Aspen advances to state hockey finals
Senior captain Carter Hansen netted two goals and an assist as the Aspen High School hockey team bested No. 3 seed Kent Denver 3-2 in the semifinals of the Colorado High School Hockey League State Playoffs last night in Colorado Springs.
With the victory, No. 2 seed Aspen advances to the finals against No. 1 Liberty. Faceoff is slated for Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. at the Air Force Academy rink in Colorado Springs.
“Tonight was the biggest game these kids have ever played, and Wednesday will be even bigger,” Aspen coach Brett Kurtz said last night during a phone interview.
Sophomore winger Reid Hansen, Carter’s younger brother and linemate, broke the ice for Aspen, scoring with 4:30 remaining in the first 15-minute period, assisted by Hansen the elder.
“We got off to the start we needed,” Kurtz said. “Just a tremendous start.”
Aspen led 1-0 entering the second, when Kent Denver’s Billy Warner evened the score at 1-1 on a power-play goal at 11:51. Carter Hansen responded with 3:44 to play in the second, assisted by junior Matt Young and Reid Hansen, giving Aspen a 2-1 lead entering the third and final period.
Less than three minutes in the final period, Warner, a top-10 leading scorer in the regular season, struck again to even the score at 2-2.
Carter Hansen, who casually listed a state championship among the team’s goals when AHS launched its first-ever hockey team earlier this winter, retaliated less than a minute after Warner’s goal, giving Aspen a go-ahead goal with 11:53 remaining. Matt Young and Ry Neiley assisted on the goal.
“It took forever for the third to run out,” Kurtz said. “They had nine shots to our six, so they were all over the place pressuring us real hard.”
Aspen goalie Stuart Barwick shored up the Aspen pipes down the stretch, giving AHS the 3-2 win and its first berth to the finals in as many seasons in the league.
Barwick saw 25 shots, while Aspen mustered 24 shots on the Kent Denver net.
“Barwick was tremendous in net,” Kurtz said. “He made the saves he should have and probably some he shouldn’t have.”
Kurtz also credited the play of center James Ibbotson and wingers Grant Gracis and Will Graham, whom he charged with shutting down Kent Denver’s Jake Sparks.
“The Hansen line [of Carter, Reid and Ry Neiley] played tremendous, and James Ibbotson’s line did a heck of a job against the Sparks line,” Kurtz said. Sparks “is the best player in the state, no doubt. They did a fantastic job keeping him in check.
“We got some big goals when we needed them, and every time they got an equalizer, we answered very quickly,” the coach continued. “They never got a chance to gain any momentum, and that was the game plan: to try to eliminate that [Sparks] line. And with an absolutely amazing team effort, we were able to do that.”
In the other semifinal game last night, No. 1 Liberty beat No. 4 Cheyenne Mountain 3-2 in double overtime. “So hopefully they’re real tired,” Kurtz joked.
In Aspen’s first-round game against No. 7 Palmer, the Skiers escaped with a 5-4 overtime win, an experience that benefited the Aspen team last night, Kurtz said.
“Without a doubt, that served us well,” he said. “We didn’t play with fear tonight. They had their composure, but against Palmer the guys were very nervous.”
Last night, Kurtz said the AHS team was already thinking about Liberty, a team that beat Aspen 5-1 in their league game Dec. 15. Both Aspen and Liberty finished the season with a league-best record of 11-2.
“The kids have moved on from the win,” he said. “They feel good about it, but they know there’s one more to go. We’ll practice [today] and start gearing it up again.”
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Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2001
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