AHS opens playoffs with OT win
Aspen High fought back from a 2-goal deficit in the third period to pull out a 5-4 overtime win over Palmer in first-round action of the Colorado High School Hockey State Playoffs last night in Colorado Springs.
With 1:18 left in the first 15-minute, sudden-death overtime period, and the teams locked in a 4-4 tie, Aspen center James Ibbotson scooped up a rebound in front of the Palmer net and scored to keep Aspen’s championship drive alive. For Ibbotson, the game-winning goal was his second of the game assisted by AHS senior Grant Gracis.
With the dramatic victory, No. 2 seed Aspen advances to the semifinals, to be held Monday at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. A face-off time had not been determined last night. Aspen will face the winner of last night’s late game between No. 4 seed Cheyenne Mountain and No. 5 seed Air Academy.
“In the playoffs, any win is a good win,” Aspen coach Brett Kurtz said during a phone interview last night. “This is a great win. We came back from two goals back in the third (period) and that shows a lot of heart. A lot of character.”
Palmer, the No. 7 seed in the 8-team tourney, broke the ice in the first period, scoring two goals early to put Aspen in a 2-0 hole. Ibbotson, a junior, struck back with 1:14 remaining in the period on a short-handed goal assisted by Gracis and Matt Young.
“We came out in our first five or six shifts ready to play and we were playing well,” Kurtz said. “Then they got a break and on their very first shot they scored. And that kind of let the wind out of our sails.”
In the second period, Palmer and Aspen exchanged goals in the first minute of action, Aspen’s goal coming from sophomore Reid Hansen, assisted by juniors Ry Neiley and Cody Obuhanick. With two minutes remaining in the second, Palmer scored again to go up 4-2 entering the final period.
Aspen senior Jeff Flack scored three minutes into the third, assisted by junior Eric Strauss and senior Jamie Gull. Two minutes later, at 10:19, Aspen junior Matt Young scored to tie the game at 4-4, assisted by senior Carter Hansen and Obuhanick.
Aspen limited Palmer to 19 shots through regulation, and continued to play tough defense down the stretch, allowing only 2 Palmer shots in overtime.
“As the game went on, we got stronger and stronger,” Kurtz said. “In the third, we played tremendous hockey and that carried over into overtime.”
Kurtz said Ibbotson’s game-winning, overtime goal came off a set face-off play that the team practiced recently, during its two-week layoff following the regular season.
“It was set up perfectly by Ibbotson and Gracis,” he said. “We had a screen with our defense during a face-off in front of our net, and Ibbotson won the draw and sent Gracis up the ice. Gracis got off a shot, and the rebound came right back to Ibbotson’s stick.”
Aspen peppered Palmer goalie Robert Kola with 49 shots total, compared to the 21 shots Aspen’s sophomore goalie Jesse Amory faced.
“Palmer’s a much better team than the team we saw in the regular season,” when Aspen beat Palmer 4-2 Jan. 27, Kurtz said. Kola “played phenomenally. Just look at the shot totals.”
The Aspen team was “elated” following the game, Kurtz said.
“It’s a great feeling to win in overtime in our first-round playoff game,” he said. “But as the players are coming into the locker room, they’re all realizing that we haven’t won anything yet. We still have two games to go, and I’m pleased to see that in the attitude of the players.”
In other playoff action, No. 1 seed Liberty beat No. 8 seed Pueblo 5-1. No. 3 seed Kent Denver bested No. 6 seed Doherty 4-1.
“We’ve been tested now, and now we know what playoff intensity feels like,” said Kurtz. “I think that pressure will serve us well as we go deeper into the playoffs.”
The Aspen team planned to return home this morning.
“And we’re right back at it (tonight) for practice,” Kurtz said. “And you never know, we might just throw in a new face-off play.”
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