The Jackson Hole Moose faced off against one of their toughest competitors yet last weekend when the Holy Cross Crusaders of Worcester, Massachusetts, visited Snow King Sports and Events Center.
While Jackson pulled off a narrow win in overtime in the first game of the series, Saturday night’s game was a long battle that saw the Moose ultimately lose 6-5, leaving them with a series split.
“It was two great teams going head to head, and I hope for the fans it was an exciting weekend,” Moose captain Brian Upesleja said. “You can’t win ’em all. We just have to move on and get ready for next weekend.”
The game began with a strong period for the Crusaders. Although the Moose retained a slight lead in shots on goal all period, the Crusaders were able to sink two goals on the Moose net. Holy Cross was back for redemption after its close loss the previous evening.
The second kicked off with another goal by Holy Cross five minutes in. While the first half of the period saw a close performance between the teams, 10 minutes in the tides turned with a Moose goal by Brad Improta. Two goals from Drew Akins and Alex Dewitz followed immediately after, bringing the game tied and the crowd to their feet. But the Moose fell into a familiar pattern: a weak start followed by a satisfying comeback.
The pressure was on for the third period as both teams worked to free themselves from the deadlock at 3-3. Each team fought tirelessly for the first 10 minutes, neither one letting a single goal in. It wasn’t until midway through the period that the Moose broke the tie with another goal by Akins. Three minutes later, the crowd roared when a goal by Kyle Krauss gave the Moose a two-goal lead with just six minutes left in the game.
Moments later, Holy Cross returned with a goal, quickly narrowing the Moose lead to just one. Within the final two minutes of the game, the Crusaders scored two impressive goals, giving them the lead that would ultimately be the game final.
Though the team would have preferred a win, there are benefits to playing a skilled competitor. Following the loss, the Moose reflected on what lesson they can take from the game.
“We just have to learn to stay on top of teams and not give them enough space to do any damage,” AJ Sanders said.
While it was an evening of competitive hockey, Saturday’s game was about more than just the final score. The game began with a moment of silence to honor former Moose captain Joe Casey on the seventh anniversary of his death. Casey was beloved by the team and the community, and today his No. 15 jersey still hangs from the rafters at Snow King. Casey’s legacy is a reminder of what the Moose are all about: love for your team and love for the sport.
“Joe took me under his wing,” Upesleja said. “He introduced me to my wife, he got me my first job, he was my best friend. He was all heart.”
Casey was devoted to his team, having played with the Moose for 13 years. And although Casey has been gone for seven years, Upesleja still feels his presence on the ice.
“At one point tonight in the third period it was 15:15 on the clock, it was 3-3 and the shots were 31-31, and, you know, you can just sense it: He was there in the rink.”
The Moose sit at 14-6 with Cleveland visiting next weekend.