By WESLEY REMMER
Some days are just better than others.
And after dropping consecutive games against the Tri-City Titans last weekend, first by one goal then by a staggering 10, that’s the Puget Sound Tomahawks’ sentiment.
Puget Sound (11-24) walked away from its Jan. 11 2-1 loss feeling good about its performance, as only a key injury to Tomahawk center Steven Richards and a third-period Titan goal stopped the team from netting at least a tie. But the following night, in a 12-2 loss, the Tommies were left shaking their heads.
“Everything they did was correct, and everything we did was wrong,” said coach Chadd Olsen of his team’s execution during the blowout loss. “We just weren’t prepared.”
Though the Tommies underachieved on Jan. 12, the team competed the previous night and had a chance to win the game.
On a night of physical play and strong floor checks by both sides, the Jan. 11 game was close from the get-go. Each team scored once in the opening period as the Tommies drew first blood on a Gabe Creigh goal at the 3-minute mark for a 1-0 lead. But Tri-City’s Alec Burks answered with a goal in the final minute, with 24 seconds left, to tie the game at 1-1.
The Tommies’ defense came out firing in the second period, the game’s most physical stretch, and goalie Cameron Clemenson held the Titans scoreless, temporarily preserving the 1-1 tie and notching 15 saves.
“Our goaltender is playing very well,” Olsen said. “He’s a 20-year-old and has played great.”
Clemenson’s lock-down goal keeping was overshadowed, however, when center Steven Richards, the team’s third-leading scorer, went down with an injury midway through the second period. He would later return, but the injury reduced his ability to get up and down the ice.
And with Richards’ scoring threat gone, Puget Sound’s offense sputtered.
Deadlocked entering the last frame, the game looked destined to go down to the wire as both offenses continued to fire blanks.
But less than 2 minutes into the third period, before the game had settled back into a flow and when it appeared neither offense had a chance, Tri-City (27-9) scored a shorthanded goal to take a 2-1 lead.
The unlikely goal, scored unassisted by Brandon Turley, proved to be the difference as none of the Tommies’ eight third-period shots found the net.
The pace was frenetic throughout the final period — each team, at one point, was down two players due to penalties and had only four players on the ice — and opportunities were aplenty for the Tommies as the game wore on, but the offense couldn’t get the puck past Titan goalie BJ Leach, who saved 28-of-29 shots on goal.
“We played well for two periods,” Olsen said. “But I wasn’t impressed with the beginning of every period.”
Puget Sound has struggled in the minutes immediately following intermission all year. Olsen believes inexperience is the primary reason.
“We are a very, very young team,” he said.
Olsen said a solution to his team’s early-minute problems after intermission rests in the players’ ability to remain focused when they’re not on the ice.
“If we can stay disciplined, we’re gonna be alright,” he said, adding that the team generally focuses more when it is on the bench — rather than in the locker room — during intermission.
Saturday’s game lacked everything Friday’s game didn’t: tight Tomahawk defense, stellar goaltending and a close wire-to-wire match.
The Tommies fell behind early 3-0 and never rebounded. Chase Bacanskas and Josh Fusco tallied goals for Puget Sound, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Damon Hollandsworth led the Tri-City charge by scoring four goals.
As the young Tommies digest last weekend’s mixed results, the coaches and players will continue to build a framework for future success.
The team is on the road this weekend against Eugene, Ore. (25-9) which has won five of six against the Tommies this year.