Huskies draw No. 1 seed, Coronado
It appears that the Colorado High School Activities Association has a sense of Battle Mountain’s hockey history when it drew up the state-playoff bracket last weekend.
The Huskies are the No. 1-seed and they open against No. 16 Coronado Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Dobson.
These are the same Cougars whom the Huskies hosted in their first home game back in 2002, a 2-1 win.
These are also the same Cougars, whom the Huskies took out in Round 1 of last year’s playoffs by a count of 7-0.
Waiting on the other side are No. 8 Liberty, the Huskies’ main competition the last two seasons in the Metro Conference, and No. 9 Steamboat, which means that Cooper Lee, who split time with Jon Etters between the pipes during the Huskies’ inaugural season, returns to Dobson. Liberty and Steamboat drop the puck at Dobson at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
As expected, with a regular season mark of 17-1, the Huskies picked up the No. 1-seed. Battle Mountain has been ranked No. 2 the previous two seasons.
With the No. 1-spot, Battle Mountain has home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Knocking wood, if Battle Mountain knocks off Coronado, the Huskies face the winner of Liberty-Steamboat Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“We’re obviously very happy that we’re playing at home and get to showcase our kids in front of our own fans, which is nice,” Huskies coach Jade Kersey said.
“It also gives us an opportunity for last change throughout the playoffs, which is important when you get into those critical moments. You might be trying to match lines.”
For senior forward Jason Chase, there’s an ulterior motive in having home ice, and he might as well be speaking for all his teammates after Battle Mountain just got by Liberty in last week’s home finale.
“I’m excited a lot, not only because we get to play here, but last game, I didn’t feel I performed very well,” Chase said. “I don’t want that to be my last game I play at Dobson.”
And, how much does Dobson mean to the Huskies?
The black and gold is 22-0-2 in its home digs in the history of the program.
Coronado went 2-10 in the Mountain Conference with both of its wins coming against Wasson. Obviously on paper, the Huskies are heavy favorites, but as the noted philosopher Chris Berman said, “That’s why they play the games.”
“I think Coronado being a 16th seed, I’m sure they’re not looking forward to coming here and playing us,” Kersey said. “But, I’m sure they’ve got a program that’s been around for a while and they’re in a rebuilding year and this should be a good experience for them.”
When Battle Mountain faced Coronado in its home opener in January 2002, the Huskies won in such lackluster fashion that then-head coach Ken Bielski thereafter termed any game in which the Huskies were heavily favored as “A Coronado.” The message was don’t let a weaker team hang around.
“We’ve go to go out and make a statement that we’re No.1 and that they’re No. 16,” Nate Simon said. “We have to take it to them.”
Simon should know something about taking it to Coronado. He had a hat trick in last year’s playoff game against the Cougars.
With the caveat that the Huskies are not looking past the Cougars, Battle Mountain faces the winner of Liberty and Steamboat – not an enticing proposition.
“When I looked at our draw, it was like, “This is the reward for No. 1-seed?’ There’s no question about it. We have two very tough opponents in the No. 8 and No. 9 game,” Kersey said. “I had both of those teams ranked higher than what they ended up. But based upon geography and conference rankings, they landed where they did. The thing is – if winning a championship was supposed to be easy, then everyone would get one. We’ve got to go through it and we look at it as another obstacle that we need to overcome.”
Liberty gave Battle Mountain some serious problems Friday, leading 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3, before Alex Biegler and Austin Chow came to the rescue. Liberty also took Battle Mountain to overtime last year down in Colorado Springs before Chow delivered the game-winner.
“I actually want to play Liberty again because we didn’t give them our best game, especially our line,” Simon said. “We didn’t show up to play. We were shorthanded a lot of the game. I’m excited to give them our game. There’s no way we’re not giving them our best game in the playoffs.”
And then, there’s Steamboat and Cooper Lee. The Huskies beat the Sailors, 3-1, in nonconference play in January. But, if Lee brings his A-game, it’s going to be a battle.
“They’ve got a good goaltender and they’ve battled very, very hard,” Kersey said. “They don’t quit. They just keep battling and Dave Strang’s done a great job with this group.”
Yes, it is quite possible that the phrase, “Go Aspen” could be uttered by Battle Mountain fans. Aspen is the fourth seed and faces No. 13 Summit in Round 1 at the Family Fun Center in Denver. The winner faces No. 5 Kent Denver vs. No. 12 Pine Creek.
That puts Aspen on a crash course with Kent. Aspen would be the better matchup for Battle Mountain as the Huskies have swept a pair convincingly from the Skiers this year. But if you polled Battle Mountain’s players, they’d probably want Kent. The Huskies’ only loss this year is to the Sun Devils – 4-3 in overtime. And, Kent knocked Battle Mountain out of the semis last season on the way to a state title.
“It’s a situation where we have our rivalries,” Kersey said. “Whether we play Aspen or we play Kent or Liberty or Steamboat, they’re the rival for the night. Any championship worth winning is one worth working for. We would hate to think we had been given any gifts along the way.”
On the other side of the bracket No. 2 Air Academy has Rampart. No. 10 Doherty has Machebeuf (No. 7). No. 6 Regis plays No. 11 Pueblo in Pueblo. No. 3. Cheyenne Mountain has Palmer.
Defense and desperation
If you saw Friday’s Liberty game, you know what the Huskies have been working on in practice – defense, defense and more defense.
“Any team that ever wins the championship is a strong defensive team and has a strong commitment to team defense,” Kersey said. “That is our biggest emphasis this week, to focus on eliminating shot opportunities and building our offense from the back.”
Then, there’s the factor that each time the Huskies step on the ice could be their last. The wounds from Battle Mountain’s double overtime loss to Cheyenne Mountain two years ago in the state finals as well as last year’s loss to Kent in the semis still fester.
“It’s the worst feeling you’ll ever get, losing when you know that you can take them,” Chase said. “That’s always in the back of my mind when we’re playing.”