Huskies hockey readies for another run
VAIL, Colorado ” The earth is now spinning backwards.
When you picture Battle Mountain hockey, the Huskies are a small squad with speed to burn. They win games, 6-3 or 7-4. They run into trouble against the Kent Denvers and Cheyenne Mountains because those squads have size and use it to throw the Huskies off their game.
When the puck drops Friday against Summit County at the season-opening Mountain Tournament in Steamboat Springs, the black, white and gold sweaters of Battle
Mountain hockey will be the same, but that’s about it.
The Huskies are big and will rely on defense and goaltending ” yes, goaltending.
With apologies to sophomore forward Elliot Simon, this isn’t your brother’s Battle Mountain hockey team.
Part of this transition has been in the works for a few years. The Huskies have bigger kids coming through the program. Goalie Kalen Burnett emerged as one of the best goalies in the state last season, ending a a revolving door between the pipes.
And part of it is a necessity. The Huskies lost 11 seniors to graduation as well as transfer student Gustav Philipson, who’s back in Sweden.
“It’s gone around in a full circle.” said Huskies coach Gary Defina, who started with the program in 2005, inheriting a bunch of young players after another graduation plundering. “But Kalen and (defensemen) Connor (Tedstrom) will be the best in their positions in the state. Connor’s a monster out there and I think Kalen’s the best goalie in the state.”
New faces, same goal
While the faces change, the expectations do not. Huskies hockey is all about winning. Battle Mountain is a staggering 123-23-4 in its seven years. The Huskies have made the Frozen Four in six of their seven seasons ” 2007 being the exception.
The only thing missing is the brass ring. Battle Mountain has made the title game three times and been a bridesmaid every time, including two losses in double overtime (2002 and a 3-2 gut-wrencher to Regis last season).
And this year’s seniors are ready to continue the tradition.
“For me, it’s mostly about getting back to where we were last season, even with a younger team,” Burnett said. “It’s still an accomplishable goal. We’ve got our sights set on the playoffs.”
And the vets on the team will have to lead the way, including team captain Geoff Funk.
“In years past, we’ve had great offensive talent that has helped us with wins and throughout the playoffs,” Funk said. “This year we have only two guys who played offense. One of our weak spots may be getting the puck in the net. We’ve got strong defense in Connor and Kalen. They’re going to help us teach these younger guys in the ways of high school hockey.”
Sasquatch and friends
The Achilles’ heel for Battle Mountain hockey has been goaltending. That is no longer the case with Burnett, who is known as Sasquatch in Huskies Nation.
Burnett, who’s backed up by Brad Beaudin, took over the role as a junior and blossomed. He had six shutouts, including a 2-0 blanking of Ralston Valley in the state semifinals. In the playoffs, Burnett was on the top of his game, allowing just five goals in four games.
Last year, Burnett had the state’s best defenseman in then-senior Jonny Stevens in front of him. Burnett will have the top blueliner in the state again helping him, but he’s Tedstrom.
On skates, the junior cuts an imposing figure and he’ll be leading a unit which includes Mitchell Lammert, Rudi Baldwin, Brian Ratkowski, Bergen Tjossem, Michael Jones and Tasha Wyatt. For the record, Wyatt is keeping the family tradition going by wearing the same No. 8 that her older brother used to don.
On the other end of the ice, there are familiar faces in Funk and Cody Kleisinger. And the newcomers include Jack Sunderland, Summers Baker, Spencer Fox, Ryan Barry. Guy Garth, Simon, Chris Davis, Danny Westerberg, Otto Jordan, Ben Roof, Aaron Lewis and Max McCutcheon. For those counting at home, Funk, Kleisinger, Simon, Lammert and Fox are following in the footsteps of their brothers. Chris Davis is no relation to Eric, who graduated last spring.
While there are certain unknowns about this team, one of the things that isn’t is Battle Mountain’s size. Jan. 31’s home game against Pueblo, traditionally one of the biggest squads in CHSAA hockey, could register on some Richter scales.
“We’re big,” Defina said. “All our defensemen ” Connor, Rudi, Bergen ” they all big 6-footers. We’re going to be able to bang some teams with our physical game. Up front, Cody, Jeff, Ryan, Elliot, and Daniel are big.”
Defina doesn’t expect the Huskies do blow out of the gate with all these new faces. The Huskies will rely on Burnett, the defense and size in their early games against their traditional mountain rivals ” Summit, Aspen and Steamboat ” as well as against the likes of Kent Denver and Peak to Peak in December.
“I think our high-end talent is as good or better than last year,” Defina said.” If we can get the young guys up to speed, we’ll be fine. This group has good character. If we can get them into a good system, I think we can get back to the (Frozen) Four, which is the goal every year.”
Behind the bench, Nils Satterstrom replaces Brian Deem as an assistant coach. Tony Karr returns for another year. … The season opens with the Battle of Shrine Pass. Summit handed Battle Mountain its only two losses of the regular season last year, but the Huskies got their revenge in the playoffs with a thrilling 2-1 comeback win in the quarterfinals in Dobson. … Of the High Country teams, the Huskies will only play Steamboat twice, once in this weekend’s Mountain Tournament and then in Peak League play Jan. 19 at Dobson. This was in part because CHSAA has three new teams this season. Valor Christian and Fountain Valley have joined the Peak, while Heritage joined the Foothills. … The Huskies home opener is Dec. 13 against Peak to Peak.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.