Huskies blank Kent Denver, 2-0; face Crested Butte in the finals
Puck drops at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday
Let’s try this again, shall we?
Battle Mountain is in the the first 4A state-title game Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland after a 2-0 seminfinal win over Kent Denver there late Wednesday night. The Huskies will take on No. 1-ranked Crested Butte, 4-2 victors over Cheyenne Mountain in the evening’s first contest.
And we’re thinking that, perhaps, the Huskies will spend the next 24 hours or so ruminating about their slow start a little more than a week ago at Crested Butte, where the Huskies fell behind 3-0 during the first period on their way to a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Titans during the regular-season finale.
Yeah, that’s probably going to be a part of coach Derek Byron’s pregame.
In the meantime, Battle Mountain is back in the title game for the first time since 2008, thanks to garbage goals, which we mean as a compliment, an air-tight defense and a Frozen Four shutout from goalie Logan Gremmer. In short, the Huskies played beautiful playoff hockey.
One of the haunting themes of Battle Mountain hockey history is that its quick, pass-oriented attack, compensating for a general lack of size, does not translate to the playoffs, and certainly not the later stages of the postseason, to which we have directly proceeded this year due to COVID-19.
Against really good defenses that usually populate the Frozen Four, the Huskies don’t have the space or the time for their traditionally prolific offense. The tape-to-tape passing and the one-timer of a shot rarely works.
The ugly ones score and that’s why garbage goals are just beautiful this time of year.
“They’re the best. I mean garbage is where it’s at,” Byron said. “They’re the ones that count the biggest.”
Truthfully, while this team is not as talented as the previous three that have made the finals and lost (2002, 2005 and 2008), the 2021 Huskies may just be better suited for the playoffs with its strength in the blueline and between the pipes.
It sure looked that way on a rush midway through the first period. Kyle Parliament tore down the left side and fired a shot to the short side of the Sun Devils’ net.
Kent goalie Cedric Choi blocked Parliament’s shot, but Carter Large was right behind for the rebound, stuffing in the puck for a 1-0 lead.
“It was just hanging in there on the post,” Large said. “ We’re taught to crash the net. I just did my job and hammered it in. Great effort by Kyle, though.”
Large scoring a big goal is no surprise. The junior has a knack for it. You might remember such previous episodes as “Large scores with 1 second left in OT against Aspen.” Nate Bishop? Not so much.
But there really just couldn’t have been a more perfect time for the sophomore to score his first varsity goal than in the third period. And just like Large’s tally, this was also a rebound from Declan Kelly straight to Bishop’s stick.
Like a seasoned playoff veteran, Bishop went top shelf and the Huskies got a big goal and a much more comfortable lead. By the way, the announcer on NFHS.com, which was streaming the game, called the Kelly-Bishop and Tyler Knox forward trio the 70s Line because Kelly wears No. 70 and Bishop No. 71.
Since Knox wears No. 10, we’ll see about the 70s Line, but, in the meantime, “Burn, baby, burn, disco inferno.”
The D and the G
Truthfully, Wednesday’s game was boring, a good kind of boring. The defense and goalie Logan Gremmer saw to it and Huskies fans who watched the game in Loveland or via the Internet really appreciated the ennui.
The Battle Mountain defense just didn’t let the Sun Devils get close to the net for the prime opportunities. Even Kent Denver’s Sam Choi, No. 17 if you were at the game, the Sun Devils’ best player on the ice, had a hard time getting a good look with his puck on his stick.
Your defensive pairings for Wednesday night were Jack Eastabrooks and Scott Suhadolink, Kyler Hill and Alden Kostick, and Sonny Nordstrand and Nolan Baker.
“I was seeing (the puck) just fine,” Gremmer said. “The D just kept them outside. I just had to make everything and not allow a rebound.”
Gremmer finished 22-for-22 in saves for a playoff shutout. The junior netminder, who’s been starting for the Huskies since his freshman year, already has playoff shutout from last year (7-0, Cheyenne Mountain), but one in the semifinals just means more.
And there’s a little story behind this. Starting a freshman in goal, as the Huskies did two years ago with Gremmer, can be painful as a team, but when your freshman goalie is now a junior with three years of varsity experience, boy, life is good.
During that freshman year, Byron talked to his goalie.
“I looked him in the eye and told him, ’We’re going to the finals with you,’” Byron said. “We have had complete faith in Logan from the start. He did need to grow both physically and mentally. He’s done the work we’ve asked and now he’s one of the best goalies in Colorado.”
Remember the Titans
The good news for Thursday’s title game is that it’s not like the Huskies have to scout their opponent. They played the Titans nine days ago with the aforementioned 5-1 loss that cost the Huskies the Mountain Conference title.
It did not take much prompting for the Huskies to remember that game.
“We want revenge. It’s super simple,” Byron said. “They have the Mountain championship. We want the real one.”
“This is a dream come true,” Large said. “Our team has never experienced this. Our job now is to show everyone what’s up with mountain hockey.”