It’s a fight to the finish for playoff hopefuls in hockey

Published: February 8, 2014, 11:51 pm, by Scott Kaniewski

After a lifetime in hockey, Pine Creek coach Ken Martel doesn’t overreact at the ups-and-downs that come with the regular season. He learned not to as an assistant coach for Michigan Tech University (1990-97) and Air Force (1997-98), and kept that mindset as a part of USA Hockey for the past two decades.

“It’s never as good nor is it ever as bad as you think,” he said of winning and losing streaks.

So, after his Eagles had lost six of seven games a month ago, he decided not to make a long, drawn-out speech to his players.

He simply looked at them and said, “Keep working, and we’ll get through it.”

His team listened, and Pine Creek won four of its next six games to put itself in the postseason mix with only a week to go.

“We feel we have the best team in the area,” Zach Zimmerman said before the Winter Classic last weekend. “We are excited to prove that.”

Now, Pine Creek finds itself in one of the best positions out of the four area teams still vying for a playoff spot.  And as of Saturday night, Doherty (12 points), Pine Creek (11), Palmer (11) and Air Academy (10) were still in the hunt for three playoff spots.

Liberty (10) was eliminated from playoff contention after Saturday’s Doherty-Palmer game.

Pine Creek close, but not quite there

The Eagles are in the No. 7 position, but aren’t in the clear as of yet. Friday, Riley Gregory scored three times and the Eagles beat the Terrors 7-1. Then, Saturday, they lost to the Lancers 5-4 after Nathan Watts scored two goals, including the eventual game-winner in the third period.

Meaning? Pine Creek may still need a point to ensure a spot in the postseason. It faces Valor Christian on Monday, third-seeded Heritage on Wednesday and ends with a nonconference game against Liberty on Thursday (nonconference games do not count in the team points).

Doherty may have clinched with 5-3 win over Palmer

Whoever won Saturday night’s ice match at World Arena would most likely clinch a spot in this year’s postseason.

And the Spartans did just that.  They scored four times in the first period and got past the Terrors and their leading scorer, Sam Horning, who tallied a goal and an assist Saturday to push his season total to 25 goals and 10 assists.

Doherty has a favorable game against Rampart on Monday, before it ends the season against Cheyenne Mountain on Thursday. Palmer, meanwhile, ends its season with Pueblo County on Thursday.

Air Academy needs some help

Right now, the Kadets are on the outside looking into the postseason.

It won’t be easy. Air Academy faces top-seeded Lewis-Palmer on Monday, before it ends its season with a non-conference game against Kent Denver on Thursday.

Who do you have in the final three playoff spots? Tell us on Facebook.

 Brent W. New, The Gazette

Twitter: @brentwnew @gazettepreps