The Steamboat Wranglers played solid and strong to take their first win of the season, over the Wichita Junior Thunder. The team from Kansas made the trip across I-70 into the town of Steamboat Springs, high up in the Rocky Mountains of Northwest Colorado.
First period was uneventful. Jordan Belley was in net for Steamboat. Austin Tilton was goalie for the Thunder. Neither team scored in the first period, as the Thunder was getting used to the rink at Howelsen Ice Arena, and the altitude of about 6,500 feet in Ski Town U.S.A. It was the first game for Wichita, for the season. Coach Rob Weingartner said, “Our guys were a little bit nervous starting out. It was just their first game. We had a few issues with our ice rink this year. Late in July, our compressor went down.”
The Thunder had also just finished a long bus ride, one in which the bus had a bit of a bobble off the road, running over some mile markers and cracking the windshield. But the boys were all OK and ready to play the Wranglers.
Second period, the Wranglers came out strong with a quick goal from Adam Albert at 19:06. Assists from Andrew Demorat and Swede Edvin Sollander. Wichita answered about nine minutes later with the score from Tyler Inlow off the pass from Swede Marcus Ohlsson-Ornelius. It was tied up halfway through the second.
Then at 5:29 to go, Steamboat’s 6’5” Tristen Wells hustled around Tilton’s net with three quick shots and was finally able to beat the goaltender out of position. Assists go to JJ Landers and Adam Albert.
Just over a minute later, Avery Albert took the sniper shot from the boards. JJ Landers had been battling it out and was able to get the puck to Albert who nailed it with the top shelf shot from the blue line. Landers got the assist. It’s 3-1 Wranglers with 4:26 to go in the second.
Two minutes later, Dalton Eagle Bear, from Lethbridge, Alberta, had the breakaway goal, and split the D to make it 4-1 for Steamboat. It was Eagle Bear’s first game at home as a Wrangler.
Wichita kept battling despite playing the game at higher altitude. Coach Weingartner said, “We all definitely felt it. I saw the look on their faces after about halfway through the first period and I thought, ‘OK boys, we need to get going,’ but there’s not much they can do about that.
Unless you’re here practicing at this level, you’re not going to get used to it. Hopefully, today will be a little better. I’m not totally disappointed with the game. I thought it was a good clean game. The guys played hard. It was a little bit sloppy at times, but that’s going to happen when it’s your first game. I thought Steamboat had a little bit more experience and they felt more comfortable at home. It was a good crowd. And it was good hockey.”
Despite the altitude, the Thunder kept going strong all the way through the second. Ohlsson-Ornelius scored off a pass from Eric Back with just :08 left in the period, which ended with the Wranglers leading, 4-2, over the Thunder.
In between periods, the crowd got worked up with their dancing shoes and did a lively rendition to Sweet Caroline, and then performed the wave, from end-to-end. The Wichita fans heartily participated.
The third period had solid play interspersed with a few penalties. Then at four minutes left in the game, Richie Kaye took the pass from Jack Rousseau to score, making it 5-2 Steamboat.
With just 1:04 left in the game, Sebi Culver came in on a late change from the bench, blasting straight to the net and scoring off the deflection. Final score, Wranglers 6 – Wichita 2.
The two teams play Saturday night. The puck drops at 8 p.m. It’s Pink the Rink for the Wranglers, who are playing as a benefit for the Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. Sunday’s game is at noon.