Quake advance to final
By LEW FREEDMAN Mar 20, 2017 Updated Mar 20, 2017
When Yellowstone Quake coach Ryan Theros entered his team’s locker room before the start of last Saturday night’s playoff game against the Bozeman Icedogs at Haynes Arena, he liked the atmosphere.
He overheard player talk about how the club would sweep the series. He read serious looks on players’ faces.
A couple of hours later the Quake had accomplished the mission of besting Bozeman 9-2 after overwhelming the Icedogs 8-1 Friday night in Cody. The sweep sent the Quake into the North American Tier III junior hockey league Frontier Division finals against Great Falls.
“They were just so focused and determined,” Theros said of the atmosphere in the dressing room and on the ice. “It was pretty much the same exact game (as Friday).”
A showdown with the Americans awaits, an anticipated match-up in a best two-of-three series which sends the winner to the Silver Cup championships in Romeoville, Ill.
“It was kind of what we expected from the beginning of the season,” Theros said of facing Great Falls for the league title.
The finals begin at Riley Arena on Thursday night. The puck drops at 7 p.m. instead of the usual start time of 7:30. The second game is scheduled for Friday at Great Falls. If a third game is necessary to decide the series it will be in Cody on Saturday night, again at 7 p.m.
Yellowstone led the Frontier Division wire-to-wire, from September on, clinching the regular-season crown March 3. Great Falls finished just two points behind in the standings. Both clubs had first-round byes in these playoffs. After its bye, Great Falls eliminated Gillette 6-2, 3-1.
The Quake dominated Bozeman. In the opener Friday night, Yellowstone peppered two Icedogs net-minders with 74 shots and kept piling up the goals. That playoff season debut followed a week’s rest. If there was any question of the Quake coming out flat because of the layoff, it was spiked almost immediately.
“The week off definitely helped,” forward Max Meyer said. “Everything went pretty smoothly.”
Yellowstone accumulated 27 shots in the first period and two goals, then added five goals in the second period.
The Quake seemed completely refreshed by the down time while Bozeman kept busy topping Missoula. Theros likes to challenge his team to put up 60 shots on goal per game. For the first game against Bozeman he asked for 75 and the team nearly hit that number.
“That’s how we have to come out in the playoffs,” Theros said. “We had lots of nice goals and everyone worked together.”
Forward Cole Stewart said the tall request from Theros to fire so many shots seemed a lot to ask, but the team basically came through.
“It’s crazy,” Stewart said. “We’ve had close games with them (the Icedogs), but we brought it tonight.”
In Game 1, the Quake received two goals each from defenseman Matt Runyon and forward Jesse Lawman. Pablo Pantoja, Nick Ligocki, Hunter Ruschmey and Meyer scored the other goals. Meyer also had two assists.
Runyon said the Quake excels when the team controls the puck and keeps the other goalie busy instead of letting the opposition set up offensively.
“We knew we needed possession,” he said of the Quake’s fast start. “We knew they were going to come out hard. We got the opportunities.
Ruschmeyer added an assist. He thinks defense first but his shots kept Bozeman goalies off-balance to the point a hat trick would not have been out of the question. He wasn’t even sure he has ever had a three-goal game in his career.
“Maybe when I was in squirts?” Ruschmeyer said of playing at 11 or 12.
Theros hoped the team would show the same desire for a quick start in Saturday’s game and it did.
“The guys didn’t want there to even be a hint it could be a close game,” Theros said.
Pantoja netted two more goals in Saturday’s game and another Yellowstone goal came off the stick of Nick Pizzey, who was traded to Bozeman and back to the Quake during the regular season. Tony Dahlberg, Curtis Greenbush, Max Doner, Reed Kelly, Carter Johnson and Stewart scored the other goals for the Quake.
Goaltender Nick Ottenbacker stopped 31 of 32 Bozeman shots in the first game and 24 out of 26 shots in the second game.
Theros appreciated the 17-3 scoring plurality.
“We had a lot of different guys scoring,” he said. “Every line is getting points. It’s got to be all four lines in the playoffs.”
(Lew Freedman can be reached at email@example.com)