18U Midget Grizzlies win state championship
Competing in the Midget Major A state playoffs Saturday and Sunday, the Glenwood Grizzlies 18U hockey program bounced back from an opening round loss to claim the state championship behind a 4-3 win over Cherry Creek, setting records in the process.
Taking on Cherry Creek in the opening round game on Saturday the Grizzlies took an early 1-0 lead over Cherry Creek’s Tier 2 team as Billet Porter found the back of the net at the 10:23 mark of the second period off of assists from Brody Bittner and Mathew Thrun.
However, Cherry Creek answered quickly with two consecutive goals to take a 2-1 lead into the intermission, before adding a late third period goal, closing out the 3-1 win over the Grizzlies.
Looking to bounce back in the second game of the weekend, the Grizzlies forged a 4-4 tie with the West Elk Midget Major A team, as Thrun netted two early goals off of assists from Sam Liotta and Porter, tying the game at 2-2.
Hyland Barabe gave the Grizzlies a 3-2 lead off of an assist from Keenan Winger before Alex Sloan gave the Grizzlies a late 4-3 lead.
Unfortunately, a late goal by West Elk tied the game at 4-4, as the Grizzlies continued to search for their first win of the weekend.
That first win came the next day as the Grizzlies figured out West Elk’s game, topping them 7-2 as the offense clicked all game long, pacing the Grizzlies to the big win, setting up a showdown with Cherry Creek for the 18U High School/Midget State Championship.
Trailing 1-0 after one period of play, the Grizzlies responded in the second period to take a 3-2 lead.
Porter found the back of the net to get the Grizzlies on the board. On the play, Porter took a nice feed from Thrun on a crossing play just inside the blue line while receiving some nice puck support from a Glenwood line change. Racing in on the goalie, Porter went top shelf on the Cherry Creek netminder, ringing in the bar-down goal off the crossbar, tying the game at 1-1.
Just over a minute later Porter found the net once again, giving the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. Travis Leahy made a quick transition play in the neutral zone, finding Porter along the boards, where he received puck support from Thrun entering the zone.
Racing in once again on the Cherry Creek netminder, Thrun went high on the short side, giving the Grizzlies a lead they would relinquish just under two minutes later as Cherry Creek tied the game at 2-2.
Later in the period, the Grizzlies found themselves with possession on the power play, which resulted in a goal from Bittner following a feed from Thrun in a perfect display of possession hockey that featured patience on the power play and perfect tape-to-tape passes for the goal.
Tied at 3-3 heading into overtime, Leahy headed back into the zone on a dump-in, knowing the pressure was stacked on the wall. From there, Leahy wheeled away from the pressure, passing the puck to Thrun along the wall. Going backhand-to-forehand, Thrun then found Bittner darting through two defenders on the off wing with a perfect tape-to-tape pass that Bittner burned with a beautiful backhand-forehand dangle to beat the Cherry Creek netminder, setting off the celebration by the Grizzlies, who just captured the state championship.
In the win, senior captain and do-everything netminder Jake Fegan broke the Grizzlies’ record for most wins in a career for a goaltender at the midget level.
Throughout the year the Grizzlies Midget A team made up mainly of sophomores continued to prove people wrong game after game. The state championship capped everything off fittingly — with everyone doubting them.
“Never in my 5 years of teaching and coaching have I been so proud of my team,” assistant head coach Bryan Gonzalez said. “At the beginning of the year, this team of (mainly) sophomores wasn’t given a chance to go anywhere, and they ended up competing really well against formidable opponents from the mountains, as well as older teams from the Front Range. It bodes well for our future. It was a tough weekend with many ups and downs, but our ‘little team (of sophomores) that could’ pulled it together and surpassed all expectations, including mine. They have worked hard all season, both athletically and academically, and I could not be prouder of this group of young men.”
“Grizzly hockey is very proud of this state championship,” Grizzly Hockey athletic director TK Kwiatkowski said. “With the years of dedication Coach Cota and his staff have put in to our program, this team is more than deserving to hang this banner at our rink. With the nucleus of talent coming through our organization, we are looking forward to many more successes over the coming years.”
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