“It was our first full team win”[ by Than Acuff ]
Despite taking hits to their roster and falling behind in games, the Crested Butte Titans hockey team continues to find ways to win as they took down Battle Mountain and Summit High School last weekend to improve to 10-1-2.
The Titans opened the weekend of games on the road as they headed to Vail to take face the Battle Mountain Huskies on Friday, January 27. Crested Butte took down Battle Mountain earlier in the season in Gunnison so Crested Butte knew the Huskies would come into the game, on their home ice, hungry to avenge the earlier loss.
To make matters even more difficult for the Titans, they had lost another player to injury so, once again, it was time for players to step up. What transpired was exactly what head coach Billy Watson and his coaching crew of Bob Piccaro, Matt Prudhomme and Shane McGuinness had been waiting for all season.
Fueled by a taste for revenge, the Huskies started the scoring five minutes into the game and continued to push on the Titans. But, with systems in place and executed and players playing their roles on the ice, Crested Butte slowly but surely started to take over the game. A goal from Grady Buckhanan four minutes later tied the game 1-1 and then Brendan Hartigan assisted Cael Medina on his goal in the opening minutes of the second period for a 2-1 lead.
“It was the first time really when they were buying into the systems, running everything perfectly,” says Watson. “It was a great feeling.”
A Huskies powerplay two minutes later offered them an opportunity to tie the game back but Crested Butte’s penalty kill, the top-ranked penalty kill in 4A hockey, shut them down. Battle Mountain soon picked up a penalty of their own and the Titans used the opportunity on the powerplay, also the top ranked powerplay in 4A hockey, to build a 3-1 lead as Buckhanan scored his second goal of the game off another assist from Hartigan.
There was still plenty of hockey to be played and a two-goal lead on someone else’s ice in the third period is a dubious place to be. But the Titans are far from dubious and were completely direct in their play as they had been all game. Medina scored his second goal of the game five minutes into the third period for a 4-1 lead and then Sam Dukeman put the finishing touches on the 5-1 win with an empty-net goal. Goalie Jack Perkins finished the game stopping 39 of 40 shots.
“It was the first full team win,” says Watson. “A lot of the younger kids excelled along with the older kids. The energy out there was contagious.”
But, as has been the case all season with Crested Butte, they were handed another hurdle to overcome. Travel back from the game was much longer than expected with passes closed delaying their return to Crested Butte until 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
The good news was that at least one of their injured players would be able to play their next game later that day and Crested Butte had to return to game mode and suit up to host Summit High School that afternoon at Jorgensen Ice Arena.
“It was a late night for sure,” says Watson. “We knew we were going to be a little slow.”
In addition, while Summit came into the game 1-8-2, every team has punched above their weight when facing the Titans.
“We’ve been telling them they got a huge X on their back and everyone’s going to come at them hard,” says Watson.
The first period was erratic as Crested Butte took some time to wake up from the late return home while Summit looked to sting the league leaders. Fortunately, Perkins seemed no worse for wear and was on point as Summit outshot the Titans 13-4 in the first period but came up empty.
“It was run-and-gun out there and it turned into a goalie battle,” says Watson.
The Titans remained a bit out of sync to open the second period and Summit finally capitalized scoring in the fourth minute. The Titans had two powerplays and created chances but couldn’t crack the seal on the Summit’s net and headed into the third period down 1-0.
At that point, the Titans had finally woken up and they started to show up. Better puck movement and better positioning proved to be the key ingredient to their comeback. Crested Butte tied the game when Dukeman carried the puck into Summit’s zone and dished it off to Grady Dietrich and Dietrich picked the upper corner with his shot.
Crested Butte had additional chances thanks to additional penalties by Summit throughout the third period, but they waited until it counted most before they finally struck. Summit picked up one last penalty late in the third period leaving Crested Butte with a powerplay for the final 90 seconds of the game. Crested Butte rushed through their first couple chances but eventually calmed down. With Medina winning faceoffs, the Titans finally managed to set up and execute their powerplay as the clock wound down. After winning the puck in the corner and dropping it back to Dietrich, Dietrich held the puck before slipping it through Summit’s defense across to Dukeman and Dukeman stuffed it past the Summit goalie with just 15 seconds left in regulation to seal the 2-1 win.
“It was a very exciting weekend of hockey,” says Watson.
The Titans have two more games this week, including a return to the road to face Rampart on Saturday, February 4, and play one last regular season home game on Wednesday, February 15 when they host Glenwood Springs.