“It was the gutsiest, toughest win we’ve had all year”
By Than Acuff
After suffering roster shortages due to illness and injuries as well as missing a head coach to illness compounded by back-to-back losses, the Crested Butte Titans hockey team recovered with a 2-0 win over Palmer on Thursday, February 1, in non-league action.
It was a rough stretch for the Titans prior to that which got worse as they fell to both Battle Mountain and Summit and incurred an injury to starter Grady Buckhanan. But they weren’t out of the woods yet as the team continued to battle health issues heading into their game against Palmer with just four of their usual seven defensemen suiting up and their forward line down to 11 players from their typical 13.
“We were decimated,” says Otsuka. “Worse off than for the Battle Mountain and Summit games. It was a complete skeleton crew.”
Not only that, but half of the team that did suit up was still recovering from illness, so shifts were kept short just to keep suffering to a minimum.
“They could barely stay on the ice for a 45-second shift,” says Otsuka.
Despite lines being mixed up and assembled to make some sense of it all, the Titans took control of the game early and built off their success throughout the first and second periods. Yet, the back of the net eluded the Titans as Palmer’s massive goalie and compact defense left little for the Titan scorers.
“We were making good plays, we just got shut down in the crease,” says Otsuka. “Their goalie was why it was such a close game. But we didn’t back down and we didn’t get frustrated.”
Crested Butte finally broke the seal at the end of a powerplay eight minutes into the third period when Dom Cerio won the puck behind Palmer’s net and fed it out to Grady Dietrich at the point and Dietrich fired a wrist shot through traffic and past the Palmer goalie.
“Eventually we were able to punch one in,” says Otsuka.
The Titans were then tasked with holding onto that lead and suffered a blow when a penalty with a little over two minutes left in the game had Palmer on a powerplay.
“No one freaked out, everyone was very poised,” says Otsuka.
Palmer eventually pulled their goalie to have a two-man advantage down the stretch and were pressing hard for the game-tying goal. Voyta Jirka then chased a puck into the corner, won the battle and sent it the length of the ice hoping for an empty netter. At the same time, Max Dukeman was released from the penalty box and saw the puck slide wide and kick back out and skated straight to Palmer’s net to push the puck into the open net to ice the 2-0 win. Church finished the game with 21 saves on the shutout.
“The message going into the game was, really good teams don’t lose three in a row and good teams find a way to win and we did that,” says Otsuka. “It was the gutsiest, toughest win we’ve had all year.”
Crested Butte is still looking to heal and get healthy as they prepare for three games in three days starting with a home game against Durango on Thursday, February 8. They then host Liberty on Friday and hit the road Saturday to face the league-leading Glenwood Springs Demons. They have three more games the next week to finish out the regular season.
“We’ll focus on tightening a few things, do a couple of walk throughs but really managing energy levels and see how everyone is doing health wise,” says Otsuka. “Our biggest focus is creating chemistry and sustaining our confidence going into the playoffs.”