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Aspen Avalanche picks up momentum

Todd Hartley

Call it a satisfying measure of revenge … served ice cold.

With the state playoffs looming just two weeks away, the Aspen Avalanche Midget AA hockey team picked up two crucial wins last weekend at the Aspen Ice Garden and, at the same time, avenged two bitter defeats from earlier in the season.

Playing against a Fort Collins team that beat them twice in two days in October at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Fort Collins, including 4-3 in overtime in the final, the Avalanche put on a dominating performance, downing the visitors 5-1 Saturday night and then coming back to shut out Fort Collins 2-0 in the finale of the two-game series Sunday night.

“We’re definitely peaking at the right time,” Aspen coach Brett Kurtz said of his team. “The biggest thing is we’re all buying into the idea of playing as a team.”

That team concept was on display early in Saturday night’s tilt as Aspen outshot Fort Collins 15-3 in the first period on the way to a 2-0 lead.

Bridger Smith scored the Avalanche’s first goal just three minutes into the game off a pass from Jeremy Young, and then Carter Hansen notched an unassisted goal with one minute to go in the opening frame.

Aspen continued to dominate in the second period, this time outshooting Fort Collins 17-4.

The Avalanche got three goals in less than three minutes in the middle of the period to break the game wide open.

Young started the barrage with 13:48 to play when he scored off a James Ibbotson feed. Smith picked up his second goal of the game with 11:32 to go, with Hansen assisting, and then, 18 seconds later, Brendan Wynn scored an unassisted goal off a deflected slapshot.

Fort Collins would finally break the shutout in the third period when Todd Kreykes got free in Aspen’s end of the ice and beat goalie Hank Richey with 9:32 to play.

Richey stopped 11 of 12 shots to record the win in net for the Avalanche.

The game did have its low points for Aspen, however. With 6:03 remaining in the game, Will Graham was whistled for fighting and given a game misconduct, and David Haridim, who was the third man in on the scuffle, was similarly penalized.

With Graham and Haridim forced to miss out on Sunday’s game, the Avalanche found itself with just two full lines.

The lack of depth didn’t seem to be much of a factor, though, as Aspen continued its march to the postseason with a workmanlike 2-0 victory.

Tony Prikryl played sensationally in net for Aspen, thwarting repeated scoring chances by Fort Collins en route to the shutout victory.

Wynn was credited with the Avalanche’s first goal after a shot by Hansen was redirected into the Fort Collins net. Hansen picked up the assist, but linemate Ry Neiley may have actually been the goal scorer.

The score stayed 1-0 through the second period, with tight defense by both teams keeping the scoring opportunities at bay, but then Aspen picked up a second goal five minutes into the third period to ice the win when Smith converted an Oliver Garfield pass into a shorthanded score.

“We played well, considering our bench was short,” said Kurtz. “We only had two lines and Fort Collins was scrapping for their playoff lives, so it was a real challenge.”

Next up for the Avalanche will be a tournament this weekend in Las Vegas.

Those games will provide Aspen’s final tune-up before the state playoffs begin on Feb. 27.


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