Lady Avs ready for Minnesota team |

Lady Avs ready for Minnesota team

Ben Husband

You want hockey?

How about two of the top junior Tier I girls teams taking to the ice right here in Aspen?

Beginning tonight at the Aspen Ice Garden at 10:30 p.m., the Lady Avalanche will host Shattuck St. Mary’s of Minnesota. It will be the first of a four-game series that is expected to be jam-packed with excitement.

The series continues at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by two games on Sunday at 7:15 and 11:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s, one of the top-ranked teams in the nation, has defeated Aspen three times in the past five months. But the Lady Avs feel confident it will be a good weekend.

“I think it’s going to be a good weekend of hockey for us,” said senior defender Kristin Harn.

Aspen, which enters the weekend with an 18-8-1 record, “can beat this team,” added Harn, one of the top junior defenders in the country. “If we play hard and want to win, then I think that we can.”

Fellow senior and team captain Courtney Brinkerhoff said that in order to compete with the top Minnesota team, the Lady Avs must play as a solid unit.

“We definitely can’t psych ourselves out,” she said. “We need to work together and do the stuff we’ve been practicing.

“We have to go with the best opportunities we get to score because they won’t be an easy team to beat. We have nothing to lose. They’ve beaten us three times, so we’re going in as the underdogs and we are going to try to prove to them that we are just as good a team as they are.”

Both players said that playing at home will be an added bonus for the Avs, who spend a great deal of time on the road.

“People in this town only read about us after we get back from a tournament,” Harn said. “So it will be good for the community to finally see us in action against top competition.”

“Playing on our home ice is a huge advantage,” Brinkerhoff said. “We are going to be more comfortable; the home crowd hasn’t really seen us in action so it will be exciting to play in front of them.” The visitors St. Mary’s, a Minnesota boys and girls prep school, is considered a hockey academy because it recruits players from all over the world to go to school and play hockey.

The team, currently among the top three teams in the nation, plays a 60-plus game schedule every year all over the United States and Canada. Recently, St. Mary’s traveled overseas to play Sweden’s women’s national team, losing 8-2.

“This team plays the best,” Aspen coach Wily Manering said. “They play a restless schedule and are very well coached – they eat, sleep and drink hockey.”

But Aspen is also ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams. Shattuck coach Keith Holton isn’t taking the Lady Avs lightly.

“We know a lot about Aspen,” he said. “They have a lot of good players, and I’m sure that they are even better than the last time we played them.”

Holton added that “all the games between us were close – they weren’t one-sided by any means.”

“We didn’t do that bad against them,” Aspen’s Bridget Davenport said.

The Minnesota team practices up to two hours, six days a week. The Lady Avs are lucky to get two hours a week with the limited ice time available in Aspen; plenty of other teams and events vie for time at the Ice Garden.

“The lack of ice time really hurts this team,” Harn said. “But that’s just the way it is, so we are forced to just go with what we have and hope to do our best.”

In their last meeting, Holton recalled Aspen “not being able to stay with us late in the game. That may be because of the lack of practice.

“Despite the lack of ice time, they are still a great team. It would be scary to see what they would be with more practice time.” Top players Shattuck, 33-6-6, is led by four of the top-ranked players in the country, including 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.

Fellow junior Roxy Stang is one of the leading scorers among junior girls with 57 goals in 45 games. She also has 57 assists, giving her 93 points coming into Aspen.

Senior goalkeeper April Stojak, one of the best shot stoppers in the country, recently signed a letter of intent to play at Ohio State University.

But Aspen also has some top names on its team. In addition to Harn and Brinkerhoff, the Lady Avs have several players who pose a threat on the ice.

Offensively, Ali Crum, Bekka Lass and Jenny Rice are just three of Aspen’s speedy skaters with a deadly scoring range. Davenport, who led Aspen in scoring last season, is also a go-to player on offense.

Sasha Anastas, Carrie Holldorf and Jessica Smith round out Aspen’s offense.

Harn and Mikki Tofte are the defensive leaders. Julianne Vasichek, Katy Hussey, Kendall French and Sara Finesilver complete Aspen’s defense.

Canadian all-star goalkeeper Kim Raymond will guard the net for the Lady Avs, as she has all season long. As Raymond’s relief, Molly Tomkins has provided Aspen with some grand performances of her own.

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