Lady Avs drop three of four to St. Mary’s … |

Lady Avs drop three of four to St. Mary’s …

Ben Husband

Two of the best junior girls’ tier I hockey teams in the country faced off last weekend at the Aspen Ice Garden.

Shattuck St. Mary’s of Minnesota, ranked among the nation’s top three junior girls teams, came to Aspen to face the Lady Avs – ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams – for a four-game series.

“This was an extremely tough weekend of hockey for us,” St. Mary’s coach Keith Holton said. “The competition was outstanding.”

St. Mary’s defeated Aspen three out of four games, but for Aspen coach Wily Manering and his team, the weekend went “beyond wins and losses.”

“This weekend went much further than hockey,” he said. “It was the experience of playing a top-flight, national-caliber hockey team.

“It was also a chance for the town of Aspen to finally see that top-flight hockey,” he added.

Manering added that “it was about time the town got to see their team in action after reading about us the last year and a half.” All-star lineup St. Mary’s brought three of the finest junior players in the country to Aspen, beginning with Kelli Halclsak.

The junior defender was named to the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team that recently traveled to the 3-Nations Cup in Finland earlier this year.

Fellow junior Roxy Stang is one of the leading scorers among junior girls, and senior goalkeeper April Stojak, one of the top shot stoppers in the country, recently signed a letter of intent to play at Ohio State University.

But Aspen, which made it to the national tournament in its debut season last year, suited up some top players of their own in defenders Kristin Harn, Julliane Vascheck, center Bridget Davenport, wingers Bekka Lass and Ali Crum and Canadian all-star goalkeeper Kim Raymond.

The talent-stacked matchup kept crowds at the Ice Garden on the edge of their seats. The action The excitement kicked off Friday night, when St. Mary’s topped Aspen 4-0.

“That was a stinker for us,” Manering said bluntly.

A late game -10:30 p.m. – and the fact that some of Aspen’s key players arrived in town hours before the game didn’t help the Lady Avs.

The two teams played again Saturday night and, despite a 2-1 loss, the Avs made a complete turnaround from the previous night.

“Everybody just came together,” Manering said.

Aspen fell behind 1-0 midway through the first period before Davenport fired a bullet just beyond the crease off a pass from Carrie Holldorf to tie the score.

St. Mary’s took the lead midway through the final period and its defense stopped numerous shots from Aspen’s blistering offense.

“After the first game, I think that we stepped up to its [St. Mary’s] level and I think that shocked them,” Davenport said.

Second-line player Jessica Smith said stepping up in the big games is something Aspen does well.

“Against teams like this, we just seem to start going faster and are so much more together as a team,” she said.

The Lady Avs then scored a 2-1 win in the first of two games Sunday behind goals from Lass and Crum. Senior Courtney Brinkerhoff had an assist.

Minnesota captured its third win with a 2-0 victory in Sunday’s second and final game of the weekend.

But it didn’t come easily. Aspen peppered Stojak with a myriad of shots, but just couldn’t get the puck past her.

“It was so disappointing,” Holldorf said.

But Aspen entered the four-game stand with hopes of winning one game, and they got it.

“This was the biggest win in the history of this team next to the win over Team Michigan,” Manering said.

“It definitely boosted our confidence,” Vascheck said. “That’s what we wanted – to know that we beat them is good for this team.”

Manering noted a great deal of “poise” in his team in its big win.

“The effort was unbelievable,” he said. “But the result came from poise – they were very composed out there.” Kim’s breakout performance Raymond said she needed a big weekend in front of the net for Aspen, and that’s just what she got.

Despite Friday’s 4-0 loss, the Canadian native played the next three games to near perfection.

In each of the next three games, Raymond stopped 20-plus shots, including 28 in Sunday’s win and 27 in the weekend finale.

“I think this is the first time all season that I’ve actually played well,” she said. “I think that I stepped it up because I had to – it was important for me and the team.”

Raymond said she felt no intimidation or apprehension facing St. Mary’s – a team with a reputation for scoring at will.

“I could care less who comes after me,” she said. “I don’t rank teams, I just play them.”

St. Mary’s assistant coach Mike Frankenfield praised Raymond’s performance. “She frustrated us all weekend long – she played so well,” he said.

Aspen goalkeepers coach Pete Whitmore said adding Raymond to the team was a key decision for Aspen.

“You need high-level goalkeeping at the national level,” he said. “We realized that we needed to get a nationally ranked goalie and we got one in Kim, and she’s really going to help this team come the national tournament.”

For more coverage of the weekend action, see Friday’s Aspen Times weekly sports section.

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