Titans hockey takes down Summit Tigers

By Than Acuff 

For weeks Crested Butte Titans hockey coach Joey Otsuka has been waiting for the team he sees in practice to bring it to games, and on Friday, January 12, he did as the Titans skated to a 4-1 win over the Summit Tigers.

“That was one of the most complete games, and poised play, I’ve ever seen a team play,” says Otsuka. “They played everything to a ‘T.’” 

The plan for the first period was simple. Otsuka insists that tight games are won in the second period so whatever happens in the first, happens.

“We told them before the game, use the first period to get yourself into the game,” says Otsuka. “If they score a goal it doesn’t matter. If we score a goal it doesn’t matter.”

Neither team scored a goal in the first period but they both had their chances. Ryder Church came through with some key saves and the penalty kill team did their job in the waning moments of the first period to keep the game locked scoreless. But when the Titans took to the ice for the second period, they took control.

“They just wanted to get out of the locker room and back onto the ice and play,” says Otsuka.

That intensity and drive showed as Crested Butte rattled off two goals in the first two minutes of the second period. It all started when they won the opening faceoff, set up in the offensive zone immediately and Grady Buckhanan scored. One minute later Vojta Jirka scooped up a loose puck off a big hit and fed Grady Dietrich. Dietrich then put in some work of his own to beat the Summit goalie with a backhand for a 2-0 Titans’ lead.

The penalty bug hit the Titans two minutes later and when they racked up a second penalty, Crested Butte was playing two men down for a stretch. Church stepped up to make a couple more big saves and the Titans killed off one penalty, but Summit eventually broke through to score late in the powerplay and close the gap on Crested Butte.

Once at full strength, Crested Butte returned to their ways setting the tone up and down the ice with pace and physicality. Another delay on the ice almost cooled off the Titans’ play, and Summit saw an advantage in play for a minute or two midway through the second period but picked up a five-minute major in the process and Crested Butte made them pay for the mistake.

One minute into the non-releasable powerplay, Marshall Spann blasted a shot from the point with players in front to put Crested Butte up 3-1. It did present a potential problem though as Otsuka typically just runs one unit on two-minute powerplays, but the extended man advantage poses a challenge. Nevertheless, he stuck with the same unit for all five minutes.

“As long as they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, getting set up in the right positions and then getting creative off that, they’re going to stay on the ice,” says Otsuka.

The plan paid off once again as Dietrich skated just inside the blue line and fired a shot over the shoulder of the Summit goalie for a 4-1 lead heading into the third period.

Those extended minutes had a noticeable effect in the third period as Summit built momentum early and was looking to climb back into the game. But just as things looked to be going Summit’s way, they shot themselves in the foot once again and picked up another five-minute major.

“If you win the corners and the area three feet off the boards, they’re going to retaliate,” says Otsuka.

Crested Butte used the man advantage to manage the game, moving the puck and playing smart to close out the 4-1 win. Church finished the game with 35 saves.

“There’re things they were doing in the game that involved an incredible amount of timing, knowing where to be and when to be there,” says Otsuka. “It was like The Matrix, they could see things happen before they even happened.”

Crested Butte now has its biggest challenge of the season when they host Glenwood Springs on Friday, January 19 at 7 p.m. in Gunnison. Glenwood sits at the top of the standings with the Titans hot on their heels in second place.

“They’re a heavy team and fight for pucks,” says Otsuka. “They’re not cheap, not chippy, just blue collar. It’ll be a good test for our character.”

The Titans remain at home on Saturday when they host Mullen in Gunnison at 7:45 p.m.

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