Ranked second in the state
By Than Acuff
Quality goaltending and a cohesive team often leads to good results and that’s what happened when the Crested Butte Titans hockey team took down the top-ranked Glenwood Springs Demons 6-4 Friday, January 19, at Jorgenson Ice Arena. The Titans backed that up with a 6-3 win over Mullen the next day, and are now 7-1-1 and ranked second in the state in 4A hockey.
It was a tough start for the Titans in the first period against Glenwood Springs. The Demons’ quick skating and intense puck pressure had the Titans off balance for most of the period and the Demons scored once for a 1-0 lead.
“I think we were playing well, we were just playing a bit passively offensively and kind of like, whoa, a little bit defensively with how Glenwood was cycling,” says coach Joey Otsuka.
That said, Otsuka did see a shift in attitude among the team between the first and second period.
“They started getting a lot of confidence in themselves and in the team,” says Otsuka.
The Titans had a chance to tie it up opening the second period in a 5v3 situation, but managed only one shot on net. Once in a 5v4 situation they still managed only a couple of looks, but didn’t lose their composure coming up scoreless in the period opening powerplay. Rather, they stuck to their schemes and Ryder Church continued to make saves until the Titans started to surge leading to a goal by Vojta Jirka off an assist from Grady Buckhanan.
“Ryder’s passion for winning and competing is great, and he was making saves left and right,” says Otsuka. “He did a great job.”
The Demons answered back two minutes later but it was apparent that the Titans’ physical play and stifling defense had the Demons frustrated, resulting in a couple of penalties and powerplay situations for Crested Butte.
The Titans seized the opportunity seven minutes into the period during one powerplay when Buckhanan drove up the middle of the ice with the puck and then split two Demon players with a pass to Dom Cerio and Cerio scored to tie the game 2-2.
Church continued to make saves and the Titans then took their first lead of the game during another powerplay when Marshall Spann fed the puck to Grady Dietrich and Dietrich scored for a 3-2 Titans lead.
“Our powerplay has been lights out,” says Otsuka. “I think Glenwood was just undisciplined at times in picking up those penalties which was surprising.”
Unfortunately, Glenwood Springs had the last say of the period as they pressed into the Titans zone and after Church made a series of saves, the Titans struggled to clear the puck and the Demons punched it through to tie the game 3-3 heading into the third period.
Glenwood Springs came out in the third period to press the Titans in their zone for the first several shifts of the period, but team defense and quality goaltending held off the initial Demon attack.
After a frantic opening five minutes, the Titans retook the lead when a Demon defender misplayed the puck at the blue line and Rhodes Moffat scooped up the loose puck, skated through neutral ice and into the Glenwood zone before firing a shot into the upper corner for a 4-3 Titans lead.
“It was a great shot and I think it caught the goalie by surprise,” says Otsuka. “It really invigorated the bench.”
Glenwood continued to press on the Titans, but Crested Butte’s hustle made up the difference as they worked to stop shots and protect the house. Once again, while appearing to be on their back foot, the Titans struck again as they moved the puck through the neutral zone to Grady Dietrich. Dietrich carried the puck up the boards past two Demon players and lifted the puck near post with a backhand for a 5-3 Titans lead.
Glenwood pulled back to within one just over a minute later and the game was hanging in the balance until another Glenwood penalty late in the game had the Titans on the powerplay in the final two minutes. Glenwood pulled their goalie looking for the equalizer, but the Titans had the final say as Dietrich sent the puck nearly the entirety of the ice to score an empty net goal and seal the 6-4 Titans win. Church finished the game with 45 saves.
“We have this third period mentality,” says Otsuka. “I give Dom, Grady and Rhodes a lot of the credit.”
The Titans returned to the ice on Saturday to host Mullen and found themselves notched in a 2-2 tie after one period of play with Dietrich and Jirka scoring and Jake White getting an assist.
“The first period was a bit like what we expected as coaches after the game Friday, very pedestrian,” says Otsuka.
Rather than panic at the thought of being tied to a team they should beat, Otsuka and assistant coach Shane McGuinness left it up to the players to pull themselves up.
“We just said, true champions don’t lose games like this,” says Otsuka.
The Titans stepped it up in the second period as Buckhanan scored four minutes into the second, and Jirka netted two more including a short-handed goal off an assist from Ethan Suazo to pull ahead 5-2 heading into the third period.
Mullen scored one last time on a powerplay early in the third period, but the Grady Train connected once again as Buckhanan set up Dietrich to finish off the 6-3 win. Shane Mensing got the nod to play in net against Mullen and finished with 27 saves on the night.
“From the second period on was great,” says Otsuka. “They really did it on their own.”
Crested Butte now must play all the same teams, and then some, again starting this weekend when they host Battle Mountain on Friday, January 26 at 7 p.m. and then hit the road to play Summit on Saturday.