The Moffat County Bulldog club hockey team traveled south to play No. 3 seed Durango Steamers in the first-round of the Rocky Mountain Hockey playoffs last weekend.
The visiting Bulldogs made the most out of their long drive, pulling out a 2-1 series victory on Saturday and Sunday.
Moffat County won the first game, 3-1, lost, 3-2, in the second game, and had a 3-2 win in game three to clinch the series.
With the victory in hand, the Bulldogs advanced to the Frozen Four championship, where Moffat County faces Steamboat at 9 a.m. Saturday at Eagle County ice rink in Vail.
Entering the three-game series, Bulldogs assistant coach Art Smith was confident about his team's chances.
"Even though we lost two close games to (Durango) early in the season, the team believes we have a good chance to win the series in their rink," he said.
In the first game, the Bulldogs had managed 12 shots on goal to the Steamers' 27 after two periods. The game was still scoreless, thanks to Bulldog goalie Bryce Ponikvar.
"He really kept us in the game 'til we got our legs under us after the long trip," coach Darrin Hickey said.
The Bulldog coaches put a power line on the ice to start the third period, and it paid off. Twelve seconds into the period, Scott Smith passed the puck to Bo Boatright from behind the Durango net. Boatright pounded the puck past Steamer goalie Kevin Hoy. During the goal, Durango captain Dan Yeager received an unsportsmanlike penalty that put the Bulldogs on a power play.
Defenseman Joel Pomeroy took advantage when his wrist shot found the Steamer' net 1:26 later with an assist from Thayne Anderson.
The Steamers' Kyle Ruckman scored later in the third, but Bulldog Scott Smith added an insurance goal late in the third for a 3-1 win. Ponikvar faced 38 total shots on goal while the Bulldogs put 24 total shots on Hoy.
"With their backs against the wall in a best-of-three game series we knew Durango would come out strong," assist coach Jay Oxley said. The second game started fast with Bulldog Cole Dubois scoring in the first period with an assist from Boatright. The Steamers came back to tie the game at 2:52 in the first with a goal form Conner Coughlin. The Bulldogs came right back in the second period when Cory Wojtkiewicz scored with an assist from Boatright.
With the Bulldogs up 2-1 late in the third, the Steamers pulled their goalie for an extra attacker, and with a shot parallel to the goal line Zach Frost for the Steamers found the back of the Bulldogs' net to end the game, 2-2.
Per playoff rules, there was a five-minute sudden-death overtime, in which the Bulldogs out shot the Steamers, 7-3, but could not score. The next overtime procedure was a shootout, in which Durango's Casey Stewart scored after five of his teammates were stopped by Ponikvar. The Bulldogs could not score during the shootout and Durango came away with a 3-2 win.
"We will not let the deciding game slip away like the second game." Bulldog captain Boatright exclaimed before the final game.
The Bulldogs rose to the occasion, with Scott Smith scoring an unassisted goal early in the first period, then assisted on a goal credited to Colt Criswell later in the period to put the Bulldogs up, 2-0.
Steamers' Conner Coughlan scored in the second, but Smith put up another goal late in the second with an assist from Mark Oxley to seal the 3-2 victory and a berth to the Frozen Four championship tournament for the Bulldogs.
The Northern Division of The Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League did very well in the playoffs with Moffat County beating Durango, Steamboat beating Telluride, and Oak Creek beating Crested Butte. The Championship tournament will be played at the Eagle County ice rink, starting Saturday. Oak Creek faces Gunnison at 7:30 a.m. and the Bulldogs play Steamboat at 9 a.m.