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Aspen Bantam A’s come back to win tournament title

Aspen Times Staff Report

A roller-coaster of a weekend for the Aspen Bantam A hockey team ended on a high note last Sunday at the Aspen Ice Garden with the Bantam A’s upending Casper, Wyo., in the finals of the Continental Divide Youth Hockey Tournament and laying claim to the CDYH Western Slope Conference.

Aspen kicked off the tournament on Friday by dropping a devastating 6-3 loss to Casper, which entered the weekend No. 1 in the CDYH with a 15-0-1 record. Aspen, 14-1-1 going into the game, saw its 14-game winning streak snapped with the loss.

But the Bantam A’s fought their way back via a 2-1 win over Arapahoe and a 3-0 blanking of Steamboat to set up a finals rematch with Casper. Aspen’s determination was rewarded with a stunning 3-2 revenge victory over the visiting team and a berth in the state championship game against Eastern Slope Conference winner Pikes Peak on Sunday, March 19.

Aspen coach Lindsey Holmbeck called his team’s victory “as close as it gets.”

“I really felt we had the skills to beat Casper,” he said. “It was a remarkable comeback.”

In Friday’s opener, Aspen surrendered a breakaway goal in the game’s first eight seconds, but came back to take a 2-1 lead over Casper on a rebound goal by Joey Carlson and an unassisted goal by Sean Friedland, who combined with team captain Reid Hansen for the assists on Carlson’s goal.

Casper tied the score before the end of the first period and then struck for three unanswered goals in the second to take a 5-2 lead into the final period. Aspen’s Sean French cut the lead to two late in the third with a hustling, double-rebound goal, but when Aspen pulled goalie Jesse Amory in favor of more offense, Casper pumped in an empty-net goal for the 6-3 win.

After a shaky start to game two, Aspen righted the ship and rode the stellar goaltending of Amory and timely goals by Friedland, off an assist by Hansen, and Carlson, with Friedland and Matt Young assisting, to a 2-1 win over a strong Arapahoe team.

Aspen jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two periods and then held on for the win as Arapahoe stepped up the pace late in the game and nearly tied the score.

In game three, the Bantam A’s faced off with Steamboat in a must-win game to see who would progress to the finals. With a determined offense, good back-checking and solid defense, Aspen rolled to a convincing 3-0 win, with Amory turning aside 18 shots.

Aspen killed off a 5-on-3 Steamboat power play early in the game but was unable to score in the first period. Carlson broke the deadlock early in the second period when he took a pass from Young and jammed home his own rebound, and then Hansen followed that up with an unassisted score to send the game into the third period with Aspen up 2-0. Young fired home a slapshot off a pass from Hansen for a third-period goal that made the final score 3-0.

The Bantam A’s carried the momentum of two big wins into the rematch with Casper in the finals and stunned their opponents with two quick goals in the first period. Friedland stuffed home the rebound of a Hansen slapshot for the first goal and then repeated the feat minutes later off a Scott Tarbet wrist shot.

With Friedland’s goals staking Aspen to a 2-0 advantage after the first period, the Bantam A’s entered the second revved up and ran the score to 3-0 when Lincoln Neiley picked up a loose puck following a shot by Tarbet and beat the Casper netminder with a high wrist shot.

Casper responded late in the second by beating Amory with a tough-angle shot and then tallied again early in the third on a triple-rebound goal to cut Aspen’s lead to 3-2, but from there, Aspen defenders Young, David Gull, Peter MacKellar and Jamie Walbert shut down the Casper offense to preserve the victory for Aspen.


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