Home ice advantage is very apparent within the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL). When at home, the league-leading Aspen Leafs have won all but three of their games, while the second-place Pikes Peak Miners have yet to lose at home. Perhaps more important are the four remaining teams’ records. Since the bottom four teams will battle to determine which survivors will join the top two seeds in the Final Four, home ice advantage could play a big part in their outcome. The third-place team will host the sixth, and #4 will host #5.
Currently, the Breckenridge Bucks are holding fast to the number three spot, with 7 games remaining in their regular season. Their home record so far is 11-7. The fourth-place Colorado Thunderbirds are only 4 points ahead of the Colorado Rampage. With just six games remaining for both teams (and a potential 12 points available), every game is crucial to secure home ice advantage. Although the Grand Junction Glacier Yetis are sitting in last place, they have scored 22 goals in their last six games—opening the door for a potential upset in the month of February.
Pikes Peak was able to take two games from the Colorado Thunderbirds this weekend, but it wasn’t without a fight from the T-birds. Both games were tremendously important for each team—Pikes Peak doing what they could to catch the number one Leafs, and the T-birds trying to create distance between them and the Rampage to secure home ice in the playoffs. It was the T-birds that struck first Friday night, and held a 2-1 lead after the first period. Pikes Peak responded with three unanswered goals to finish the 4-2 victors. “We played well especially dealing with sickness—I had about 6 players that did not practice all week and they played in the game, so to do what we did…I was very happy,” T-birds head coach Cam Clemenson explained. “As for the rest of the season, if we keep playing the way we have, I think that we can surprise some people,” he added.
Saturday night was all Miners, scoring 6 goals, and Pikes Peak goalie Matty Taylor stopped all 27 shots on goal, giving him his fifth shutout for the season. Miners head coach Nick Harper is trying to keep his players engaged in every game, regardless of the opponent. “I told our guys right now is about building for the playoffs. It’s not a light switch; we can’t coast the rest of the season and expect to show up and play our best when we need to,” Harper added. “We need to build and move forward every practice and every game.”
Although losing both games this weekend to Breckenridge, the Glacier Yetis dominated both games early. Friday night, goals by Palace Dawson and Lyle Wilkens gave the Yetis a 2-1 lead after one period. The second and third periods were owned by the Bucks, however, and the goal lamp might need a new battery, too, with the Bucks prevailing with a final score of 15-7.
Saturday was much of the same—goals from Jack Rousseau, Marsh Devlon, and Daniel Benilov gave the Yetis a 3-2 lead after one. The Bucks once again dominated the last 40 minutes, scoring the last five goals for a 7-3 win. When asked about the lopsided momentum in their games, Yetis head coach Brian Cersosimo noted their lack of consistency. “We are working on different things during the games as we build to see what we can do effectively for a sustained period that will carry us into the playoffs.” When asked about their ability to continue to score a handful of goals in most games, Cersosimo attributed the surge to certain lines. “It is more to do with what we are working on at a particular time, and who is out on the ice in certain situations.”
The Rampage traveled to Aspen this past weekend for their series against the Leafs. Aspen took both games, by scores of 6-2 and 11-5. The Rampage held strong for the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s game, just trailing by one goal. Six different players for Aspen lit the lamp in the third, coupled with a strong defensive stand, with Leafs allowing few scoring chances for the Rampage. J.J. Crew, head coach for the Rampage, had a positive takeaway from their series in the mountains. “I thought our team played with a lot of heart this weekend. With 6 games remaining in the regular season, our goal is to get into the 4th spot and get home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.” Crew made clear, “Our focus right now is to get healthy going into playoffs—injuries have been a constant throughout the season for us. If we can get healthy, I believe we can make a push in the playoffs. Special teams is also going to be a key for us heading into the playoffs.”
Making up a cancelled game from November, the Bucks will head to the Springs a day early to play the Miners in a three-game series this upcoming weekend. Opening faceoff will be at Sertich Ice Arena at 7:20 pm Thursday, 7:50 pm Friday, and 6:20 pm Saturday. Aspen will travel to the Front Range to face the T-birds—puck drops at 8:00 pm both Friday and Saturday night. The Yetis too will head east, taking on the Rampage. Friday’s game will start at 8:00 pm, followed by a 5:30 pm start the next day. Good luck and safe travels.