The Bantam Cougars hockey team from Craig closed its regular season with a win — and with playoff hockey to come.
The under-14 team played two games against Steamboat Springs over the weekend, winning Friday, 6-5, and Sunday, 2-0, at the Moffat County Ice Rink. While many games have been higher-scoring affairs this season, Sunday’s was a defensive duel, with Craig’s Brodey Gutierrez scoring the first goal of the game with eight minutes to play and adding an empty-net goal with 11 seconds left.
Wyatt Bellio was at his best in goal for the Cougars, making 27 saves.
Assistant coach Jordan Anthony it was important for the players to keep their focus in a game where one goal could make the difference.
“They have to play smart,” Anthony said. “You can’t make turnovers in your own zone and keep control of the puck. If they keep control of the puck, the other team can’t score.”
More important, the two weekend wins guaranteed Craig a spot in the top four, meaning it will make the playoffs. The Cougars currently sit third, but eligibility issues in the league could vault them into the top seed when the postseason starts in March in Steamboat.
“It’s very exciting, I think this is one of the first years a Craig team has made the playoffs,” head coach Todd Bellio said. “I know these kids have never made the playoffs.”
Regardless of their seed, the Cougars will enter the playoffs with momentum, winners of five in a row.
“They have a lot of confidence going and I think they’re going to skate hard and they’re going to do well,” Anthony said.
Pee Wee Cougars finish strong
In a season rife with challenges, it came to a satisfying conclusion Saturday for the Craig Cougars Pee Wee team.
The under-12 hockey team took on Glenwood Springs on Saturday at the Moffat County Ice Rink and emerged victorious in a back-and-forth game, 6-5. Craig got five goals from Wyatt Boatright and one more from Zach Patterson.
Trailing 5-4 entering the third period, Cougars player Alexander Barber broke free and found Boatright in front of the net to tie the game with 4:14 left. Less than a minute later, Boatright was in the right place at the right time as he corralled a rebound and gave Craig the lead.
“We played a really good game, and I’m thankful for my team that gave me all those assists,” Boatright said. “I scored five goals, but my teammates were great.”
Head coach Terry Barber said the Cougars looked a bit sluggish at the start but gutted out a victory.
“We didn’t have the energy level for some reason tonight, but they came through in the end when they needed to. It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes you’ve got to win the ugly ones.”
Craig finished its league season with a 2-8-2 record, but that didn’t tell the whole story for the team, Barber said.
“Part of the problem we had starting out is we’re short (on players), we just haven’t had the numbers,” he said. “So these guys had to not only get in shape, but also improve their hockey game.”
Whereas many hockey teams can count on at least two full lines worth of players, the Pee Wees had less than that and had some players have to play for extended stretches of the game.
“One of our guys played from the second period all the way through the middle of the third and was completely gassed,” Barer said. “Hockey is typically a sprint sport, but we had to build two different kinds of muscles on our team.”
But the Cougars gained conditioning and improved over the course of the season, winning their final two games.
“My focus is continual improvement,” Barber said. “If you can continue to improve and continue to prepare, the wins come. They’ve done a great job and picked up their skill.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 857-1795 or email@example.com.