Heartbreak again in the Springs
How many times and in how many ways can it happen to Battle Mountain hockey in Colorado Springs?
Be it the Air Force Academy or the World Arena, Colorado Springs is Heartbreak City, U.S.A., for the Huskies.
For the third year in a row, the Huskies’ dreams of a state championship have ended in the Springs. And for the second year in a row, Kent Denver did in Battle Mountain in the state semifinals – this time Friday afternoon after a furious third-period comeback by the Huskies fell just short by a count of 4-3 to the Sun Devils.
Unlike the Huskies’ exits of the past two years, this one has a greater sense of finality. This was it for 11 Huskies seniors, most of who have made up the core of the program since its inception. It was their last shot at that elusive state title.
Support Local Journalism
“It’s just heartbreaking,” senior Keith Denton said.
“It’s like a thousand knives going in at once,” fellow senior Jason Chase said. “It’s the worst feeling you’ll ever have.”
Seniors P.J. Bevan and Chase were the last Huskies off the ice, arm-in-arm and very understandably in tears. The Battle Mountain locker room was deathly silent with many pairs of red eyes, as the reality sank in. One by one, parents came down to comfort their players with hugs and words of encouragement.
“I just said to the guys that I’ve never been more proud of a team in defeat the way they battled back and they showed such character,” Huskies coach Jade Kersey said. “To be honest with you, it’s the character that’s going to help them spring-board themselves into their next lives. Whatever that may be, I know that they’re going to be winners.”
Truth be told, despite the score, the Huskies left World Arena winners Friday night. The Class of 2004 went 52-5-2 in their three seasons, establishing a legacy of hockey at Battle Mountain.
And, the Huskies nearly came away with win No. 53 Friday night. Down 3-0 in the third period, Brad Myers stuffed one in with help from Alex Biegler and Keegan Keltner with 11:56 left in regulation.
Kent’s Max Key answered with a beautiful breakaway, which would prove crucial, restoring the Sun Devils’ three-goal lead. But, there was no quit in the Huskies. Less than a minute later, Chow, via Nate Simon and Howdy Tuthill, got the Huskies faithful believing again.
When Chase lit the lamp on helpers from Howdy Tuthill and Chow with 5:08 left, the comeback was in sight. The Huskies would have opportunity after opportunity in the final five minutes, but couldn’t convert.
“I told them, “Throw everything but the kitchen sink at them. Have our defensemen pinching. Let’s have everyone go hard. I want defensemen jumping in. I want an all out offensive blitz,'” Kersey said. “And that’s what they did. They caught Kent a little bit of guard and Kent was definitely in more of a prevent defense. So, it definitely worked to our advantage, but unfortunately. time just ran out on us.”
Chow, Chase, Myers and Bevan all had opportunities in the final minutes only to be denied by Kent goalie Jon Rude, who had 27 saves.
“He’s a great goaltender,” Kersey said. “There’s a reason why he’s first-team, all-conference. He’s a big target in net. It’s difficult to find empty net. I think if we had got a few more shots earlier in the game, maybe we could have capitalized on our opportunities.”
A few more shots early in the game would have definitely helped. The Huskies started slow and Kent dominated the flow of
See Heartbreak, page A30
play in the first two periods.
“Well, I think they executed a great game plan on us,” Kersey said. “They were holding guys up. They were executing exactly what they needed to do. They were getting sticks into us. They were holding us up in the neutral zone. It was very, very effective.”
With 3:35 left in the first period, Kent’s Jean Paul Beaupre took advantage of a Huskies defensive breakdown in their own zone and put the puck over Huskies goalie Karl Eklund’s left shoulder.
In the second, the story was simple. Kent Denver’s power play clicked and, uncharacteristically, the Huskies’ didn’t. Simon drew a boarding penalty with 13 seconds left in the first, and just 17 seconds into the second, Sun Devils defenseman Chris Manning fired a slapper from the left circle to make it, 2-0.
Kent’s second power play was even more efficient. Chase took a holding call and the Sun Devils converted in just seven seconds in the form of Drew Errington from Josh Walkup and Max Key.
Down 3-0, Kent started a parade of penalties, which left the Huskies with 44 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage. The Huskies never capitalized, which was another turning point in the game.
“I think it was a matter that you’re down 3-0 maybe you start to grip it a bit tighter instead of just letting it flow,” Kersey said.
He added that he was less than pleased to see the clock continue to run on several occasions after the whistle had blown.
“I’m not using that as an excuse because they have the same clock we do, except when we’re trying to come from behind and they’re letting the clock run down,” he said. “That definitely weighed heavy on the team’s concentration.”
Nevertheless, the Huskies roared back and almost pulled off the win.
“We were excited,” Denton said. “We thought we might get a lucky bounce somewhere. It just never happened.”
And so, it will be Kent and Cheyenne Mountain, a 3-2 winner over Air Academy in Friday’s night cap, in the state finals, a rematch of last year’s championship, won by the Sun Devils.
As for the Huskies, it’s going to be a long ride home today. But, hopefully, in the long run, this team will know how far it came in this season and in the past two.
“There just wasn’t enough time on the clock for us to get one more,” Chase said. “In a couple of days, in a couple of weeks, I don’t know. It’ll sink in all the positives we have done. We got all those young guys to look up to us and to want to wear a Battle Mountain jersey and that’s a positive for the community and the school.”