Skiers heading to title game
DENVER – Aspen High School’s hockey team has made the state semifinals five of the last seven years, but reached the title game just once during that span.Today, they’ll have another shot, after yet another impressive postseason performance. The third-ranked Skiers scored four goals – two from senior Andy Conarroe – on 15 shots in the first period to take a two-goal advantage over second-ranked Air Academy. Aspen added two more goals during a minute and a half span in the third period and cruised to the 6-3 win.The Skiers (16-3), who have scored six or more goals in each of their three playoff games, will square off with top-seeded Ralston Valley tonight at the Denver Coliseum at 5 p.m. The Mustangs were a 4-3 overtime winner over Cheyenne Mountain in Friday’s other semifinal.Ralston Valley and Aspen finished first and second, respectively, in the 5A Foothills conference. The Skiers spotted the Mustangs a two-goal lead during the teams’ previous meeting Jan. 27, but skated to a 3-3 tie.The Kadets (17-3) opened strong with a goal in the game’s first 32 seconds. Nick Pointer won a faceoff in Aspen’s end and the puck squirted out to Brandon Williams. He fired a shot from just inside the blue line and beat Aspen goaltender Cody Hornburg down low.
“Going down 1-0 was typical for us,” Aspen coach Al Butler said. “But we bounced right back this time. We stuck to our game plan and let the rest take care of itself.”Aspen trailed for only 50 seconds. Rob Cronenberg skated into the Air Academy zone untouched, and floated a backhanded wrister over the glove of goaltender Charlie Ruzkowski. Five minutes later, Conarroe finished in front of the net off assists from Ricky Frias and Matt Cooper to give the Skiers their first lead.”Early leads like that kind of take the edge off,” Kadets coach Dave Meisinger said. “We didn’t have much time to build anything. We’ve seen in this tournament that the team that scores first usually doesn’t win.”Air Academy tied the game 30 seconds later when Tyler Mather skated in from left of the goal and finished between two defenders. Mather, who injured his shoulder on the goal, watched the rest of the game from the Kadets’ bench.Cooper found some open space in the Air Academy defense during a 5-on-4 advantage and fired a shot on goal with 6:59 to play in the first; Conarroe, who scored four goals all season, was perfectly positioned out in front and knocked home the rebound.
“Things just finally started clicking,” the senior said. “We were playing our game, moving the puck and moving our feet.”Skiers forward Willy Klein stretched the lead to four with 1:51 remaining when he cleaned up a rebound following a Gaelen Means’ shot.The Skiers’ early success prompted Air Academy to pull Ruzkowski in favor of Taylor Lopez. The senior stopped all 10 Aspen shots he faced in the second period.”Taylor was a senior and it was tough not starting him, but Charlie has been on such a roll,” Meisinger said. “I have 23 other players to worry about, and I owed it to them to play the hot goaltender.”It wasn’t Charlie’s fault. They were swarming all over us. This is the first game like this we’ve had all year.”The Skiers, who outshot the Kadets, 25-11, through two periods, sealed the win with two goals midway through the third. Senior Ryder Fyrwald won a faceoff in the Air Academy zone and Mines collected the puck and fired a strong shot that found the net’s bottom left corner. With 7:41 to play, senior Nicky Anastas skated deep into the Kadets zone, then passed back to a streaking Tyler Moore who fired a shot into the top right corner.
Air Academy junior forward Taylor Henricks beat Hornberg with 27 seconds to play to cut the lead to three. But the Kadets, the 2005 state champions, ran out of time.Today’s final will mark the first time since 1981 that no school from Colorado Springs plays in the championship. That’s just fine with the Skiers, who will look to improve on their previous trip to the final. They lost to Liberty in 2001.”We’re definitely looking forward to tomorrow. We hope we can neutralize them with our speed and moving the puck,” Conarroe said. “This is a dream come true. It’s something I’ve waited for my whole life.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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