Titans hockey rebuilding for post season

“We haven’t had that chemistry and continuity in a long time”

By Than Acuff 

It has been a long three weeks for the Crested Butte Titans hockey team. Injuries and illnesses took such a toll on the team that, after losing three games in a row, they had to then forfeit a game for a fourth loss leaving their post season hanging in the balance.

As a result, they entered the final weekend of the regular season hosting the number two team in the state, Steamboat Springs, for two games and needed one win to guarantee a spot in the 4A state tournament.

The Titans slowly climbed their way out of the illness hole as they readied for the big weekend and, while still missing some key players, were as close to full strength as they had been for a long time.

“We’re slowly distilling Flu A and Flu B out of 23 players,” says coach Joey Otsuka.

Still, with so many players missing so many practices, they were off kilter and a bit overwhelmed by Steamboat’s physicality in the first game Friday, February 16. 

“We were all operating at about 70% and they’re heavy hitters,” says Otsuka. 

Steamboat scored three minutes into the game and Crested Butte held them close with a couple of powerplay chances in the second period, but their timing was off in their special teams work and they struggled to find the back of the net.

“We did four of five things right during the powerplays, but the fifth thing was shooting,” says Otsuka. “Our shot just wasn’t connecting well just because a lot of our guys have been out for so long that they weren’t used to game speed.”

Steamboat would then score two more times in the third period to skate away with a 3-0 win. Titans’ goalie Shane Mensing finished the game with 34 saves on the night.

“That game was mostly about getting back to where we’re feeling comfortable,” says Otsuka. “Getting out there, taking reps and dealing with physicality. We felt like we got bullied in that third period and shut down.”

With their backs against the wall, the recipe for success was in the hands and heads of the players and they came into the second showdown with Steamboat with a different attitude.

“We had to come out and assert ourselves in that second game,” says Otsuka. “Everyone was up.”

The Titans showed signs of their old selves as the game continued and after a scoreless first period and then falling behind 1-0 two minutes into the second period, Crested Butte started to turn it around. Grady Dietrich scored a shorthanded goal later in the second period and the teams were tied 1-1 heading into the third period with the momentum on Crested Butte’s side.

“We’ve always put a lot into the second period all season,” says Otsuka. “We haven’t had that chemistry and continuity in a long time. We started laying the foundation for the third period.”

They built on that foundation as Marshall Spann scored four minutes into the third period. Spann scored again during a Titans’ powerplay and then Dietrich scored an empty net goal down the stretch for the 4-1 Titans’ win.

“We started to find our identity again after losing it for three weeks,” says Otsuka.

With the win, the Titans jumped back up in the seedings and earned a bye in the first round of the state tournament. They will face Liberty in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, February 27, at Liberty. Otsuka will use the extra time to get everyone back on track and return to full speed.

“The time will be used creating chemistry and healing,” says Otsuka. “We’re going to be ready to go.”

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