It was exciting in a big picture sense.
The Steamboat Pee Wee A youth hockey team entered Sunday’s Colorado Amateur Hockey Association state championship having already played 44 games this season, making the finals in each of the five tournaments it traveled to and earning a 29-13-2 record.
Steamboat and Aspen, the championship opponent, already had played six times this season and split dead even, 3-3. They each punched their title tickets during the weekend by beating talented Front Range squads, earning the right to suit up and play in Denver’s vast Pepsi Center, with the video board on and the announcer echoing.
And the game was exciting in the small sense, as well, seemingly everything going wrong for Steamboat after a Will Coon rebound goal gave it a 1-0 second-period lead.
Steamboat sweated it out, however, and behind a magnificent goalkeeping performance from Peyton Tritz, accomplished the one goal it held all the way through the marathon season, winning a state championship.
“It was just a great season,” coach Tim Aigner said. “Ending it with a state title was our goal from the first day. All 16 kids contributed to it and it was very exciting.”
It was heart-stopping down the stretch. Steamboat's hopes rose on Coon’s go-ahead goal, but there was no resting easy as the team picked up three penalties in the third period. Those mistakes ensured the team was playing a man down through the entire stretch when Aspen most needed a goal.
“We were just telling the kids to dig deep and win every race to the puck,” Aigner said. “We told them they had to finish strong because in just six minutes, the title would be theirs.”
Tritz — “on fire,” Aigner said — had 13 saves in the game. Steamboat, meanwhile, poured it on throughout the game, logging 24 shots on goal.
Finally, it all paid off and time expired.
“It was a battle,” Aigner said. “The kids battled, hung tough, and we got it done.”