Steamboat Wranglers sweep Thunderbirds to take regular-season title
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Forty games were almost not enough to determine the regular-season champion in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League this season.
“We had the pressure on us,” Steamboat Wrangler’s coach Joakin Falt said. “We had to win all three games to go out and have one point on Pikes Peak. It came down to OT in the final game.”
The Steamboat Wranglers, who finished the season with 32 wins, seven losses, no ties and one over overtime loss, defeated the last place Colorado Thunderbirds, 7-6, in the season finale Sunday. The victory, the third of the weekend in a three-game sweep, gave the hometown team the 65 points needed to secure the title and left Pikes Peak, the defending champions, in second with 64.
The Wranglers seemed on track to the title after opening the weekend with a 9-1 win on Friday and then taking Saturday’s game 5-1. The Wranglers got goals from Cory Kohut, Easton Davis, Donny Nordstrom, Max Kleiner, Shawn Catudal, Quinny Baker, Jack Coon and Grant Longtin in those two games.
On Sunday, the team jumped out to a 5-1 lead with goals from Nordstrom, Coon, Joel Rothman, Nicklas Oda and Nico Hemming. Rothman scored again in the second, but the Thunderbirds cut the lead to 6-3 with two goals.
In the third, the visitors scored three times to force overtime. Rothman scored the game-winning goal early in the overtime period giving him the hat trick, and the Wranglers a much-needed win.
“We are feeling good about it because we worked so hard for it this season,” Falt said. “We still need to focus on the goal to win the trophy for the playoffs.”
The playoffs begin Friday evening with the last-place Colorado Thunderbirds and No. 4 Colorado Rampage playing the opening game. All five teams in the league are still alive in the single-elimination format. Play will continue on Saturday with the Breckenridge Bolts taking on Pikes Peak and the Wranglers playing the winner of Friday’s game.
“Everyone wants to be the head honcho, everyone wanted to be the No. 1 seed in the league, and everyone wants to take home the trophy,” Wranglers’ goalkeeper Cole Kohut said. “We’ve done in the regular season what we wanted to do … Now that part of the job is done, but the job is not entirely done because we still have the next two games to play.”
Last season, the Wranglers lost to the Pikes Peak Miners in the championship, which was a three-game series. This year, the format has been condensed and the team must win to to stay in the brackets.
“I live under pressure, and I thrive under it,” Kohut said. “I love the adrenaline, and I love the pressure of playoffs — so I’m excited for this weekend.”
Shawn Catudal, who scored 22 goals and had 31 assists this season, said winning the league title is special, but this team wants more.
“It was a good season,” Catudal said. “We have had all season to prepare for this and now it’s just mostly getting in the right place mentally, getting ready for the game and getting ready for the pressure of the playoffs.”
The Wranglers came to Steamboat Springs in 2016 as an expansion team in the RMJHL. The league includes the Wranglers, Pikes Peak Miners, Breckenridge Bolts, Colorado Rampage and Colorado Thunderbirds. Past champions include the Aspen Leafs, who won the title in 2016, and the Pikes Peak Miners, who topped the Wranglers for the title in 2017.
Catudal said he would like nothing more than to bring the title back to Steamboat in his final season of junior hockey.
“This weekend is going to be the last games I ever play at this level,” Catudal said. “I never really have won a big championship like we have a possibility of doing here. It is something to carry with me for the rest of my life knowing that we won this, that we got the trophy, and we got the championship ring.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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