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Rink rivals

They didn’t have hockey skates, so they made do with figure skates.

Calling themselves the Mother Puckers, a name and spirit born of 1977 Aspen, they took on teams of local youngsters in the beginning: the Mites, then the Squirts and finally, when they got proper skates and learned hockey stops, the Peewees. It wasn’t until the early ’80s, when a second women’s ice hockey team cropped up in Colorado, that their first true rival materialized.

“All hilarity. Total hilarity,” said one 25-year veteran of the early days.



“I don’t know that girls had had the opportunity to play such an exhilarating and exhausting sport like that before,” she said. “Even the name was kind of tongue in cheek at first, but, like the team, it stuck.”

Some 27 years later, Aspen remains a pioneering force in Colorado women’s hockey with six female teams: under-10, under-12, under-14, under-19, the Puckers and the MP Toos, a Puckers B-team.



So it’s only fitting that a new rivalry has been struck between the top two female teams in Aspen: the Puckers and the elite U-19 team, the three-time reigning state champions.

The two teams played once last season and, both teams thankful and hungry for the local competition, they scheduled four games this season. Last Sunday night, Jan. 4, found the two teams scrapping for a second time this winter at the Aspen Recreation Center’s Lewis Ice Arena.

There were no mother-daughter matchups (not yet anyway), nor any sister-sister duels on the ice. But, judging from the swelling numbers of girls playing hockey in Aspen and the ongoing recruitment effort, it seems it will only be a matter of time before there are.

Secret Schairer

The Puckers, bigger and stronger and perhaps wiser than the U-19s, have won all matches to date. But that, too, seems to be another matter of time.

At the most recent game, the Puckers and U-19s traded goals in the first two periods. Then the Puckers went up two goals, 4-2, in the third. The Puckers seemed to be pulling away for good until Aspen High senior Dylan Braun cut the deficit to one with a nifty wrist to the upper corner and right past Puckers goalie Margo Cuttitta.

It was about that time that Tina Schairer, a four-year player at Providence College and the Puckers’ resident ringer, made her entrance, straight from a men’s league game at the Aspen Ice Garden. Schairer soon scooped up a Puckers’ rebound and fired it past U-19 goalie Teagan Walter to put the Puckers up 5-3.

“I tried to get there in the nick of time,” Schairer said later.

Indeed.

Elizabeth Severy, an AHS grad now studying at CU-Boulder, also arrived for the third period, and also made a late impact. In the final minute, she stick-handled the puck deep into the Puckers’ zone before dishing to Braun for a one-timer past Cuttitta to cut the score to 5-4.

In the closing seconds, the youthful U-19s skated circles around their older counterparts, pressing for the tying goal. But the Puckers’ fought them back and held on for the win.

“I love playing them,” said Schairer, who played in two national collegiate championship games, “and they’re only getting better. Every year. Eventually, I’m sure they’ll beat us. But hopefully, they won’t beat us anytime soon.”

Top dogs

Peter Whitmore, one of the coaches who revived the girls youth hockey program in Aspen seven years ago, said this year’s U-19 team is the best he’s ever seen.

And at 14-1 about midway through the season, the U-19s have grown accustomed to blowing out opponents. After all, they will be gunning for a fourth straight state title in the Mountain States Girls Hockey League come tournament time, March 5-7.

But Whitmore, co-head coach of the U-19s along with Wily Manering, likes to see the Puckers rough up his girls.

“Of all the years I’ve been involved in girls hockey, this is the best team that Aspen’s had,” said Whitmore. “That’s why games with the Puckers are especially good for us, because usually we’re used to dominating teams. We’re not quite there yet against the Puckers, and that’s a good thing. For both teams.”

“It’s great competition,” concurred Steve Costalas, co-head coach of the Puckers along with Adam Fortier, “and neither team is used to that. We’re both used to steamrolling [the] competition. And for us to get 31 shots on their goalie, that’s great, because in their league they dominate; they see maybe five shots on their own net … they beat everybody.”

The Puckers, at 6-2-2 in the Colorado Women’s Hockey League (WACH) midway through their season, are now 3-0 over the Aspen U-19s. The U-19s will have two more cracks at the Puckers later this season.

“A lot of the girls on our team know [U-19 players] well,” said Puckers captain Suzy Theriot of Aspen. “Some of us have baby-sat for them … know them from the rink. And we figure that we have to be wiser to keep up with them because they’re so young, and they definitely have youth going for them. They can last longer than we can, and they have more energy, which is nice for us to see, but in the end I guess our wiseness let us win that game.

“It was tight,” Theriot continued. “They don’t want to lose to older women, that’s for sure. We were wondering on the bench [Sunday] night whether they really wanted to beat us or whether they even cared or what, but we all decided that they definitely wanted to win. They wanted to beat the old ladies. There were definitely some pushes and shoves … and you could tell that they weren’t about to take anything from us; they’d put their body or whatever into getting the puck.”

The Puckers’ last state title in the WACH came in 2000, Theriot and Schairer’s first season with the Puckers. Last season, archrival Vail beat the Puckers in the state finals. Nonetheless, like the U-19s, the Puckers are ultimately gunning for the top prize.

First things first, though: The Puckers’ next game takes them to Vail on Jan. 18.

“It’s gonna be a tough one,” said coach Costalas. “I’ve just got to settle our girls down for games like this; they get all worked up for this game. It’s hysterical. Last year when we played Vail, all the husbands and the parents and the children, they all came with signs and cowbells. It’s great. Especially to see all the husbands banging on the glass, holding their children. Or when we’re having our after-game discussion, all the kids are running around.”

Up next for the Aspen U-19s is the Colorado Selects, an all-star assembly from the Front Range, on Saturday, Jan. 10, at 3:15 p.m., at the Lewis Ice Arena.

Coach Whitmore says the team, at the season’s midpoint, is serious about finishing strongly before the March state tournament.

“I anticipate that Aspen, with this surge of participation and the recruitment going on, is going to continue with its success. Aspen is very lucky now with two sheets of ice, and Aspen Junior Hockey is well aware of that, and taking advantage.”

Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com


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