Wranglers champions after offensive explosion fuels huge win
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Joakim Falt oozed confidence even before his team had played a game this season.
Speaking before the season, the coach for the Steamboat Wranglers junior hockey team promised a fearless squad that forced other teams to match its style rather than the other way around, a team that “will never quit.”
Actually seeing his team on the ice only built his fire.
“There’s no team that can beat us in this league,” he said several weeks into the season.
He maintained that attitude throughout the season, and sometimes, even his own players wondered about the approach.
“We’d look at him and think, ‘he’s a good coach, but is he crazy?,’” said Jarrett Sturtz, one of a handful of players to play with the Wranglers both last season in their inaugural campaign and again this year.
The Wranglers blew out their rivals, the Pikes Peak Miners, on Sunday, riding a 9-2 victory in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League tournament finals to the league championship in their second year of existence.
No question, Falt saw this one coming.
“We just won the championship,” Sturtz said, “so now, I have to believe him.”
Steamboat finished second in the same tournament a year ago, falling in a wild championship game against the Miners. Pikes Peak scored a goal late in the third period of the deciding game to win that one, but this time, the Wranglers never let it get remotely that interesting.
Sturtz tallied a hat trick in the first period, helping to build a 4-1 lead that Steamboat never came close to giving up.
Braeden Gillmore, Grant Longtin, Brett Wilson, Ben Lepper, Shawn Catudal and Donny Nordstrom all scored one goal each for the Wranglers along with Sturtz’s three.
Goalie Cole Kohut was strong, as well, picking up 31 saves.
It added up to enough to avenge the loss a year ago and crown the Wranglers what Falt always knew they were: champions.
“We came in prepared. We prepared for this game this whole year, and we were ready,” Falt said. “We have such a good group of guys, and I knew we would come together, and eventually, we would win this. We were never going to let each other down.”
That confidence that inspired the team all season was there in the end, too.
“We are so much better than them,” he said. “We pretty much ran them over today.”
For players like Sturtz, the win was as sweet as it can get.
A California-based hockey player, he initially tried out for the Wranglers parent team, the Salmon Arm (British Columbia, Canada) Silverbacks, but was cut on the final day of tryouts.
“Try Steamboat,” the coaches suggested.
So, he did.
Last season, he helped the team push all the way to the championship game, and he was determined to come back this season and push just a little further.
“It wasn’t a tough decision to come back at all,” he said. “I had to get some payback for last year, so it felt good to come back.”
He’s set to move on now. At 20 years old, he’s about to age out of junior hockey, and he has his eyes set on several different collegiate programs in California and Texas, where he plans to continue his career.
He’ll always remember his two seasons as a Wrangler, however, and he’ll always remember Sunday.
“What I‘ve been through these last two years in Steamboat, the first thing that will always come to mind is winning the championship,” he said. “I got to work with some amazing people who live in this town and who supported me for two years.”
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