Huskies, Sun Devils meet again
Rivalries take time to develop.
In baseball, the Giants and Dodgers have been butting heads in four different cities since 1890.
Michigan and Ohio State met on the gridiron for the 100th time last fall.
The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs date back to the early 1900s.
That having been said, it’s taken all of three years – just five games – to produce one of the hottest rivalries in Colorado high school hockey.
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Game No. 6 between Battle Mountain and Kent Denver is tonight at 5:05 at the World Arena in Colorado Springs in the state semifinals.
“I’ve been looking forward to it for quite a long time, actually. I knew we would play them. That’s how it always seems to happen – Kent and us in the semifinals,” senior Huskies forward Jason Chase said. “So, I just feel a lot more confident, a lot more ready this year. I’m not too nervous about what’s going to happen.”
Chase is right. The two teams have met in the state semis for three consecutive years. In the five games between these two elite programs, only one game has not been decided by one goal or less. Three times, the two teams have gone into overtime.
“Obviously, the rivalry has definitely heated up between two schools. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Huskies coach Jade Kersey said. “We’re looking at this as a priority game in order to win the state championship. … A team like Kent is great hockey team, a great hockey program. We have a great deal of respect for what they’re capable of. So, we’re looking at it as a real good challenge for us.”
The series is tied at 2-2-1 and you can consider this the ultimate rubber match. Both the Huskies and the Sun Devils have senior-laden rosters. This is the last showdown for a majority of the players on the ice tonight.
n Feb 12, 2002 – Medina to the Post? – Kent leads, 2-1, with 3:37 left in regulation at Dobson. What we’re sure of is that Michael Medina shot the puck. After that, you’re on your own. John Garnsey, father of then-senior forward Mac, is standing by the glass near the goal. He says the puck went in and bounced out. I see a video-camera replay taken from the catwalk above. It looks like the puck hit the post. The refs agree with Garnsey and it goes in the books as a 2-2 tie.
n Feb. 26, 2002 – Double Overtime – With 3:04 left in the second extra session of the state semifinals, Brock Hovey blasts one from the point. Austin Chow may have gotten a piece of it. No matter. The Huskies win, 4-3, and go to the finals. The game was so great that then-head coach Ken Bielski is almost rendered speechless afterward, one of the most shocking developments in hockey history.
n Dec. 11, 2002 – The Rematch – Kent comes calling at Dobson and the Huskies hang on for the 2-1 win. Matt Heelan and Keith Denton to Austin Chow is the game-winner.
n Feb. 28, 2003 – Agony – Kent finally gets the better of the Huskies in the state semifinals, beating the Huskies, 4-1. Short of the double-overtime loss to Cheyenne Mountain in the 2002 finals, this is probably the lowest moment in Huskies hockey.
n Dec. 12, 2003 – The Choke – Battle Mountain leads, 3-1, and is on the power play with two minutes to go. The Huskies implode, blowing the lead and lose in overtime, 4-3. For the Huskies (19-1), it’s the only loss of the season.
If you talk to the players, the answer would be an emphatic, “Yes.”
“We just don’t want to be in the same situation as last year. That’s why we’re working hard and we’re going to come out strong,” Denton said. “(This year), we had the game until two minutes left and just gave it to them. So this time , we’ve just got to close it out and not give them a sniff.”
Kersey, as coaches are, is diplomatic.
“It was a tough game that we played down at Kent earlier this year,” he said. “We had them down late in the game and we really let them back into it and then they were able to capitalize in overtime. Their best players were their best players that night.
“It was definitely an awakening for us to realize that we had things to work on and need to focus. Our boys have been trying to focus on all the little things that are going to make a difference this time of year. Like I said, an overtime game against down there, it should be a pretty good indicator of what kind of a contest we should have.”
Size vs. speed
If you’ve ever watched Vail Junior Hockey or Battle Mountain against Front Range teams, you know the story. The Mountaineers/Huskies are small and fast. The Denver teams are big. Try to skate with the Huskies and you lose. The Huskies lose when they get beat up on and taken out of their game.
“We’re going to hopefully utilize our outside speed and our transition game against Kent,” Kersey said. “I’m sure they’re going to try to slow it down and grind it and push everything to the wall and try to utilize their assets. I think the biggest thing is going to be the battle of who can dictate the style of play.”
It is, however, advantage Huskies when it come to the arena. Instead of the Air Force Academy, the Frozen Four is being played at the World Arena, an Olympic-sized rink. That gives The Surfs (Nate Simon, Denton and Chase), The ABA line (Chow, Brad Myers and Alex Biegler) and the Miller Line (Casey Kleisinger, Max Miller and Adam Weiss) more room in which to move.
Conversely, it will put pressure on the defense and goalies Karl Eklund and Eric Hansen.
“I think the ice surface is definitely good for us. But, it doesn’t matter if we don’t move our legs,” Kersey said.
For the superstitious, the venue change is also a plus.
“We’ve got kind of bad luck at Air Force,” Denton said. “So, we’re looking forward to World Arena.”
Only time will tell in Round 6 of Battle Mountain and Kent Denver.