Titans hockey falls to Battle Mountain and Summit Tigers

“We can use this as a learning moment and realize it’s not going to come easy”

By Than Acuff

After running roughshod through league opponents during the first half of the season to take the top spot in the 4A Mountain Division, the Crested Butte Titans hockey team is now playing with a target on their back and suffered the consequences this past weekend as they fell to both Battle Mountain and Summit.

“The past week was really tough on our team,” says head coach Joey Otsuka. “We had sickness, internal issues, an injury and back-to-back losses.”

The Titans took down the Battle Mountain Huskies earlier in the season 7-2 but suffered a near similar fate when they hosted the Huskies at Jorgensen Ice Arena on Friday, January 26. It didn’t help that the Titans were missing three players as well as head coach Otsuka for the game.

Battle Mountain played full throttle throughout the first period jumping out to a 4-0 lead while the Titans appeared slow and out of sync. Crested Butte recovered to finally score with two minutes left in the period as Vojta Jirka assisted Grady Dietrich on his goal for a little light in an otherwise dark first period.

“There was a lack of defensive discipline which dug us a hole,” says senior captain Dietrich. “We were just chasing.”

The Titans looked to seize on the momentum change and a five-on-three situation to open the second period. While Crested Butte set up and was firing shots during the powerplay, they couldn’t find a seam past the Huskies’ goalie. It wasn’t until their second powerplay on the heels of the first one, that the Titans finally struck winning a faceoff in Battle Mountain’s defensive zone to set Dietrich up for a quick shot and his second goal of the game.

A major penalty midway through the second period stymied Crested Butte’s efforts to close the gap even more. And while the Titans held off Battle Mountain for almost the entire five minutes of the penalty, the Huskies finally broke through to score in the final 10 seconds of their powerplay for a 5-2 lead with one period left to play.

The Titans looked to fight back into the game with another powerplay to open the third period but were thwarted in their attempts by puck pressure and quality goaltending by the Huskies’ netminder. 

Crested Butte did find success during another powerplay four minutes into the third period as smart play by Grady Buckhanan and Marshall Spann set up Rhodes Moffat and Moffat scored to pull Crested Butte back within two goals with 12 minutes left in the game.

“After that goal was scored, we felt like we were still in the game,” says Dietrich. “We never gave up.”

Battle Mountain continued to dominate key elements of the game and seemed to be one step ahead of Crested Butte throughout the third period scoring two more goals to take down the Titans 7-3. Titans’ goalie Ryder Church finished the game with 23 saves.

“We’ve had a target on our back ever since we beat Glenwood and they came out ready and we weren’t,” says Dietrich.

Crested Butte hoped to bounce back from the tough loss when they hit the road on Saturday, January 27 to take on the Summit Tigers in Breckenridge. Yet, they lost a fourth player, Grady Buckhanan, to an injury in the Battle Mountain game and were still missing their head coach due to illness so the odds were stacked against them even more.

Summit took a 1-0 lead in the first period and pulled ahead 2-0 seven minutes into the second period before the Titans responded when Dietrich scored off an assist from Spann during a powerplay. 

Summit responded during a five-minute major against the Titans scoring two more goals during the extended powerplay for a 4-1 Tigers’ lead.

“We were all pretty tired and sore from the Vail (Battle Mountain) game and bus legs,” says Dietrich. “Those goals during the penalties were hard to move past.”

The Titans dug deep though and started to climb back scoring the next two goals to build some comeback momentum. Jirka scored on a powerplay at the end of the second period and Spann scored seven minutes into the third period on another powerplay and Crested Butte was back to within one goal with 10 minutes left to play.

“Once we cut the lead down, we got more energy,” says Dietrich.

Unfortunately, two minutes later Summit scored a shorthanded goal and then tacked on another in the final two minutes of the game to skate away with a 6-3 win. Titans’ goalie Gustav Desaulniers finished the game with 20 saves.

“I think we were just exhausted, didn’t have the players we needed,” says Dietrich.

The Titans head back on the road Thursday, February 1, to play Palmer and then host Rampart on Saturday, February 3, at Jorgensen Ice Arena at 6:15 p.m.

“We have to reflect on where we came from, realize the practice and work we put in accomplished so much in the regular season, and fix our focus on finishing the regular season strong to set up a successful post season run,” says Otsuka.

“It was a reset overall,” adds Dietrich. “We can use this as a learning moment and realize it’s not going to come easy. We can definitely fight back.”

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