The shot totals in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League championship series may have been alarming to a different team, and the workload may have been overwhelming to a goalie other than Matty Taylor.
But for the Pikes Peak Miners, Taylor’s 106 saves in two championship series victories were practically business as usual.
“That was pretty much how the entire season went for us,” Miners coach Nick Harper said after his team won both the regular-season and playoff titles in the second-year league. “We were really more of an opportunistic team than a puck-possession type team.”
Taylor and fellow goalie Erik Anderson helped Pikes Peak thrive with that style of play throughout the year and hold off a quickly improving opponent at the end of the season.
Pikes Peak won the championship series opener, 9-4, despite a 53-35 shot advantage by the Steamboat Wranglers.
Steamboat, which had the league’s best record in the second half of the regular season and knocked off second-seeded Aspen in the semifinals, rolled 5-2 in Game 2 with a 53-32 edge in shots.
The Wranglers shot advantage was 62-36 in the deciding game, but Kole Mudra’s game-winning goal and a clutch effort by team captain Christian Gums combined with Taylor to produce a 6-5 victory.
“We had two outstanding goalies that were really good for us all year long,” Harper said. “Our strategy was to weather the storm, wait for our chances and make the most of them when we got them."
Taylor played the first and third games, getting the wins and earning series Most Valuable Player honors.
The goalies split time throughout the season with Anderson producing a slight statistical edge. The 20-year-old from Chanhassen, Minnesota, went 19-5 with a 2.26 goals against average, a league-best .940 save percentage and all four of the team’s shutouts.
“We had inexperience on the back end,” Harper said. “Our defensemen, I give them a lot of credit for the progress they made over the course of the season, but they were young and not a lot of them had played many junior games, if any at all.
“They did their job in keeping a lot of the shots and scoring chances to the outside, and when they had an opportunity to get the puck to our forwards and let them do their jobs, they came through.”
Taylor, 20, from Anchorage, Alaska, showed his ability to handle high shot volumes right from the start. Just two weeks into the season, he stopped 62 of 64 shots in a win over Aspen, the team that beat the Miners in overtime in the 2016 league championship game.
After facing 50-plus shots in three of the last five games — and at least 33 in the other two — Taylor finished 17-4 with a 2.90 GAA and .929 save percentage.
“Matty wound up being the playoff MVP and really he earned that in the first period of Game 3,” Harper said. “We knew how important it was going to be scoring first in that last game."
“We came out and we were sloppy to start. We took several penalties in the first period; actually had to kill off four power plays. He made 28 saves in the first period, allowing us to score with two seconds left in the first to get that extremely important first goal.”
Taylor and Anderson served as the goalie tandem for three years, first with the Miners 18U AAA team, then for the first two seasons of the program’s junior team.
“They’ve split [playing time] right down the middle for the last three years,” Harper said. “The interesting goalie dynamic that we had was two guys who pushed each other, but were very close, very good friends and respected one another."
“There’s not a competition between them. Or maybe there is, but it’s not a negative one.”
Taylor made early point-blank saves off dangerous turnovers to allow the Miners to get out to a 5-1 lead one minute into the second period of the series opener.
The Wranglers closed to within 5-4, but after they scored three times in less than 10 minutes, Matthew Moscati answered in the next minute to diffuse the comeback.
Kameron Fink and Cole Kohut helped the Wranglers tie the series.
Fink scored twice in the first five minutes and finished Game 2 with three goals and two assists. Kohut made 31 saves.
League scoring champion Mudra produced the championship-deciding goal with less than four minutes left in the third game after Steamboat had rallied from 3-0 and 5-3 deficits to force ties.
Gums contributed an inspiring effort to wrap up a 36-9 season.
“He’s been the captain of this group for three years now, starting with 18U AAA,” Harper said. “He’d never missed a game, practice or workout until Game 1 of the playoff [semifinal] series when he got a high ankle sprain. He didn’t play the rest of the playoffs until that last game.
“He came back in that last game and scored two goals and probably made some of the most key defensive plays in the last two minutes.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by Shannon Lukens
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