Encouraging opening weekend for Aspen hockey | AspenTimes.com

Encouraging opening weekend for Aspen hockey

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Questions linger, but Aspen hockey coach Al Butler cannot argue with the results.

While they had to settle for a loss and a tie, his young Skiers proved they could compete with two of the state’s top teams, Battle Mountain and Steamboat Springs, during the season’s opening weekend.

And Saturday morning, Aspen cruised past Summit, 5-1, in its first 5A Foothills conference game. The Skiers did not notch their first league win last season until Jan. 10.

“It was encouraging,” Butler said Wednesday. “The will to compete out there was very good.”

The Skiers went 0-3 in last season’s mountain tournament. They went on to lose their first five games, a slump that dropped them into last place in the

13-team Foothills and nearly cost the 2006 state champions a playoff berth.

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This time around, host Aspen made a much more favorable opening statement.

It had multiple opportunities to score in Friday’s opener against Battle Mountain, but were hindered by a slew of penalties and could not break through against a squad that was ranked fifth in The Denver Post’s preseason poll. Jack Sunderland produced the game winner for the Huskies little more than 40 seconds into the second period. Teammate Connor Tedstrom’s shot was deflected right in front of the net, and Sunderland tapped the puck past Skiers goalkeeper Zach Ware.

Saturday, Aspen’s offense broke out. The Skiers scored three times in the opening period against Summit – two from James Pardee, who finished with a hat trick – and jumped out to a four-goal advantage after two periods.

Taylor Mayer and Bo Writer scored goals and Ware stopped 21 of 22 Tigers shots to preserve the lead.

“That’s where we kind of saw hopefully what the true team is going to be like,” said Butler, whose squad is trying to replace Daniel Doremus and Trey Fox on the front line. “You know coming off Friday’s game, we were a little more prepared. They know they could play, had energy and capitalized. The puck movement was better than I kind of expected this early in the season.

“We don’t quite have the same firepower [as last season] and aren’t getting as many chances. I think they will come as we move through the season. … The guys are starting to realize they have to help their line mates out there.”

Cody Horn scored off assists from Writer and David Cottrell to give the Skiers an early lead in the second period of Saturday’s late game against Steamboat – the fourth-ranked team in The Post’s poll. Jake Bearss squared the match 7 minutes later, and neither team could find the net down the stretch.

Aspen’s Frederick Newton and the Sailors’ Erik Owen combined for 45 saves.

“It was the third game in less than 24 hours, so both teams were kind of tired. … Some the chances were not as crisp as they were in the morning,” Butler said.

“Going into this weekend, we’re kind of starting to get a feel for the things that are working for us and what things aren’t.”

Next up for the Skiers are two road tests on the Front Range. They play Cheyenne Mountain on Friday, then Dakota Ridge on Saturday.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com