Darin Hickey never had defeated Gunnison in his time as a Craig Cougar midget hockey coach.
Check that off his to-do list after this weekend's Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League midget tournament in Glenwood Springs.
Hickey's Craig Cougar team finished second to Glenwood, but sandwiched between an opening-round loss and a loss in the championship against the Grizzlies, there were three well-played games, the coach said.
"Glenwood was just really fast," Hickey said. "They either built their team up or they improved a lot since November when we first played them."
The Cougars won one and tied one with the Grizzlies in a doubleheader at the beginning of the season.
In the tournament, the Grizzlies outscored the Cougars 8-1 in the two games.
"In the first game we were never really with them," Hickey said. "In the second game, we were out of steam."
After the first loss, the Cougars dropped down to the consolation bracket to face Northern League foe Steamboat Springs.
Captain Mike Anderson earned a hat trick against the Braves. His three goals were preceded by a Brett Lindgren score and followed by a Jacob Pearson tally. The Cougars eliminated Steamboat, 5-3.
"I think our rivalry with Steamboat finally has lost the hostility it used to have," Hickey said. "Our game against them was clean and quick."
Next up was Gunnison. Hickey Cougars had tied Gunnison once in six attempts during his three years as coach. Craig went up 3-1 in the second period. Scott Smith scored the first two and Anderson put the Cougars up for good.
After Craig went up 3-1 "Gunnison lost composure," Hickey said. The Cougars held on to win 3-2.
Oak Creek, a team that beat the Cougars twice during the regular season, stood between Craig and the championship game.
The Kodiaks went up 2-0 in the second period.
Lindgren brought his team within one when he ripped the nets with 2 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the second.
The third period was a defensive one for both teams, but with 1:14 remaining, Anderson broke through the Oak Creek defense for a goal. Regulation ended with a 2-2 tie.
No team scored in the extra period, which sent the game into a shootout.
It was the Cougars' first shootout of the season.
Cougar goalie Malcolm Hillewaert couldn't have been any better in the one-on-one showdowns. He stopped the Kodiaks' first four attempts.
Smith scored on the Cougars' third attempt and Pearson won it with a goal in the fourth attempt.
"Malcolm lives for something like that," Hickey said. "He took over."
The Grizzlies showed they were by far the best team this year in the RMYHL with a 4-0 win in the championship. This weekend they'll play against the winners of the Continental Divide League and the Colorado Competitive League.
"I think they've got the ability to beat at least one of those teams," Hickey said. "They've got the speed to take it all."
The Cougars finished the season 23-9-1. Last year, they were third in the RMYHL.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org