In a weekend of sweat, bulky gear and shredded ice, the Douglas High School-age hockey team began its season with a loss to Casper Friday before defeating Park County Saturday and Sunday.
In their season debut Friday, the Cats were frozen at home against the more-practiced Casper Oilers 12-4. Scoring went back and forth in the first period, with tempo-setting goals scored by Cameron Burkett and Cooper Godlewski, assisted by Shai Reynolds and Bridger Myers, respectively.
While the Cats only trailed 2-4 at the start of the second period, the longer conditioning time in Casper showed as the Oilers quickly set the pace, sending three more into the net by the end of the period, compared to a single score by Douglas’ Alex Blake, who was assisted by Burkett.
The Cats scored once in the third, courtesy of Bryce Whitman, assisted by Burkett, but couldn’t match Casper, which racked up five goals during the period.
“We didn’t play to our potential at all,” coach Chad Forsman said. “We can hustle way better than that. We can be more aggressive. We let them get a lot of the loose pucks. We just didn’t play the game we’re capable of playing.
“We’ve got to work out our aggressiveness. We’ve got to work on getting our forwards pushing the offensive zone a little better. We’ve got to work on our puck movement throughout the offensive zone. Our points were open a ton tonight, and we kept just trying to throw it to the middle. We’ve got to use all five players, we’ve got to find that open guy and we’ve got to work the puck in the offensive zone, wear their team down and find that open shot.”
Cats right wing Burketts – who leads the team in goals, assists and points – echoed that.
“We really didn’t execute like we planned,” he said. “We came into the game and didn’t have the confidence we should’ve had. We need to work on our back-checking. We had a lot of (our team) just watching, standing around and waiting.”
The Oilers, on the other hand, didn’t seem to struggle with aggressiveness as they were called on seven penalties in the game, including holding, kneeing, roughing and high-sticking.
The Cats received two penalties.
Forsman said he and the team knew their effort had to improve after the game – and it did.
The Cats came out strong Saturday, toppling Park County 7-2 before demolishing them 12-3 Sunday.
“To me, the biggest (difference) was our team defense,” Forsman said. “A lot of our scoring opportunities is having a good defense, staying in control of the puck and making something happen on the offensive side of the ice.”
The Cats took an early lead in the first period, with Burkett scoring three goals, two assisted by Joppru, and Whitman scoring one. Then they continued hammering Park County in the second, with Burkett sliding three more pucks into the goal, one assisted by Olyn Forsman and two by Joppru.
Park County was held to just one goal in the first period and one in the second, with goalie Brennan White saving 20 shots throughout the game.
Douglas kept their momentum Sunday, only allowing Park County one goal in the second period and two in the third.
The Cats attacked the goal in this rematch game against Park County, stacking up four points in the first period, five in the second and three in the third.
Forsman said that several players stepped up in the games. He cited Hunter Lane, Whitman and Burkett, while acknowledging the team-centric nature of the sport.
“One kid is not going to win games for us. Cam (Burkett) played great, but it was a team effort. We’ve got a lot of kids that can score. We’re not going to have trouble scoring goals. Playing good team defense is going to be the key (to winning) this year.
“Looking at the scoreboard throughout the weekend, it’s going to be a close season against many teams. Those are teams that we can compete with, we’re going to be in the mix going forward.”
The Ice Cats, who have a winning 2-1 record, will have a rematch game against the Casper Oilers Friday at the Douglas Ice Arena at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds. How much they learned against Park County in a single weekend may come into play.
“It’s going to come down to us playing a team game. We all have to be committed to our systems, to our team defense. We have to play for each other. It’s going to be a good test to see if we’ve cleaned up any of our mistakes, if we’ve learned anything from our loss,” Forsman said.
The Douglas Bantam division also had a successful weekend in two away games against Laramie Green.
They shut out Laramie Saturday, winning 4-0, and beat them 8-6 Sunday.