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A heartbreaker for AHS hockey

Tim Mutrie

AIR FORCE ACADEMY – The Aspen High hockey team’s bid for a state championship came up short last night in a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to Liberty in Colorado Springs.

As the Skiers fought to protect a 1-0 lead late in the third period, Liberty’s Devin Taber scored a power-play goal with 2:53 remaining to send the game into overtime. Then, 34 seconds into the sudden-death period, Liberty clinched its first-ever state championship on a rebound goal by Liberty’s Kevin Rauss.

The dramatic finish stung the Skiers, since Liberty’s late, game-tying goal immediately followed an Aspen short-handed rush where forward Will Graham caught the crossbar. The shot very nearly put the game, and championship, on ice.

“It always seems to happen that way in good hockey games,” Aspen coach Brett Kurtz said. “And with our depth, I liked our chances in overtime, but their best line came out and did what they needed to do. There was nothing [goalie Stuart Barwick] could have done. Without his courageous play, we never would have made it to OT anyway.”

Barwick, a junior, held No. 1 seed Liberty scoreless through most of the game, with help from gutsy defenders Cody Obuhanick, Matt Young, Jeremy Young and Eric Strauss.

“It hurts,” an emotional Barwick said. “They played great, did everything they had to. We just couldn’t put it in.

“It’s not so much losing that hurts,” he continued, “it’s just that this is our last game together with all these guys.”

Aspen’s lone goal came with 13:25 to play in the second period. Aspen sophomore Reid Hansen dug the puck out of the boards near the Liberty blueline and one-timed a backhanded pass to linemate Ry Neiley, who was streaking in on Liberty goalie Taylor Mastero. Following Hansen’s lead, Neiley one-timed a backhander of his own at close range, and Mastero never saw it.

“If we could’ve connected like that more, we would’ve won,” Reid Hansen said. “ln the locker room [during the first intermission], coach said, `Ry [Neiley], if you shoot the backhand, you’re going to score.’ And he was right.”

With the lead in hand, Aspen grew stronger, following Barwick’s lead in net, as he turned away 15 shots through two periods. Meanwhile, Liberty grew restless, taking three penalties to Aspen’s one in the second. Aspen forwards Carter Hansen, Graham, Neiley, Reid Hansen, James Ibbotson and Grant Gracis pressured the Lancers throughout the period, peppering Mastero with 13 shots in the second, for a total of 23, one more than Liberty managed. Nevertheless, the Lancers escaped the period trailing 1-0.

Entering the third period, Aspen killed the remaining 34 seconds of a power play and traded offensive attacks up and down the ice. With 4:35 remaining, Aspen gave up a crucial penalty during a line change, getting called for too many men on the ice.

Playing shorthanded, Aspen nearly put the game away on a Graham shot that hit the crossbar with just over three minutes to play. And while Graham was tied up with a Liberty defender at one end of the rink, Liberty’s Devin Taber led a rush on the Aspen end and beat Barwick between his legs to tie the game.

“All season long we’ve had breaks,” Liberty coach Walt Aufderheide said, “and all season long we’ve taken advantage. … With this bunch of guys, it’s never over.”

Both Aspen and Liberty, the No. 2 and No. 1 seeds, respectively, in the eight-team state playoffs, won overtime games on the road. Last night’s final was held on Liberty’s turf on the Air Force Academy campus. On Thursday, in a first-round game against No. 7 Palmer, Aspen prevailed 5-4 in the first overtime on an Ibbotson goal. Similarly, Liberty outlasted Cheyenne Mountain 3-2 in a double overtime game of the semifinals Monday night.

Last night’s overtime period lasted less than a minute, as Liberty’s Tom Owens managed a long-range wrist shot on Barwick that caromed to the open side of the net and right to Kevin Rauss’ stick for the game-winner.

“A lot of people have joked that we did pretty well for an expansion team,” said Kurtz, who led AHS to a finals appearance in the team’s first season in the league.

“Give all the kudos to Liberty,” the coach continued. “That [Taber] kid was out there the whole game it seemed like, just like Ray Bourque in his prime. Amazing.”

Aspen captain Carter Hansen said it “was an even game. We hit some posts, they hit some posts, but I think we outplayed ’em.”

Like most of the Aspen team, Carter Hansen didn’t understand the penalty that Aspen took late in the third period, but he said, “That’s not what lost the game for us.”

Reid Hansen and Barwick, among other players, thanked Kurtz, who is leaving Aspen to move to Los Angeles in April.

“We owe it all to our coach,” Barwick said. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had – inspirationally, knowledge-wise and he’s just a great all-around guy – and he led us this far.”

Speaking for the other underclassmen in the locker room, Barwick added, “I’m going to miss playing with the seniors, but we’re going to try to put it together for next year.”

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2001


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