Breckenridge Vipers hockey team heads to Las Vegas for Mountain West Hockey League Cup finals
If you go
What: Breckenridge Vipers Championships Hockey Party
When: Saturday, 7-10 p.m.
Where: Ollie’s Pub and Grub, Breckenridge
Why: To support the Vipers, giveaways, raffles, drink specials NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs watch party
What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. But the Breckenridge Vipers semi-professional hockey team will be hitting Sin City this year for spring break and they are hoping to have some hardware in tow when they return to the Rockies.
The Vipers will take on the NorCal Ice Raiders for the Mountain West Hockey League Cup April 26-28. The Vipers punched their ticket to the best-of-three final series with a pair of victories against the San Diego Skates at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge late last month.
Heading into the back-to-back games against the Skates, MWHL officials informed the Vipers that if they swept San Diego, they’d qualify to play in the MWHL Cup. Scheduling technicalities for a couple of the league’s other teams presented this opportunity, giving the Vipers alternative means to qualify for the Cup finals. They did just that, defeating the Skates 6-2 in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Stephen C. West on Friday, March 22, before they topped the Skates 8-3 on Saturday.
“We put a big focus on the defensive side of the puck,” Vipers general manager and goaltender JR Engelbert said of the back-to-back wins. “Trying to create our chances out of our defensive-zone play, not so much the run-and-gun style that we’ve kind of been trying to play throughout the season. Kind of take care of our own first and then take advantage. So that was a little bit of a change for us. We just came up with a gameplan and really tried to stick with it knowing that we have the talent and the team to be able to out-think some teams and out-play ’em.”
The pair of victories improved the Vipers’ record on the season to 6-5, moving them into second place overall in the MWHL standings, and effectively claiming the MWHL Rocky Division’s bid into the MWHL Cup Finals. Several weeks later, the NorCal Ice Raiders clinched the league’s West Coast division berth to the Cup finals, where they will be defending their title from last season.
The last time the Vipers and Ice Raiders faced off in Breckenridge a year ago, the Vipers took both games over an Ice Raiders team that entered Stephen C. West undefeated. Engelbert said the Vipers aren’t holding their hat on those results by any means, as both the Vipers and Ice Raiders rosters have seen turnover since last season. Engelbert and other Vipers enter the trip to Las Vegas feeling good knowing the Ice Raiders are a squad they can compete with. Engelbert added that the Ice Raiders, who once again are undefeated his season, are a hard-working team that likes to hit the body and control the puck. The Vipers collection of about a dozen local Summit County players and other players who live outside the county will prepare for the matchup with final practices over this weekend at Stephen C. West.
Once in Las Vegas, the Vipers will be ready to take home a title that eluded them once prior when Breckenridge advanced to the Las Vegas Cup final in their first season. And Vipers defenseman forward, assistant captain and veteran player Colin Trevlyn is confident the team has grown enough through the 2018-19 campaign to pull it off and bring home Breckenridge’s first league championship.
“We got off to a slow start this year because we lost a few guys and gained some new guys and it took us a while to find the right chemistry,” Trevlyn said. “After some team bonding and getting to know each other, we started to find a rhythm and a common goal of getting to Vegas for a championship. I personally have a bitter taste in my mouth after my last trip to Vegas for the championship, so I have a lot to play for.”
Vipers coach Rick Battenburg reflects on the Vipers’ first four seasons as important in becoming more relevant in the Breckenridge community and expanding the number of local players. With that, the coach believes the club’s return to the MWHL finals is a testament to the quality of local players, local fans and the squad’s ability to perform on a national level.”
“We are excited for the opportunity to represent Breckenridge in Las Vegas,” Battenburg said, “and to bring the MWHL trophy home to Stephen C. West Arena and the Breckenridge hockey family.”
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