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Durango holds off Summit to claim first Class 4A state hockey title

It was about a six-and-a-half hour bus ride for the Durango Demons to get their first shot at Colorado state hockey immortality. So what’s a couple of long delays and hairy moments along the way?

Durango, in only its second season as a CHSAA program, held off the upstart Summit Tigers in the Class 4A state championship to claim a 4-2 victory Tuesday night at Magness Arena. The fourth-seeded Demons got goals from four different players and another standout performance from junior goaltender Luka Remec to defeat the 10th-seeded Tigers and claim their first state title.

“It’s just wonderful,” Durango coach Brian Ensign said. “We’re a strong hockey community. We don’t have a lot of kids, but we really try to develop the kids from a young age. Prior to CHSAA, we were in the Rio Grande hockey league and won a couple championships there. We knew we had a strong program, but it’s really exciting to be part of CHSAA and to do this.

“It’s incredible for these kids. I told them this is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

The Demons, who draw players from Durango and Telluride in the southwest corner of the state, finished fourth in the 4A Mountain league during the regular season but were the favorites in a most improbable title game matchup.

Durango yielded just four goals in its three state playoff games, which included a 4-1 upset of top-seeded Glenwood Springs in the semifinals.

“That means I have a great defense right in front of me,” Remec said. “We block shots. We never let them inside the slot. They always keep my back and I always keep theirs.”

The incredible Cinderella story for Summit fell just short of a championship. Summit was the last team in the tournament, and the Tigers won more state playoff games (three) than league games (two) this season.

It was also the first season Summit won a state playoff game in 18 years.

“The boys took it pretty hard, but I think they understand where we came from,” Summit coach Chris Miller said. “They’re going to reflect on this and understand that it was an amazing season. We’re just hoping that we set the foundation for teams in the future.”

Durango held a 3-0 lead just past the halfway point of the contest, but the Demons put themselves in serious penalty trouble. A five-minute major was followed by Durango taking an extra penalty during a goalmouth scrum, giving Summit an extended 4-on-3 advantage.

There were two long delays while the officials sorted out the situation – one before senior defenseman Cole Stuckey scored for Summit and one after – but Durango getting out of the period with just one goal allowed felt like a win. Junior Graham Schumann scored a 6-on-4 goal with 17 seconds left to give the Tigers one last gasp of hope before an empty-net goal just as time expired sent sticks and helmets flying as the party began for the Demons.

“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” Ensign said. “That’s not like us. We usually don’t take a lot of penalties, but we fought through that adversity. We’ve always been a good penalty-killing team, so I was confident we could hold them.”

Henry Howe put the Demons ahead just 3:30 into the opening period. The senior snapped a shot from the high slot over the goalie’s shoulder for his 11th goal of the season.

The opener was part of a 6-0 run on shots on goal to start the game for Durango, but Summit found its footing and collected the next seven. Tigers senior goalie Finn Schroder made the best save of the period in the closing moments when he turned away a breakaway attempt from senior Brady Holbrook.

After surviving a power play where the Demons allowed three shorthanded shots, Durango took control of the title game with a pair of goals in 68 seconds. Holbrook pounced on the rebound of a point shot from senior Lucas Betz for his 12th of the season. Sophomore Wynn Daniels stretched the lead to 3-0 on the power play with 7:53 left in the middle period. Daniels’ sixth of the year came from just above the edge of the crease.

“It was scary (in the second period), but I knew once we got through the power plays, we could get it done,” Remec said. “I’m really proud of our team. This program is going to do really well in the future.”

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