SHERIDAN — Sheridan Hawks head coach Kirk Viren made the message very short and very sweet.
“He was just telling us, ‘Do you guys believe in yourself?’ Sheridan’s Gunnar Swanson recalled.
Midway through the second period of the state title game against the Laramie Outlaws, Viren did something he rarely does — he called a timeout. The Hawks, who had dug themselves a two-goal hole, huddled around their head coach, and the quick pep talk resonated.
Sheridan scored not a minute after the brief respite, and that kickstarted a rally that culminated in a 4-3 win that gave the Hawks their first state title since 2005-06.
“It feels great. One of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Sheridan’s Sam Boyles said.
Laramie boasted a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. The Outlaws controlled the puck for a lion’s share of the first period and half of the second. Sheridan made multiple uncharacteristic mistakes that led to a plethora of Laramie scoring chances and, as a result, a few goals.
The Hawks needed a spark, and the timeout provided just that. Walker Billings, off a feed from Boyles, cut Laramie’s lead in half at 3-2 with 5:58 to play in the second period.
“As soon as they got that goal, the mental aspect clicked,” Viren said. “It was like, ‘Yeah, we’re right there. We’re right in this, and we’re going to do this again.’ They just had that belief, that confidence that they’d get it done.”
Sheridan kept the pressure on and created numerous scoring chances before the conclusion of the second period. The Hawks continued to push in the third period, and Winfield Loomis recorded an unassisted goal three minutes into the period that knotted the game at 3.
That set the stage for Wade Jacobs, who scored the go-ahead goal on a feed from Jack Chase with under two minutes to go.
Jacobs wouldn’t have had the opportunity to propel Sheridan past Laramie if not for the Hawks’ penalty kill earlier in the third period. Billings got whistled for a major penalty and shortly after, Viren got flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty, which put Sheridan in a precarious 3-on-5 disadvantage.
Fortunately for the Hawks, goalie Josh Eaton and his small on-ice brigade of defenders staved off the long power play.
“We were killing it out there on our penalty kill,” Sheridan’s Justin Bailey said. “They only got a couple shots on, and we were getting it dumped down the ice really well. We were really clicking and playing as a team.”
Eaton finished with 36 saves on 39 shot attempts, holding the Outlaws scoreless for the final 21:13 of the contest. Eaton turned away many pucks, even spawning out wildly on the ice to keep the Outlaws at 3.
“You could argue that any of those saves, if he didn’t make them, we could have a different result to this game,” Viren said. “It just takes resilience and determination.”
Sheridan quickly drew first blood Sunday as Chase logged an unassisted goal in the first minute and a half of the game.
The top-seeded Hawks advanced to the championship game by way of edging Pinedale 3-2 Saturday morning in the semifinals. Toby Jacobs opened the scoring with a first-period goal, and Billings and Boyles tallied third-period goals that helped Sheridan build a 3-1 lead.
Laramie…..2 1 0 — 3
Sheridan….1 1 2 — 4
First period_1, Sheridan, Chase, 1, Laramie, Jaime, 2, Laramie, Weis
Second period_3, Laramie, Schwindt, 2, Sheridan Billings
Third period_3, Sheridan, Loomis, 4, W. Jacobs
Pinedale…..0 1 1 — 2
Sheridan….1 0 2 — 3
First period_1, Sheridan, T. Jacobs
Second period_1, Pinedale, White
Third period_ 2, Sheridan, Boyles, 3, Sheridan, Billings, 2, Pinedale, White