Summit High hockey looks to improve power-play offense to reach higher level |

Summit High hockey looks to improve power-play offense to reach higher level

Tigers on road Saturday night at Mullen

Max Bonenberger of Summit High School plays against Glenwood Springs on Dec. 21.
Liz Copan /

The Summit High School varsity hockey team returned to action Thursday at the first of two practices on the day with a 35-minute skate – double what the team has done in the past for its first practice back after the holiday break.

“To get those their competitive mindsets focused,” Tigers head coach Joey Otsuka said about the four total practices across Thursday and Friday. “And they responded great. It’s one of best practices we had since the high school season started. No one complained. Everyone worked hard. That was a good sign showing what their mindset is. We’ve only played maybe a third of the season. We got to get going. We still have a lot of work to do. There’s still food on our plate to eat.”

For the Summit High hockey team, in the spirit of the Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott, “It’s time to eat.”

After beginning the season with a 4-2 record, capped by an enthralling last-second home win over Glenwood Springs, Otsuka said now’s the time for the Tigers to throttle up and play their best team hockey. Though he is content with the overall quality of hockey Summit has played this season — outshooting its opponents 205-168 through six games — Summit has yet to find itself when it comes to its power-play offense.

The Tigers haven’t laced up their skates since before Christmas, so Otsuka said Thursday and Friday’s practices focused on mustering the cohesion and confidence to fire more effectively on power plays. With a road trip at Mullen on tap at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Otsuka said the Tigers are converting on about one-fifth to one-sixth of their power-play opportunities. Summit has especially struggled after a torrid start to the season on power plays.

All things considered, he’d like to see that conversion percentage creep closer to one-third, which would set the Tigers offense up to be a dynamic and versatile threat with a dozen games remaining in the campaign, including a two-night home stand Jan. 10-11 at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge versus the team Otsuka used to coach, Crested Butte (4-2).

“We have eight to 10 players we selected to be on two power play units, and we are looking at them expecting them to score,” Otsuka said. “… I would say the Glenwood game, we had a couple of pretty good opportunities, but we just didn’t capitalize on them. And for the most part, we’re not even getting that scoring opportunity. We have a pretty strong and unique power play formation, and it’s risky. But we feel like we have the skill to deal with that risk this year.”

Otsuka said that in order for that power play to succeed, considering the formation, the Tigers have to provide a lot of movement. That means the puck moves horizontally and vertically and that Tigers players move horizontally and vertically. At times early in the season, Otsuka said the Tigers got the puck moving but didn’t cycle as much as needed, resulting in poor shots from far out rather than better looks closer to net.

Summit hockey

Dec. 6: at Cheyenne Mountain, W, 7-3
Dec. 7: at Heritage, L, 8-2
Dec. 11: vs. Steamboat Springs, W, 6-3
Dec. 14: at Coronado, W, 6-2
Dec. 18: at Battle Mountain, L, 4-1
Dec. 21: vs. Glenwood Springs, W, 3-2
Jan. 4: at Mullen, L, 2-5
Jan. 10: vs. Crested Butte, W, 5-1
Jan. 11: vs. Crested Butte, W, 6-3
Jan. 17: at Palmer, W, 6-0
Jan. 18: vs. Aspen, W, 6-2
Jan. 25: Chaparral, 5 p.m.
Jan. 31: at Steamboat Springs, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7: at Glenwood Springs, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 8: at Aspen, 6:15 p.m.
Feb. 12: vs. Battle Mountain, 6:45 p.m.
Feb. 14: at Liberty, 6:45 p.m.
Feb. 15: vs. Woodland Park, 3 p.m.
Feb. 22: vs. Standley Lake, 6 p.m.

Overall, the coach is asking for more risk from his guys for more reward in the end.

“If players don’t accept that risk and really buy into that and move their feet to create cycles or mini-screens, all it’s doing is wasting time,” Otsuka said. “And if we happen to be up, that’s OK. But if we’re down and need a goal, that’s not OK.”

The good news for the Tigers is that when they consistently get a handle on their power-play offense, it’ll be the exclamation point on the early season where they’ve met their own lofty expectations. With a “state playoff or bust” mentality, Otsuka was encouraged Thursday to see the team, namely its senior leadership, wants to make things tougher on themselves to be ready for bigger battles later in the season.

And that means focusing on having discipline on the daily off the ice. It means getting at least eight hours of sleep not only one night, but two nights before a game. That means not eating pizza at lunch. That means setting yourself up for success.

“It’s the mental game,” Otsuka said. “We’ve got all the skill in the world. This is one of the better skilled high school hockey teams I’ve coached in my career. It just depends on how they prepare. I believe we are getting better in that aspect because there’s no X’s and O’s drill you can do to take care of that. It’s about constant communication. How well we are doing is because of the sacrifices our leadership core is making, and that puts pressure on the younger crew to make the sacrifices.”

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