Air Academy takes the title
COLORADO SPRINGS ” Again.
For the fourth straight year, Battle Mountain hockey’s dreams of a state title were shattered in Colorado Springs.
Saturday night, it was Air Academy defeating the Huskies, 2-0, on an unassisted goal from the Kadets’ Cody Paul with 7:58 left in the third at the World Arena and an empty-netter from Eddie Saxer.
The Huskies entered the game with a perfect 22-0, but lost the game they prized the most, as Air Academy skated away with the 2005 state title.
Casey Kleisinger reluctantly accepted the silver second-place trophy as the Huskies were bridesmaids for the second time in four years.
“I mean, 22-1 and the one is the one that hurts the most,” Huskies senior Austin Chow. “We gave everything we had. We had a couple of bad breaks. I don’t even know what to say. It hurts. Fourth time in a row for me, my team. This was our year. To kind of feel like you had it ripped away form you is kind of screwed up.”
With that, Chow and Brad Myers, easily the most proficient goal scorers in Huskies’ history, as well as Evan Sherer, Karl Eklund, Turi Olson, Matt Garth and Alex Biegler have played their final hockey game for Battle Mountain.
“It goes past the game,” Huskies coach Andy Hire said. “They build character that helps you in life. It’s hard to realize now, but when you go down the road and have a tough time with work or a tough time with friends or with the family, these kind of moments build character. … These guys are going to be friends when 45 years old, hanging out somewhere. They’ll last forever.”
Heroes all around
There was no shortage of heroes for the Huskies in defeat. Eklund shone brightest in the net. Derek Byron gamely played on a bad hip. Andreas Apostal took a stick to the head, missed a period, but still returned for the third.
Nevertheless, Cheyenne proved too resilient at the end. The Kadets had sophomore goalie Tyler Lopez, who stopped all 15 seconds, to become the first goalie to shutout the Huskies.
That meant also that the Kadets became the first team to keep Chow off the board.
“We tried to take Chow out of his game a little bit,” Air Academy coach Wayne Marshall said. “When he doesn’t score, (they) don’t win. We made a big gamble putting Lopez in goal and it paid off.”
In the third, the Huskies finally broke. Battle Mountain’s Barrett Chow took a slashing call with 8:43 left and Air Academy’s Paul did the honors.
“Eddie (Saxer) set up the play awesome.” Paul said. “Bo Miller was right there. I tried going five-hole earlier. That wasn’t working. Low blocker’s been working for me. So, I decided to put it away there.”
Chow was despondent after the game, putting far too much blame on himself for the loss. He was comforted by his parents and friends in the tunnel underneath the stands.
Saxer, Friday night’s semifinal in double overtime against Machebeuf iced the game with an empty-netter with nine second left in the game.
The Huskies dominated the first period, but there were two key moments that did not bode well for Battle Mountain. The Huskies appeared poised to strike when they got 1:43 on a two-man advantage. But, the Kadets killed the 5-on-3 and appeared to have a little more zing in their step.
“We felt very strongly that if we got through the 5-on-3, that we would have an excellent chance,” Marshall said. “We wanted to stay close until the third period. You can’t get any closer than 0-0.”
More importantly, Huskies defenseman Apostal got hurt in the first period. He returned to the bench after the first intermission, but did not play in the second period.
That forced Hire to juggle his defensive combinations and play with a much more conservative offensive style with a forward often coming back to help out in the Huskies’ zone.
The Huskies iced the puck early and often in the second. With play in their own end, the Huskies had to rely on Eklund and he delivered with big save after big save.
Most notably, the Huskies keeper stopped Air Academy’s Paul twice with Paul’s second shot just trickling left of the post.
“Karl played absolutely awesome,” Hire said. “The whole team played great. If you would have said, with two of these offenses, it’s a 1-0 game in the third period, I would have said you’re lying.”
The second-period drama continued with both teams receiving a power play. The Huskies didn’t get a shot off on their advantage. Battle Mountain survived Air Academy’s power play with Eklund, a crossbar and some poor Kadets’ passing around the Huskies’ net.
Hire’s juggling continued in the third period when Biegler took a checking-from behind penalty that essentially finished him for the game. The Huskies survived his two-minute minor, but couldn’t survive Chow’s.
“When you’re not very deep and you have your seniors and you have your sophomores, you generation gap, we don’t have the numbers,” Hire said. “So when you lose a couple in the box, as a coach you’re seeing what you have, and we didn’t have much left. … We just ran out of numbers and ran out of time.”