New league, same intensity
The Crested Butte Wolfpack hockey team is coming off one of its best seasons in team history. Last year, the Wolfpack put together an undefeated record in league play to earn a trip to the Frozen Four state hockey tournament.
This year, the team is headed into somewhat uncharted territory, joining a new league complete with several teams from the Front Range. About the only familiar faces will be coming from down-valley squad the Gunnison Blades, which stepped into the league last year.
Other than Gunnison and the two teams the Wolfpack saw at last year’s state tournament, it will be baptism by fire.
“There are a lot of teams I don’t know much about,” says third-year Wolfpack head coach John Mortell. “I think it’s a big step up because pretty much all of the teams have year-round facilities.”
Furthermore, the Wolfpack lost a couple of key players to graduation from last year, including one of the team’s all-time leading scorers Ben Reaman, and standout defensemen Ian Kelly and Colin Dill, who brought both points and intensity to each game.
This year, the team does have the luxury of a returning head coach in Mortell, who will be joined by Mike Stoneberg as an assistant coach, and former Wolfpack scoring great Sam Evans.
The Wolfpack will have 16 skaters, led by seniors Troy Pike and Dylan Curtiss, who have brought the same intensity from last year’s team to the ice this year. In addition, the team has the advantage of Montana Wiggins returning for his second year as starting goaltender.
Mortell and his coaching staff have a very experienced starting defense in Pike and Liam Mortell in front of Wiggins and the coaches are looking at Sam Reaman and Ian Dethloff to step into key roles on offense.
“They’ve been wanting this chance for awhile,” says Mortell.
The coaches also have a solid contingent of five freshmen joining the team this year and Mortell can already tell they’re ready.
“They’re very motivated and fitting right in,” says Mortell. “I can tell some of the freshmen did work over the summer to get ready.”
As is the case every preseason with the Wolfpack, ice time is limited, with the Wolfpack sharing the ice with the bantams on a handful of occasions. Nevertheless, Mortell has been working with most of the team the past two years so they’re able to start out quick with the practice times they do get.
“We’re just trying to pick up where we left off last year and working on reinforcing what we worked on last year,” says Mortell, “getting the kids on their skates and running through the systems.”
They got one preseason scrimmage in against the Gunnison Blades on Wednesday and will head to the Front Range for their first three league games this weekend.
“It’s going to be a little tough going into the games this weekend,” says Mortell. “The teams we face already have six or seven games in them. We always start off a little slow but by the end of the season we can play with anyone.”
With that in mind, Mortell has his sights set on another run in the post-season, with the top eight teams from the league getting playoffs births.
“I’ll be let down if we don’t make the playoffs,” says Mortell.
The Wolfpack will play again in Gunnison on Thursday, November 29 at 6:45 p.m. and will host their first game at Big Mine Ice Arena on December 19 at 6:30 p.m.
“I look forward to all of the support from the parents and fans and protecting the Wolf Den this year,” says Mortell.