Cougars miss championship by a hair

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There was nothing the Craig Cougar bantams could do but watch as officials decided their fate in the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League tournament.

Craig and Eagle Valley had just finished a double-overtime match that ended in a 3-3 tie. Officials had to go through the league's tie-breaker policy to decide the winner. Eventually Eagle Valley got the win because it had allowed one fewer goal in the tournament.

"It's one thing just to lose a game," team captain Bo Boatright said. "But to lose it on statistics is more than frustrating."

The host Cougars came into the tournament with a 16-3-1 record, good enough for the top seed. After a 5-1 loss in the semifinals to Gunnison, the Cougars moved into the losers' bracket.

"The score doesn't indicate how close we played Gunnison," coach John Pearson said. "We just couldn't get the puck in the net."

Before the loss, the Cougars had defeated Vernal and Glenwood to move to the semis. The team went down to the consolation bracket after the Gunnison loss.

Against Eagle Valley Scott Smith scored to tie it up 1-1 and send the game to overtime. Smith had been out with an injury the last part of the season and the Cougars were glad to have their top scorer back for the tournament.

The five minute overtime period went scoreless and went into a five-shot shootout. Eagle Valley scored first in the shootout and Craig's smallest player, Colt Criswell, proved to be big as he tied it up 2-2. Then an Eagle Valley player took a shot that bounced off goalie Bryce Ponikvar, went over him, hit his leg and then rolled into the goal.

"They just had the lucky bounces," Boatright said. "If his leg had been half an inch either way it wouldn't have gone in."

Zach Pearson came back to tie things up for the Cougars and leave the score at 3-3.

"That game was about as close as it gets," Pearson said. "It was one step from being decided on a coin flip."

The Cougars finished with an 18-5-1 record and in third place in the tournament.

"There were times where we didn't skate hard or hustle enough this weekend," said Boatright, who will move up divisions next year. "It would be nice to be to playing in the championship game right now."

Pearson didn't think his team had anything to be down about.

"The second-year guys took it pretty hard," he said. "But really I think there were four teams that could have been in any of the top four places."

The Craig Cougar program finished with one its best overall seasons in the program's history. The pee wees, ages 11-12, finished second in their tournament and the Bantams, ages 15 and up, finished third.

Gunnison beat Eagle Valley 4-3 in the championship.

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com

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