Breckenridge Vipers semi-pro hockey throttles Utah Blizzard in season-opener at home

Vipers forward Josh Gionfriddo (16) scores a goal in the second period against the Utah Blizzard during the season opener at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge, Colo. on Friday, Nov. 8. The Breckenridge Vipers defeated the Utah Blizzard 26-1.
Liz Copan /

BRECKENRIDGE – The Breckenridge Vipers started their season about as strong as they could have expected on Friday night at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge, defeating the Utah Blizzard 26-1.

The Vipers jumped on the Blizzard early, amassing 11 goals in the first period. The first-period surge featured goals from seven different Viper players over a 14-minute span, led by four goals from forward and Summit County local Dan Autenreith.

Autenreith commenced the scoring spree for Breckenridge at the 16:23 mark of the first period, on an assist from captain and forward Rick Batenburg. Autenreith then tacked on three consecutive goals within a 37-second stretch in the middle of the first period to extend the Vipers’ lead to 7-0.

After a fall of pre-season preparation where the Vipers increased their official and unofficial practice time with each other on the Stephen C. West Arena ice, Autenreith attributed the Vipers’ success to increased cohesion and familiarity across the ice compared to this time last year.

“It happened pretty quickly,” Autenreith said of the Vipers’ offensive explosion Friday night. “It was great to get a good start, getting everyone touching the puck is a good thing, especially getting our new guys going.”

One of those new guys was former Breckenridge Bolts star and Summit High alum Sean Costello. Costello scored the third goal of the game for the Vipers at the 14:48 mark of the first period, taking possession from net-to-net before finding the top shelf with a left-handed shot. 

Costello finished the game with two goals as Autentreith led the team in scoring with six goals.

“It was cool, a mellow start,” Costello said. “I was kind of worried because I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a good way to start the season.

In net, Vipers starting goaltender and general manager JR Engelbert stopped six Blizzard shots while Evan Labbe also spent some time minding the net. But the Vipers defense rarely had to buckle down on their end of the ice, as the Vipers controlled the puck and pace throughout the night.

“We always want to be a puck possession team,” Autenreith said. “That’s our goal, kind of our identity. And I thought we did a really, really good job of that. Everybody was getting their touches, everyone was getting their feet moving. It wasn’t just one or two guys. We spread it out, which is great to see.”

Autenreith, Costello and company were elated with the turnout in the Stephen C. West stands from Summit County supporters, who followed them from one end of the ice to the other between periods.

“There’s a lot more people here than I thought would be here,” Costello said. “Everyone was going crazy. It was awesome to see.”

And, after the game, many of the fans joined the Vipers at the team’s ritual after-game party in the heart of Breck’s Main Street.

“We are a family on and off the ice, for sure,” Autenreith said. “After this, we are all going to Ollies and we’ll meet with the fans. It was a good atmosphere that the fans showed up and stayed with us.”

Autenreith viewed Friday night’s blowout-victory as ideal preparation for upcoming games against stronger Mountain West Hockey League competition, namely a road tip later this month to Dallas, Texas to take on the Texas Titans and battles later this season against the Vipers’ arch-blood-rival, the Vail Yeti.

Looking toward those games, Autenreith couldn’t be happier with the play of supporting Vipers on reserve lines, such as forward KC Craven, who scored his own hat-trick and tacked on one assist Friday.

“KC did really well,” Autenreith said. “I thought our defense was, they get the puck up to us, and we have great puck-moving defensemen, which is a really good strength for us moving forward. To get them their touches and to see how comfortable they were with the puck. I think that was huge. “

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