SHERIDAN — Immediately following Sheridan’s 2017 hockey season, Sam Boyles pulled the team aside and set a goal — a lofty one that the Hawks would have to wait patiently to chase.
“I just told the team that we are not getting second,” Boyles recalled. “We are going for gold.”
Pinedale had just broken the Hawks’ collective heart with a 7-5 win in the state title game in Rock Springs, extending Sheridan’s long state-title drought to 12 years. The loss festered in each player’s mind on the long ride home. All of them had the opportunity to let Boyles’ empathic postgame speech set in and fuel the fire for the upcoming season.
Advancing to the state championship was no easy task, and the Hawks had failed to capitalize on the opportunity, dropping a close contest to the Glaciers. No team is assured of a state-title-game appearance, not even the one seed as the Hawks found out the year prior to their 2017 heartbreak.
Sheridan boasted the top seed in the 2016 state tournament, but chalk didn’t hold as the Hawks got bounced in their first game. Sheridan fell to the loser’s bracket with a reestablished goal of a third-place finish in an attempt to salvage what was yet another disappointing state tournament.
But, once again, the Hawks fell in their final game of the season, dropping the third-place game to none other than the Pinedale Glaciers.
Needless to say, many of the veterans on the Hawks wanted a different ending in 2018. Not only did they want to finish with a win, a banner and a trophy, but they wanted to avenge a couple years of Glacier-infused frustration.
And as luck would have it, Pinedale advanced to face the top-seeded Hawks in the semifinals Saturday.
“Before that game we just thought, we’ve got to give it back to them,” Sheridan’s Gunnar Swanson said.
Sheridan never trailed against the Glaciers, holding off a late rally for a 3-2 victory.
“Pinedale was that big mental hurdle to get over,” Sheridan head coach Kirk Viren said. “We beat them, finally, after the last two years of them having our number. It was really huge.”
The victory Saturday, while celebratory, wasn’t the end goal. The Hawks earned the revenge they craved for years but still had unfinished business.
They needed the state title.
And contrary to the semifinals, Sheridan had to play from behind in the championship. The Hawks, who trailed 3-1 midway through the second period, scored three unanswered goals Sunday to raise their first state title banner since Viren suited up in the blue and gold back in 2006.
For the seniors that remember the multiple years of heartache and tough luck in the state tournament, winning a state crown in the last game as a Hawk, on home ice, proved quite gratifying.
“This is my last year, so there’s no better way to end my Sheridan hockey career,” Justin Bailey said.
It was a send-off the seniors won’t soon forget. As for the returnees, the end goal remains as short and simple as Boyles made it a year ago.
“It feels really good that we won this year, and hopefully we’ll do it again next year,” Wade Jacobs said.