AHS hockey falls to winless Mitchell | AspenTimes.com

AHS hockey falls to winless Mitchell

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Sportswriter

Mitchell High School celebrated in Stanley Cup-winning fashion Saturday morning after knocking off Aspen for their first win of the season, the first in 12 tries this season.

The night before at Pueblo, Aspen skated by with three third-period goals to win 5-2 and improve to 12-1 on the season, atop the standings of the Colorado High School Hockey League.

But the next morning, for the 7:15 a.m. face off at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Aspen allowed two first-period goals to the winless Mitchell team and never recovered, losing 4-3. The loss dropped Aspen to 12-2 on the season with just two games to play in the regular season.

Aspen remains the No. 1 team in the standings, with 24 points to Battle Mountain High’s 23, but the Vail team is 11-1-1 and can clinch the top seed for the 12-team playoffs, which open Feb. 22, by winning out its final two games.

“Hopefully it was just an aberration with sleepy teenagers, but give Mitchell credit. It was their Stanley Cup and they celebrated like the ’80 Team [U.S. Olympic team] did after beating the Russians,” said Aspen coach Mark LeRose.

“It was my worst loss in ten years of coaching,” LeRose continued. “And the reason I say that is that the team seemed uninterested, didn’t care about our system and didn’t feel that we had to play hard.”

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Mitchell staked an early 2-0 lead, scoring twice on junior goalie Kris Long on six shots. Senior netminder Stuart Barwick then entered the game, but Mitchell still managed another pair of goals in the second. Aspen senior James Ibbotson cut the deficit to 4-1 at the end of the second, assisted by seniors Ry Neiley and Jamie Gull.

“After the first period, I challenged the team in the locker room to step up their play. I was beside myself,” LeRose said, “but we lost the second period as well.”

In the third period, Aspen drew within one goal on scores from Ry Neiley, assisted by Gull, and senior Sean Friedland, assisted by Ibbotson.

Aspen outshot Mitchell 43-20, with Barwick stopping 12 of the 14 shots he saw, but Aspen couldn’t find the net for a fourth goal to force overtime.

“It was very frustrating to be involved with a game like that,” LeRose said. “It never should have got to the point where we needed to tie them.”

Aspen concludes its regular season this weekend at the Aspen Ice Garden against two playoff-caliber teams. On Friday, Feb. 8, Aspen hosts Palmer (7-6) at 2:15 p.m. On Saturday, Aspen faces off with Regis (6-5-1). (The game time for Aspen’s “Senior Night” will be announced later this week.)

“Obviously, we’d like to finish on a positive note leading into the playoffs and put this Mitchell game behind us,” the coach said. “We had positioned ourselves to be the No. 1 team in the playoffs, but as we showed last weekend, we need to take care of our own business.”

If Battle Mountain and Aspen win their final two games, the teams will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. In the playoffs, the top four seeds get byes in the first round, automatically advancing to the round of eight.

Machebeuf (10-3) stands as the No. 3 team, followed by Kent Denver (10-3-1).

“The reality is we can’t finish worse than fourth, which means a bye,” LeRose said. “And to win a state championship, you’re going to have to go through the best teams anyway. So once we get to the playoffs, you have to win three games. Our mission will be “Three W,” if you break it down in those terms.”

On Friday at Pueblo, Ry Neiley scored in the first period, assisted by Ibbotson, but Pueblo, 5-9 on the season, matched to make it 1-1 entering the second. Aspen staked a 2-1 lead in the second on a goal from junior Anders Head, assisted by sophomore Lincoln Neiley and junior Peter MacKellar.

Pueblo tied the game in the opening minutes of the third period, before Aspen twined three unanswered goals by junior Jamie Walbert, Ibbotson and Ry Neiley. Michael Reveal, Ry Neiley, Friedland, Matt Young and Ibbotson recorded assists on the goals.

Pueblo outshot Aspen 31 to 21, and Barwick stopped 29.

“They responded,” LeRose said. “It was a very close game. Every time we scored, they got it back. Ultimately, which is what we’ve seen throughout the season, we have depth and can overcome in the end. Teams get fatigued and we still have legs underneath us.”