Huskies sit atop the Peak
VAIL, Colorado ” A team’s power play always overshadows its penalty kill on special teams, but not on Saturday night.
Battle Mountain hockey’s PK was sterling in the much-anticipated showdown Saturday with No. 1-ranked Lewis-Palmer, going a perfect 5-for-5, including killing off two-plus minutes of a 5-on-3 spanning the end of the second period and the beginning of the third. And the Huskies used the momentum to squeak by the Rangers, 3-2, on a Gustav Philipson goal with 7:29 left in regulation.
“That was what kind of gave us confidence,” said Battle Mountain’s Taylor Beairsto, one of the team’s top penalty killers. “After we killed off the 5-on-3 in the third period, I think we were just ready to score. We built momentum off those kills.”
Ironically, Battle Mountain had worked on the PK during the week after the unit did not perform well last weekend against Palmer and Pueblo.
Waiting to exhale
After a frenetic first period from which the teams emerged tied at two, both heavyweights settled. Battle Mountain began its parade to the sin bin with 2:31 left in the second. Kodi Wyatt picked up a roughing penalty, but would redeem himself. With 57 ticks remaining, the refs whistled Sam Sterling for elbowing and goalie Kalen Burnett for interference.
Since the rules dictate a minimum three skaters on the ice for each team, Burnett’s penalty prolonged the 5-on-3 for 1:29 into the third period.
While the Huskies likely benefited from having the intermission break up the kill, the Battle Mountain triangle defense was solid.
“I think that was huge. That was the turning point,” Rangers coach Steve Fillo said. “I think we became too passive, and we were waiting for too good of a shot, instead of getting the puck on net with a good shot, not necessarily a great shot. We had the numbers for the rebounds. We just didn’t get them.”
And when the Huskies finally killed all the penalties off, the Huskies’ faithful exhaled.
The relief was palpable on the Huskies’ bench as well.
“That was rough,” Huskies coach Gary Defina said. “You’ve just got to work your way through that stuff ” 5-on-3s are a big part of the game.
“The second period, when we were 5-on-5, we were taking it to them. We had them back on their heels. We were just talking, ‘We’ve got to get through this penalty, and start rolling our three lines again, and take it to them.’ We did.”
It happened on a counter attack. Wyatt threaded a fantastic pass to Philipson, better known as Goose to his teammates, and No. 40 did the rest. He burst into the Rangers’ end and went 5-hole for the game-winner.
“It was beautiful pass from Kodi in our zone,” Philipson said. “I came in their zone and I had two (defensemen) after me. You know, lucky shot, one hand.”
Fast first period
Both squads came out understandably hyped up and it showed in a hectic first period. Lewis-Palmer’s Blake Cogburn gave his team a 1-0 lead with 13:18 left in the opening stanza. Philipson answered with a shot from the point.
The two teams kept the break-neck pace going. Stevie Fillo lit the lamp with 5:52 to go. Battle Mountain got a power play minutes later and capitalized. Blueliner Jonny Stevens ripped one from the point and Ryan Maddux stuffed the rebound home.
Defina’s three stars for the game were 1) Philipson 2) the penalty kill and 3) Jordy Coffey.
With the win, the Huskies (13-2 overall and 8-0 in conference) took sole possession of first place in the Peak Conference. With Battle Mountain holding the tiebreaker by beating the Rangers (12-2-1, 7-1), the Huskies have essentially a one-and-a-half game lead with four to play.
“There’s no way they’re going to lose two,” Steve Fillo said, essentially ceding the Peak to Battle Mountain.
Battle Mountain has games against Rampart and Mitchell next weekend in Colorado Springs, followed by a final road game at Steamboat Springs before closing at home against Pine Creek.
Although the Huskies have a bit of a margin in the standings, they’d like to finish the regular season with a bang and be seeded first or second going into the playoffs at the end of the month.
“It’s a two-game win,” Defina said. “With four games left, we’re sitting well, although three of them are on the road.”
While Battle Mountain will be home for regionals, the Rangers want to finish out the season with the best record of the Colorado Springs teams to do the same. In the meantime, given the tight nature of Saturday’s game, Fillo wouldn’t mind if the two teams met against at the Frozen Four at the Denver Coliseum.
“I know they’re going to go deep in the playoffs,” Fillo said. “I hope we’re going to go deep in the playoffs. How the brackets line up, I don’t know if we’re going to see them or not. I’d like top see them again on neutral ice.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.