Aspen 2 U14s win first state title
It seemed only fitting that, as the clock stood still and a large crowd that packed Aspen’s Lewis Ice Arena hung in limbo Sunday, penalty shots would decide the U14 Mountain States Girls Hockey League title.Aspen 2 and the Colorado Select Green team from Denver remained deadlocked after regulation and a five-minute sudden-death overtime period passed in Sunday’s state championship game.”Even though we beat them in every game during the season, in the championship everything can change,” said Aspen 2 head coach Wily Manering, whose team beat Colorado Select, 3-0, in its opening game of round-robin play Friday. “People are nervous, and the adrenaline goes. That’s why we put the skates on.” Aspen 2 sent forward Lizzy Eastley to center ice. Eastley controlled the puck on her blade as she bore down on Colorado Select goalie Shannon Escalante, made a strong fake, then went five-hole for the score, Manering said. The pressure then shifted to Aspen 2 goalie Alex Brower. Only months after moving from Hawaii with her family, Brower, who grew up honing her skills in inline hockey, was charged with the task of maintaining Aspen’s 1-0 advantage. She easily controlled the shot of Kristina Hallberg, Manering said.Following a miss by Aspen’s Nicole Twohig – who scored the team’s lone regulation goal – Colorado Select’s Alex Durbin uncorked a strong shot. Brower initially stopped the puck, only to have it bounce off her blocker and roll into the back of the net. “I asked myself, ‘How the hell did that happen?'” said Manering, whose team outscored opponents 55-12 during the regular season. “That tied them up.”After misses by both teams in round 3, Aspen forward Katrina Buesch took center ice. Now was the opportune time to try out a wrist shot that she had been perfecting with coach Rob Hutton all season. Escalante didn’t have a chance, Manering said. Buesch launched a shot to the low right corner of the net to put Aspen ahead for good.Brower, the only MSGHL goalie to allow less than one goal per game, stopped Colorado Select’s final two shooters to preserve Aspen’s first-ever U14 girls title.”This is a first for any team outside the front range,” said Manering, who returned to coaching after a year’s hiatus. “There will be a U14 banner hanging in Aspen soon.”It was a season full of promise for Aspen 2, which won the Fall Face-off Tournament to open the season and took the Steamboat tournament title in February. The team compiled a 25-1-3 record and entered last weekend’s four-team tournament as the top seed. Aspen 2’s only loss came in the regular-season finale against Aspen 1, the second seed in this weekend’s four-team tournament.After its shutout of Colorado Select to open the weekend, Aspen 2 struggled against Colorado Springs, needing two goals in the final minute of regulation to pull out the 2-1 win. On Saturday night, Aspen 2 blanked Aspen 1, 3-0. Aspen’s two teams, which battled each other for WSGHL supremacy during the regular season, headed in opposite directions during the season’s most crucial stretch. Following a tie with Colorado Springs on Friday, Aspen 1 dropped two games – to Colorado Select and Aspen 2 – dropping it out of contention for the title. In Sunday’s consolation game, it fell to Colorado Springs.Manering admitted his team’s win was bittersweet, because of expectations for an all-town final. In the interest of parity and maximizing ice time for each player, Manering and Butler chose two teams of equal strength from a pool of the town’s players at the season’s onset. And while expectations didn’t come to fruition, both teams helped cement Aspen’s status as a junior hockey power on the state level.”We’re unique in this league considering Colorado Springs can only field one team, and it’s a city of 400,000,” Manering said. “For a town of 6,000 to have two teams in the final [weekend] is something. This is special for this town.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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