Summit High School hockey wins conference championship in overtime thriller |

Summit High School hockey wins conference championship in overtime thriller

Tigers appear poised to host home playoff game next Tuesday

Summit High School Tigers varsity hockey senior Max Bonenberger attempts to advance the puck in transition during the Tigers' 4-3 Peak Conference championship overtime win Tuesday night in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self / Glenwood Springs Post Independent

FRISCO — The method to the Summit High School hockey coaches’ madness over the past year has been to put Tigers players in “almost the worst possible situation” in practice after practice.

“We come up with these problems that are not only incredibly annoying to be in, but you have to think,” coach Joey Otsuka said. “The drills, they wear on you, and you’ve got to have that discipline to be able to execute our game plan and have the mindset to allow your physical skill to shine through.”

All that work paid off Tuesday night in Glenwood Springs. With overtime on the brink, an unprecedented Peak Conference championship for the program hung in the balance of a 3-3 tie.

“But our bench was not freaking out, not yelling at each other,” Otsuka said. “We were focused, had confidence. We knew we could score on the goalie. And (senior) Max (Bonenberger) has that mindset.”

Four minutes and nine seconds into overtime, Bonenberger and scrappy Summit junior Ryley Cibula connected yet again on a highlight transition offensive play that sent Summit’s players on ice and parents in the stands into a frenzy. The all-state candidate Bonenberger made a play in the neutral zone to create a 3-on-1 advantage for Summit. When a Demons defender fell to the ice as a last-ditch sacrificial defense move, Bonenberger calmly lifted the puck up and over to Cibula’s stick, the junior rocketing home the game- and conference-winner before a dog pile ensued.

“Talk about a nail-biter,” Otsuka said. “Usually, those games end up being that way. The first game against Glenwood, the goal we scored with no time on the clock, was Ryley from Max too.”

With its 13-5 regular season coming to a close at home at 6 p.m. Saturday versus Standley Lake, Summit is prepped for next week’s state tournament. With a potential first home playoff game Tuesday night in their sights, the 13th-ranked Tigers have experienced and weathered enough trials and tribulations to be confident heading into the 24-team, single-elimination tournament.

The third-period action Tuesday night was evidence of that. With the game tied 3-3 entering the period, Summit senior goaltender Jake Mallory stood on his head to make saves a few times while the Tigers skaters embraced what Otsuka described as “knock-down, drag-out” action.

“Every time, we are going out with the mentality of sacrifice, to move the puck, to play no-mistake hockey, which is tough for any team,” Otsuka said.

Summit held on through the third period to eventually win in overtime. But to get to the third period and a chance of knocking off a revenge-minded Glenwood (10-5-2) for the second time this season, Summit weathered a physical first period it knew would be one of its toughest tests yet this season. The Tigers did so, trailing 2-1 after one frame, thanks to a perfectly executed Isaac Eland power-play goal where Hank Kasch shot strategically to have the puck bounce off the goaltender’s padding to Eland’s waiting stick on the far side.

“It’s a goal in any league in the world,” Otsuka said. “No goalie is stopping that play with the nature of how the puck moves horizontally and how quick that play is executed.”

The Tigers then rallied over the first five minutes of the second period to stun Glenwood with a pair of goals from Bonenberger. On one of the goals, Bonenberger chipped in a loose puck near the net. The other was a “Max being Max” goal, as Otsuka put it. Bonenberger, one of the fastest skaters in the state, received a clutch poke of the puck from Cibula. Despite Summit being down a man, the poke sprung Bonenberger’s speed loose for a breakaway tally and the lead.

“You could tell the way the bench reacted,” Otsuka said. “As soon as Max touched it — and his body language, how he was handling the puck — he was scoring that goal. It was a foregone conclusion.”

Looking ahead to hosting Standley Lake, Otsuka said the team is focused on getting a win, which would improve Summit’s seed and chances to win the first home state tournament game in Tigers history.

“And realistically, to have success in the playoffs, it’s not necessarily about the risks you take,” Otsuka said. “It’s about not making mistakes.”

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