Steamboat Springs -- Winning championships brings all kinds of celebrations. Some teams pour the water cooler on their coach's head, the professional teams break out the champagne in the locker room, and the Craig Cougars midgets streak around the ice arena in their socks and skivvies.
At least that was the case Sunday after the Cougars defeated Oak Creek, 3-2, in the championship game of theRomcky Mountain Youth Hockey League tournament.
"The kids played with a lot of heart and drive this weekend," said coach Darin Hickey, who had all but guaranteed his team would be in the championship game before the weekend started. "Sometimes during the regular season, we lacked that drive but we found it this weekend."
The Cougars earned a spot in the championship game with a 3-1 win over Crested Butte. In that game, the Cougars led 2-1 with 2:44 remaining in the third period when they were penalized for high sticking. The call was the first penalty that left the Cougars down a man in the game and the Wolf Pack looked to even the score in the final two minutes. Goalie Malcom Hillewaert made two big saves for the Cougars and the Craig team put the icing on the cake, scoring a shorthanded goal with eight seconds left in the game.
"We played aggressively on Saturday," said Mike Armstrong. "Crested Butte was strong and quick but we came through and the last goal really gave us momentum going into the championship."
The Cougars expected to play Gunnison, the tournament's top seed, in the championship but Oak Creek upset the top-ranked team in the semifinals, 3-1.
"Gunnison went into that game knowing they were going to win," said assistant coach Jay Oxley, who scouted the game.
"Oak Creek surprised them with an early goal and never looked back."
Although the Cougars would be unable to avenge their loss to Gunnison in the tournament last year, they were where they wanted to be -- playing for the championship.
Oak Creek started off the game as they had against Gunnison with an early goal The Kodiaks' first shot on goal looped past Hillewaert 1:15 into the first period.
The game remained a 1-0 advantage for the Kodiaks until, during a power play, the Cougars' Jordan Anthony took a pass just inside the blue line and slapped it in with 4:35 left in the first.
"Oak Creek wasn't known for being that great," said Nick Goodenow. "So they surprised us when they scored first, but Jordan's goal gave us the confidence we needed."
In the second period, momentum shifted back and forth between the teams and shots on goal were even but no one broke through and the third period started as the second one had, 1-1.
The Cougars fought off an Oak Creek power play in the opening of the third period and, with 6:47 left in the game, Kevin Oxley put the Cougars ahead, 2-1.
Three minutes later, Oxley caused confusion in front of the Kodiaks' goal and a shot by Armstrong deflected off of several players and went in for the insurance goal, 3-1.
The Kodiaks made it interesting as they scored with 2:25 left in the game and then pulled their goalie for the extra offensive player. Instead of producing extra offense without a goalie, the Kodiaks watched as the Cougars had five shots on goal in the last minute at the open net and held on for the win and the first-place trophy.
"The last few minutes everybody did a great job of controlling the puck and playing smart," Hickey said. "It took a lot of maturity for that."
"It took us three weekends to finally skate as a team," Anthony said after the win. "It's nice to win the league title back."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.