third period but Crested Butte ultimately sealed the deal over the course of the final eight minutes of the game.
The Titans were passing the puck around the Indians’ penalty kill and when Piccaro slid it across to Jack Lambert, Lambert fired a low wrister past the goalie with Joseph Stock providing the screen for their third powerplay goal of the night.
“We knew powerplays would be crucial and we’ve been working on them all season and it was great to see pucks going to the net with traffic in front,” says Watson.
Cheyenne Mountain pulled their goalie in the final minutes with a faceoff in the Titans’ zone but Piccaro won the draw, dropped it to Collins and Collins set the final nail in Cheyenne Mountain’s coffin sending the puck the full length of the ice for an empty net goal.
“That was awesome,” says Watson. “We actually worked a lot on that early in the season and if the kids missed the net they had to skate a ‘Herbie’ (named after famed USA hockey coach Herb Brooks). Adam was always good at it and rarely missed.”
The win sent the Titans to the 4A state championship game to face league opponent Battle Mountain who had advanced after taking down Kent Denver in their semifinal game.
Crested Butte beat Battle Mountain for the conference title and the two had faced each other during the fall club season so they had a long history of battles already.