Wranglers look to rope league title
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Wranglers hockey team was one mistake away from the end of its season at one point Saturday, playing in double overtime in a must-win playoff game at Aspen, the league’s 2016 champions.
The Wranglers got the goal they needed, however, won the game and kept themselves alive in a best-of-three Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey Playoff series.
They won again the next day to take the series 2-1, and now the squad is preparing for another three-game series, this one for the league championship.
The Wranglers, in their first season of existence, will play Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday, in Colorado Springs against the Pikes Peak Miners for the league crown.
“We’re halfway to our goal,” general manager Troy Mick said Wednesday. “It would be great for a first-year franchise to come in and win the league. It was exciting to make the playoffs, and now, we knocked off the defending champs and have a chance to win the title.”
Steamboat will play at 7 p.m. at Sertich Ice Arena both Friday and Saturday. Sunday’s game would be at 2 p.m.
Pikes Peak finished first in the league in the regular season, dominating the first half of the league schedule by winning its first 18 games. Things weren’t quite as smooth in the second half as the team finished with a 14-8 record over its final 22 games, but it all amounted to enough for the team to easily coast to the regular season title.
Steamboat, on the other hand, closed with its strongest hockey. At one point, the Wranglers lost seven of eight games early in the season but rebounded and won their final eight of the regular season and 17 of its final 19.
Pikes Peak took care of business in its semifinal matchup, defeating the Colorado Rampage twice decisively 7-1 and 6-1.
“They play a similar style to us,” Mick said. “They’re fast and skilled, so it will be the team that makes the fewest mistakes. We’re both disciplined clubs.”
Steamboat will be without several of its top players, including Steamboat Springs High School graduate Jack McNamara, who scored 20 goals and was second on the team in points this season. McNamara injured his shoulder against Aspen last weekend.
Playing for the championship, Mick said, is the best way to end the club’s first season in Steamboat.
“It’s been outstanding,” he said. “From dealing with the city, dealing with the arena people, getting all the fan support and the corporate support, everyone helps us out. This has set the bar really high for how a franchise should be run.
“We have so many players wanting to come play here we probably already have half our team down for next year,” Mick added. “It’s been pretty special.”
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