Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Wranglers are still playing their way through their first season in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, but they’ve already developed at least one intense rivalry. Friday night that rivalry was intense both on the ice and off.
Steamboat beat the Aspen Leafs in two close, penalty-filled games to take over second place in the league. On Friday night, the Leafs had a player ejected from the first of those games, who then took out his frustrations on the visitor’s locker room at Howelsen Ice Arena, damaging the room and earning a further suspension from his club.
“We had one of our players express some emotion and take it out in a way that doesn’t reflect or represent our organization,” Aspen Leafs Executive Director Shaun Hathaway said.
The player, 20-year-old Alaskan Tommy Bowe, racked up five penalties in the game — one in the first period and two each in the second and third. That results in an automatic ejection.
He damaged the soap and paper towel dispensers in the locker room, plus the walls of a toilet stall. Hathaway said the Leafs organization paid $1,082 for the damage and that Bowe, now on an indefinite suspension, had pledged to repay the team that amount.
Steamboat officials said Bowe had been in contact with both the Wranglers and Howelsen Ice Arena staff to apologize. They said that apology had been accepted and the damage fixed and that they were eager to move on.
“It’s been put in the past,” said Dmitry Chase, ice arena manager. “It was an isolated incident.”
The damage was fixed, and the locker room was in normal condition Wednesday.
In light of the incident, Aspen team officials elected not to use a locker room for Saturday’s game, instead changing on the team bus and waiting on the bench during the breaks between periods.
“The team was humiliated by not being allowed to utilize the locker room for such an important league game,” Hathaway said. “It was certainly a wake-up call for this young man, and he’s been remorseful.
“Changing on the bus and sitting on the bench between periods makes a strong statement that that type of behavior simply is not tolerated.”
Wranglers win two, take second
The rest of the weekend’s physicalness took place on the ice, and there was still plenty of it.
The Wranglers won 5-3 on Friday and 6-5 in overtime Saturday but had to withstand furious Aspen comebacks both nights.
Steamboat led 3-0 after Friday’s first period then 4-1 after the second. The team got two goals from Donny Nordstrom, then one each Kameron Fink, James Shelton and Jayden Dale.
Things got even more dramatic a day later. Steamboat led 5-0 going into the third period, getting two goals each from Fink and Nordstrom and one from Jack McNamara.
Aspen then battled all the way back in the third period to tie things, 5-5. Jack Allen scored twice to lead the way for the Leafs.
Fink finally put Aspen away in a sudden death overtime period with his third goal of the game.
“It was a little more stressful than it needed to be,” Steamboat manager Troy Mick said. “We thought that game would be a lot easier, but Aspen didn’t quit, and we took our foot off the pedal.”
They weren’t easy wins in any sense. The team’s combined for 44 penalties through the two games, including 33, split almost exactly evenly between the two teams, on Friday. At one point there were six different players, three from each team, in the penalty box.
“There’s not much love between the two teams,” Mick said. “It’s a battle of the ski hills. The hockey fans of Steamboat got a great weekend of hockey.”
In emerging with two wins, Steamboat stepped ahead of Aspen to secure second place in the league.
With nine games remaining in the regular season, Steamboat, 16-9-1-4, (wins, losses, ties and overtime losses) is 3 points ahead of Aspen, who are 15-10-1-3, in the standings.
Pikes Peak, 27-3, has run away with the top spot while fellow Front Range teams the Colorado Thunderbirds and Colorado Rampage are well back in fourth and fifth places.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday announced the final U.S. World Cup schedule, a lineup that includes the Aspen World Cup from March 3 to 5 on Aspen Mountain. Those races will include a men’s super-G and two men’s downhills.