‘We didn’t need a hero, we needed a team’: Steamboat hockey wins in double OT, advances to state semifinal
There are no two better words in sports: sudden death.
Steamboat Springs hockey fans got a double dose of the thrilling overtime format in a quarterfinal matchup of the Colorado High School Activities Association 4A State Tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 28
All eyes were glued to the ice at Howelsen Ice Arena as No. 2 Steamboat and No. 7 Kent Denver battled through a 2-2 tie into a second overtime period. Every person in the arena knew at any moment the Sailors’ dreams of a berth to the state semifinal would become a reality or vanish.
Just one minute and 10 seconds into the second overtime, Steamboat senior Landon Smith tipped the puck into the net to seal the 3-2 win, sending the hometown crowd into a frenzy and the Sailors to Colorado Springs for the state semifinals.
Smith said he always dreamed of scoring a game-winning goal and the stakes were higher than ever because this is his final season competing in a Sailor uniform.
“I’m a senior this year and it was my last home game here at the Howie Dome,” Smith said. “We just have to keep working and keep pushing and hopefully get past the next round because that’s where we got last year.”
Following a scoreless first period, Steamboat found itself in an early 2-0 deficit in the second. The Sailors were starting to feel deflated but knew they had time to even things back up.
Senior captain Andrew Kempers was feeding off the energy of the crowd all night. He said it was the most people he has ever seen in the arena and it meant a lot to have so many passionate fans at his final game in front of his home crowd.
Kempers broke things open for the Sailors, burying a puck seven minutes and 48 seconds into the second period and starting a shift in momentum.
“The first thing was we needed to get our energy back and it felt like the only way to do that was to put us on the board,” Kempers said. “We were going as hard as we could and I was lucky to be the one to put it away and it got the energy rolling for sure.”
Not long after, the Sailors tied things up at two apiece in the second period with a goal off the stick of junior Landon Ripley.
At that point, the momentum had completely shifted. Sailors coach Brian Ripley said nerves were to be expected early on, but he was proud of the way his players were able to focus when it mattered most.
Following the scoreless third period, Brian Ripley gave a speech to his players in the locker room ahead of overtime.
“We didn’t need a hero, we needed a team,” the coach said. “We needed everybody to do their part and just go to work. I kept preaching that so the nerves didn’t continue. As the game goes on, the pressure increases because in the back of your mind you know the next goal wins.”
Steamboat will now advance to the semifinals at Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs on Saturday, March 4, against No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain. The Sailors fell to Cheyenne Mountain last season in the semifinals, and will use that memory to fuel their desire for revenge.
Brian Ripley is giving the team a rest day on Wednesday, March 1, and will get the guys back on the ice for practice the next day. The team will then travel to Colorado Springs Friday night, March 3, and wake up well-rested for game time on Saturday.
Brian Ripley’s recipe for success is keeping the energy and confidence high. He does not want the team to over analyze its upcoming matchup and feel the pressure of what is surely the biggest game Steamboat hockey’s class of 14 seniors will have played.
“There’s no doubt that of these final four teams, every one of them has a good shot at winning the state championship,” Brian Ripley said. “We know we’re in a battle from the get-go. Cheyenne is the defending state champ so we’ll have our hands full but a lot of it is in our control.”
Steamboat Springs 3, Kent Denver 2 (2OT)
SS 0 2 0 0 1
KD 0 2 0 0 0
To reach Tom Skulski, call 970-871-4240, email tskulski@SteamboatPilot.com.
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