SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Hawks return to the ice this weekend against a not-soon-forgotten foe. The Hawks host the Pinedale Glaciers, seeking payback for the state championship game last season in which the Glaciers claimed the title.
“We’ve had a good rivalry with them the last couple of years,” Sheridan head coach Kirk Viren said. “It’s in a way a revenge thing. They played a great game in the championship last year and we came up short. I know those guys want another chance at it, and it’s definitely something we are looking forward to.”
The Hawks simply look forward to returning to game action. Sheridan hasn’t played since Dec. 17, throttling Douglas in back-to-back games to sprint into the holiday break with a good bit of momentum.
The last month for Sheridan has centered around improving the little things for the stretch run.
“The last few weeks have been about fine-tuning skills to get us ready for state,” Sheridan goalie Josh Eaton said. “It’s about finding the little stuff we can work on.”
The Hawks host the state tournament next month, and if they want to qualify for the A bracket, they have some work to do. Three teams have already declared A, leaving just one spot available come state tournament time.
Jackson, Gillette and Cheyenne have all declared A, and Sheridan currently holds the fourth-most points (eight) among teams not declared A. Casper leads the pack seeking the one coveted spot with 20 points, and the Oilers have already beaten Sheridan twice this season, both wins coming in Sheridan. Laramie lays claim to 10 points — Sheridan already swept the Outlaws — and Pinedale has 10 points. The Hawks have played the least number of games (eight) among any team in the state, which allows Sheridan time gain ground in the standings.
But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of this weekend.
“Absolutely, it is important,” Viren said. “(Pinedale) plays physical and they are fast and skilled, so it will be a challenge for us.”
The challenge gets slightly easier for Sheridan as it welcomes back Walker Billings from an injury that kept him sidelined for the first half of the season. Billings is a big-bodied player, measuring 6-foot-3, that brings a plethora of skills to the ice.
“He’s one of those guys that has pretty good hands for being a big guy,” Viren said. “He’s a good leader, and he creates a lot of havoc in front of the net with his big body.”
Justin Bailey paces the Hawks with eight goals this season, while Sam Boyles has logged the most points at 12. Gunnar Swanson matches Boyles’ six goals, and Jack Chase has found the net five times.
Eaton owns one of the best save percentages in the state at 90 percent. He has played every minute in net for the Hawks and only yields, on average, 3.3 goals per game.
Eaton will square off with another high-caliber goalie in Pinedale’s John Mitchell. The Glaciers’ goalie only surrenders 2.8 goals per contest while boasting a 91.9 save percentage, and Eaton looks forward to the challenge his counterpart presents.
“It puts a little more stress on me,” Eaton said. “We got good shooters, but he’s a good goalie, so it’ll be interesting.”
The puck drops Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Whitney Rink at the M&M’s Center and again Sunday at 9:30 a.m.