McMullan McAwesome in net
By Than Acuff
“There will be no bulls**t.”
That was just a part of the pre-game sentiment the officials shared with Bliss Chiropractic and Kochevar’s prior to the town league hockey championship game on Friday, March 10 at Big Mine Ice Arena. In the end, the two teams heeded their warning and what ensued was another classic title game as Kochevar’s edged out a 4-3 win over Bliss for their second town league title in a row.
But before we go there, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the folks that make town league hockey possible. First, kudos to Zamboni operators Ashton Mabry, Dylan Sexe, Paul Levine and the rest of the town parks and recreation crew under the guidance of Jack Morgan for providing the venue. Then there are the officials Andrew Smith, Brian Gage, Joey Otsuka, Dusty Perkins, Megan Spann and Colin Miller, most of whom drove up from Gunnison to work the games.
And last but certainly not least, the goalies. Without title winning goalies Lucas McMullan, Eric DiMarco, Shawn Harrington, Ryan Houseman, Nicholas Mikeska, Devon Carillo and Montana Wiggins standing between the pipes, the game is not a game, it’s pick up.
I would also like to mention super fan Jack Curtiss. Remember that name. He just may be the first kid from Crested Butte to make it big.
Now to the game.
As you may recall, or not, these two teams had a bit of a kerfuffle earlier in the season but they both appeared committed to providing the near capacity crowd at Big Mine Ice Arena a quality show on ice from the opening drop of the puck. Both Bliss goalie DiMarco and Kochevar’s netminder McMullan proved early on that they were ready for anything with a number of massive saves early on. With the Bliss defensemen wrapping up all of Kochevar’s scorers tight, it took the work of a Kochevar’s defenseman to open the scoring. After a handful of fruitless efforts by the forwards, Kochevar’s defenseman Jake Sunter skated coast-to-coast to score for a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game.
Bliss defenseman Isaac Evans took a page from Sunter’s book to do the same a minute later as he skated in from the wing to score and tie the game 1-1 but Kochevar’s struck back not once, but twice, to close the first period.
After spending much of the first period looking to score, Sam Reaman then turned to an assist role as he carried the puck up the ice and stayed wide to draw two Bliss players. The effort opened up the weakside and Reaman slid the puck across to Andrew Billmeyer for him to stuff it home.
A minute later, Isaac Long found Reaman alone up ice with a pinpoint pass and Reaman returned to his scoring ways for a 3-1 Kochevar’s lead by the end of the first period.
DiMarco received some liquid courage from a fan at the break, not that he needs any help with courage, and while Bliss outshot Kochevar’s in the first period, the effort of McMullan helped preserve the Kochevar’s lead.
Things ramped up in the second period as Bliss stepped on the throttle and players were losing edges and slamming into the boards. Meanwhile, Reaman was noticeably hampered by a skate blade issue and that, coupled with the work rate of Bliss, led to them clawing their way back into the game.
Kochevar’s appeared to grow weary under the Bliss surge and with every Bliss player rallying, they finally scored in the final minute of the second period as Ben Cole finished off an assist from Scott Hetherington.
Two minutes into the third period, Bliss struck again as the work of Billy Watson and Mason Miller set up Jake Laramie for a goal and we were all tied up 3-3 with Bliss continuing to surge.
Kochevar’s player Robbie Holleran channeled some of his old Wolfpack ways looking to break the tie but was subsequently denied by the stifling Bliss defense.
It came down to another Kochevar’s defenseman effort to eventually break the tie as Ryan Fitzsimmons casually carried the puck into the Bliss zone and as they collapsed to protect the house, Fitzsimmons opted to shoot and picked the upper corner for a 4-3 Kochevar’s lead with seven minutes left to play.
Both teams got looks in close over the next four minutes but between defensemen blocking shots and goalies making saves, Kochevar’s held onto their lead with two minutes left to play.
Bliss pulled their goalie as they looked to treat the burgeoning crowd to some overtime action, but one last save from McMullan stopped Bliss’ best chance to tie the game and Kochevar’s closed out the win.