Vail Yeti outlast Breckenridge Vipers in first Battle of the Pass game of the season

There are a lot of good rivalries in the state of Colorado. Between the Border War between Colorado State and Wyoming, Colorado State and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Showdown, and the classic hockey matchup of the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings, sports lovers have many options for high-spirited, in-season battles.

Still, one local matchup looms above the rest: the Battle of the Pass between the Breckenridge Vipers and Vail Yeti. 

The two, semi-professional hockey teams met for the first time this season on Friday, Dec. 1, at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge.

After throttling the Rock Springs Roughnecks in the team’s pair of home-opening games on Nov. 17 and 18, the Vipers took to the ice with a goal to improve to 3-0 overall on the season.

With fans from both Vail and Breckenridge filling Stephen C. West Ice Arena, the puck was dropped and the Battle of the Pass was officially underway.

The Yeti began the game full of energy, skating down the ice with gusto and rocketing several shots at Vipers goalie JR Engelbert. 

Once Breckenridge was able to settle into the game, several Vipers recorded shots on net, including a shot which put Yeti goalie Spencer Gold flat on his back.

The Yeti delivered the first blow five minutes into the game, as Cody Ayers slinked a shot past Engelbert off of an assist from Landon Smith to go up 1-0. 

Following the goal, the Vipers tightened up on defense, blocking several shots and passes and pushing the resulting offensive opportunities on the other side of the ice.

Breckenridge got an opportunity to even the score on its first power play of the game, but despite putting several shots on the doorstep of the goal the team failed to find the back of the net. 

In the final moments of the first period, the Vipers evened the score when Cody Wilson skated through the Yeti defense and lasered a shot into the net. 

At the end of the first period, the score was tied 1-1, with the Yeti leading 18-15 for shots on net. 

With some momentum to begin the second period, Breckenridge wasted no time finding a go-ahead goal. A fury of shots in front of the net led to a Richie Kaye goal a little over two minutes into the second frame. 

The 1-point lead was short lived. A few minutes later, the Yeti scored a power play goal after Anthony Gallo was sent to the penalty box for slashing. 

The Yeti goal was awarded to Nate Sepeda and evened the score at 2-2.

Tempers began to flare between the two mountain town foes a quarter of the way through the second period. Solid hits were delivered by both teams, which eventually led to fisticuffs between Vail’s Clayton Smith and Breckenridge’s Trey Bruggeman.

A fevered energy filled the ice arena as the Yeti swarmed the net and fired towards Engelbert. With shots coming every few seconds, Engelbert put on a clinic in the crease, sending shots wide and covering up pucks. 

The defensive stand paid off for the Vipers. Mitch Bailey was able to intercept the puck, break down the ice and sink a short-handed goal past Gold. 

Breckenridge went into the final intermission leading 3-2.

Down by a goal, the Yeti came out of the intermission firing and soon scored an equalizer less than a minute into the fresh period. 

The goal dampened the Vipers’ spirit and a few minutes later, Alex Dahl brought the score to 4-3 for Vail.

With under 10 minutes remaining, Breckenridge began hounding the offensive zone for a goal with Garret Bailey searching for his first goal of the game.

The Yeti weathered several advances from the Vipers and then broke down the ice to seal the game with a fifth and sixth goal. Ayers and Bill Foster were credited with the goals. 

The Vipers fell 6-3 to the Yeti in part one of the Battle of the Pass as Breckenridge was outshot 49-30.

The Vipers will face the Yeti again in its next home game on Dec. 30. The two teams will play in Vail’s Dobson Ice Arena on Dec. 29.