“Just an incredible group of kids”
by Than Acuff
Over time, injuries and illnesses will catch up with a team, and while the Crested Butte Titans were close to 100% for their state quarterfinal game against Colorado Academy, the missed practices of key players eventually caught up as the Titans lost 3-1 on March 2, to close out their season.
When the regular season came to a close, the Titans were in the midst of a rash of injuries, leaving the coaches to shuffle players and lines to get through the final weekend of games and prepare for the postseason. The Titans were handed a much-needed gift when they were designated a fifth seed for the postseason, earning a first-round bye which allowed an extra week for players to rehabilitate while the team continued fine-tuning their playoff plans.
“We just kept working on systems and working on shooting and creating net-front pressure because we hadn’t been able to score much the last four games of the season” says coach Billy Watson. “We also worked on having a backup plan in place waiting for players to come back healthy.”
The week did allow injuries to subside somewhat but, once the team looked like they were near 100%, they were hit with another issue as players went down with illnesses and additional health issues.
“It was like our whole season, we weren’t healthy,” says Watson. “We were missing our entire freshmen line to illness and Jack (Perkins) was coughing so bad we had cough drops for him on the bench. But the guys battled through it.”
The Titans set the tone in the opening minutes of the first period moving the puck and getting solid shifts from their first line through to their third line. The effort created a handful of early chances for the Titans and their defense handcuffed the Colorado Academy attack.
Colorado Academy started to gain some momentum midway through the first period, but Perkins did what he always does—he came up with the needed saves, while defensemen Brendan Hartigan, Duke Sloan and Colm Piccaro took turns with rushes up the ice, and the teams finished the first period notched 0-0.
“I thought the first period was pretty good,” says Watson. “We were getting shots on net and had some good scoring opportunities, but we needed more net-front pressure.”
A Colorado Academy penalty early in the second period opened a chance for the Titans to break the scoreless draw, and their first powerplay line looked sharp, but Colorado Academy killed off the penalty. Crested Butte had another powerplay opportunity seven minutes into the second period, but struggled to find the net. As soon as the teams returned to four-on-four, Colorado Academy scored to go up 1-0.
Scoring woes continued to plague the Titans in the second period. Carson Zummach blew by two Colorado Academy skaters to set up Marshall Spann in front, but the puck slipped by and minutes later a shot off the post for Crested Butte stopped just on the line and was cleared out. Another shot from Piccaro slipped through the goalie’s legs but somehow slipped wide of the net as well.
Colorado Academy then scored two goals in a span of 30 seconds to go up 3-0. Big defense from Hartigan shut down another scoring opportunity from Colorado Academy, and Grady Buckhanan slipped past the Colorado Academy defensemen for one last chance on net but was turned away. The Titans found themselves down three goals with one period left to play.
“We had our opportunities, the puck just wasn’t bouncing our way,” says Watson. “The kids looked a little shell-shocked, but I told them we can score three goals too. We’re a third period team and I felt like we got them to start believing that.”
The Titans were back on the front foot to open the third period creating additional scoring chances, but they were turned away. With three minutes left in the game, the Titans finally struck as Buckhanan scored, but it proved too little too late as Colorado Academy held off the Titans’ third-period push for the 3-1 win, closing out Crested Butte’s season.
“I thought we had good energy and would come out and win the third period because that’s what we do, and we did, but it wasn’t enough,” says Watson. “Obviously it was not the outcome we wanted. I’d take that group of kids over a state title. Just an incredible group of kids.”