Depth, new conferences could aid Aspen High hockey
December 1, 2016
Ahs hockey schedule 2016-17 season
Friday vs. Cherry Creek
Saturday at Battle Mountain*
Dec. 10 at Denver East
Dec. 14 at Doherty*
Dec. 16 vs. Regis Jesuit
Jan. 6 vs. Battle Mountain*
Jan. 7 at Steamboat Springs
Jan. 13 vs. Pine Creek*
Jan. 14 vs. Doherty*
Jan. 20 vs. Heritage*
Jan. 21 vs. Cheyenne Mountain*
Jan. 27 at Pine Creek*
Jan. 28 at Resurrection Christian*
Feb. 3 at Cheyenne Mountain*
Feb. 4 at Heritage*
Feb. 10 vs. Columbine*
Feb. 11 vs. Resurrection Christian*
Feb. 17 at Columbine*
Feb. 18 at Mountain Vista
Third-year Aspen High School hockey coach Dru Lucchesi believes this could be the start of something special. It's been a long time since that lone state championship in 2007, but pieces seem to be falling into place to make a new push toward the top.
"We are very excited for this year. We have 18 juniors in the program, and we've had them for the last two years now," Lucchesi said. "It's exciting to see them kind of grow with the team. These next two years are going to be a lot of fun, to see what happens with this team."
The Skiers open their 2016-17 season at 5:45 p.m. tonight against powerhouse Cherry Creek — which is two years removed from winning its fourth state title in program history — at the Aspen Ice Garden. Despite the loss of four key seniors from a team that finished 10-9 last season, Aspen has something it didn't have a year ago.
"We have a lot of depth and skill that is coming into the program that we are really excited about," Lucchesi said. "Last year was great. We didn't have as much depth last year as we do this year. So this year we have four lines of solid offense."
Aspen's season ended last winter with a 4-3 loss to top-seeded Mountain Vista in the first round of the state playoffs. Mountain Vista's season ended a game later with a 4-2 loss to eventual state champion Regis Jesuit.
The landscape in Colorado high school hockey will look a bit different this winter with newly re-aligned conferences. With no classifications, the 32 varsity programs are split into four, eight-team conferences. Aspen will compete in the "Peak" conference alongside Resurrection Christian, Doherty, Battle Mountain, Heritage, Cheyenne Mountain, Columbine and Pine Creek.
The conferences were determined largely based on recent season RPI.
"We have the ability now to get a bye week and to host playoffs this year, which we've never really had that opportunity," Lucchesi said. "Last year we didn't have enough depth, and this year we got what it takes and next year we'll have even more. We are hoping to go past the first round this year in the playoffs."
In theory, the re-alignment should help smaller teams, like Aspen, compete with the larger Front Range schools that often dominate come postseason play.
Lucchesi expects Resurrection Christian, which is ranked No. 5 in the state entering the season, to be the team everyone is chasing in the conference. Regis Jesuit enters the season at No. 1.
Aspen's first opponent, Cherry Creek, is No. 4 in the state to start the season. The Skiers sit just outside the top 10.
"We haven't had a lot of time with these kids yet, so ultimately just to compete," Lucchesi said of his goal against Cherry Creek. "We are putting 20 guys on the ice that we think can hold their own and give Creek a run for their money."
Aspen has a quick turnaround, as it will play at conference foe Battle Mountain at 5 p.m. Saturday in Eagle. The Skiers won't have another home game after Friday until hosting Regis Jesuit on Dec. 16.