Underdog Tigers try for another playoff surprise tonight
BRECKENRIDGE Really, who needs a winning record to make a run at a state championship?The Summit High School hockey team has proven it does not. Last year the Tigers advanced to the Frozen Four after winning just seven of their 19 regular-season games. This year the Tigers lost their first five contests of the season, continually claimed that they were not worried, then went out and won eight of their final 14 games to make the playoffs again with a losing record.In claiming the No. 12 seed in the 16-team bracket, Summit (8-11) showed an ability to test the best teams in the state (see: 6-5 loss in overtime to No. 1 Ralston Valley, which the Tigers led 5-4 in the third period), but also an ability to look like six bumps in the ice (see: 9-1 loss at Aspen two days after the Ralston game).The Jekyll & Hyde identity has made Summit a tough team to predict, and although the Tigers are seeded as underdogs against No. 5 Regis (14-4) in tonights first round of the state tournament, you could almost make a case that they should be the favorites.Due to a preseason site selection, tonights 7:30 game will be held at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge, Summits home barn, elevation 10,000 feet. As senior captain Jimmy Keeling points out, We train up here and they train a mile below us.Whats more, the Tigers led Regis 2-1 in the third period when the teams met in the regular season, before the host Raiders scored two power-play goals on their way to a 4-2 win. Summit committed 16 penalties in that contest, drawing an automatic one-game suspension for SHS coach Bryan Smith. We had our chance against Regis, sophomore forward Alex Gutierrez said, and we didnt capitalize on it.The final factor that has Summit thinking upset in tonights game came last week, when, in the wake of the embarrassing loss at Aspen, the players sat down to sort through their woes.Sophomore defenseman James Lowrey recalled the problems and the players-only meeting this way:Everybody was blaming everybody. Defenseman blaming forwards, forwards blaming defensemen, goalies blaming people, people blaming goalies. We just had to stop the blame game and make sure everyone felt good about playing.Two days later, the Tigers ended their season with convincing wins 20 hours apart, against a pair of playoff teams: 6-4 over No. 8 seed Standley Lake and 9-4 over No. 16 Bishop Machebeuf.Our playoffs didnt start this weekend, they started last weekend, said Smith, Summits second-year coach. Which is why the Tigers arent just happy to be back in the postseason or even hoping for just one win. They want the big trophy, the one awarded to the team that wins the state title.Is it realistic? Without a doubt, Smith said. This thing is wide open.So it figures to be a question of which Tigers team shows up at the Steve tonight, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. Not even the players have an idea until the game begins.I wish I knew, said Keeling, one of only two seniors on Summits roster, along with TJ Fisker.Regardless, the captain said, This year were putting a lot more pressure on ourselves. I feel that myself; I want to get right back to where we were last year.The Tigers posted 600 fliers on Fridays game around the county this week, to help attract as many fans as possible. The fact that theyre not a good road team is suddenly and conveniently immaterial. The fact that they play their best at home when the rinks a rockin, well, it should only help.Summit has one more thing on its side. Should the Tigers fall behind early, as they did so often this year, dont expect them to panic. Through all the Jekyll & Hyde changes this season, the one constant has been something you cant teach.They never give up, Smith said.Devon ONeil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at email@example.com.State Hockey First Round Who: No. 5 Regis vs. No. 12 Summit Where: Stephen C. West Ice Arena When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
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