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Aspen faces off for state championship tonight

Tim Mutrie

Sleep well last night? Chances are the Aspen High hockey team didn’t.

The AHS hockey team faces off with Liberty High tonight at 7:05 p.m. in what’s likely the biggest game of their teenage lives – the State Championship.

Aspen, the No. 2 seed in the eight-team state playoffs, meets No. 1 seed Liberty at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Both teams finished the regular season 11-2 in league play (and are now 14-2), though Liberty earned the Colorado High School Hockey League title based on head-to-head play.

The first and only time the teams met, Dec. 15 on Liberty’s turf in Colorado Springs, Liberty blasted Aspen 5-1. That’s ancient history as far as Aspen is concerned. The school debuted its first-ever hockey team just two weeks earlier, and the Liberty game was the third league game into Aspen’s schedule.

“We’re extremely evenly matched,” Aspen coach Brett Kurtz said yesterday during a phone interview. “It’s going to be a great game. They’re a very hard-working team and they won’t give anything up.”

Kurtz said Aspen worked out yesterday in Colorado Springs. “We’re pretty much healthy,” he said, “at least there’s nothing that’s going to hold anyone out of the championship game.”

On Monday night, Liberty outlasted No. 4 Cheyenne Mountain 3-2 in double overtime to advance to finals. In the late game, Aspen prevailed over No. 3 Kent Denver 3-2 to keep their championship drive alive. In the first round game, Aspen dodged a bullet in No. 7 Palmer, winning 5-4 on a James Ibbotson goal in the first overtime period.

“The kids are very upbeat, really excited, ” Kurtz reported. “I think that Palmer game (Thursday) was a turning point in our season, because we lost that sense of fear, in terms of losing. I don’t think we fear losing anymore.”

“Against Kent Denver, we’d already been in a close game, on the brink of elimination,” he continued. “We know what that feels like now. And now Liberty does too. Both teams have battled through it.”

Kurts said the key to Aspen’s success is depth, with four forwards lines, a rotation of five or six defensemen, and solid goaltending from Jesse Amory and Stuart Barwick, who will get the start tonight.

“Depth is a major asset of this team,” he said. “It’s difficult to key on any one guy on our team because our scoring comes from a variety of different places,” including Reid Hansen (8 goals, 18 assists during the regular season), Carter Hansen (13 goals, 8 assists), and Jeff Flack (9 goals, 8 assists).

“So from a coach’s perspective, it’s problematic,” Kurtz said.

Liberty features “one really potent scoring line,” he said, “and the other lines play a strong defensive style. They’re very quick, very well-coached and extremely disciplined. They don’t make a lot of mistakes and when you do, they capitalize on it.”

“We’ve got to try to limit their speed by taking away their time and space with our forechecking,” he continued. “It’s important that we play sound defensively, because we can’t give them any opportunities.”

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Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001


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