Aspen gets Machebeuf in playoff opener
This is the game the Skiers wanted.After a devastating 3-1 home loss to Machebeuf last year in the state quarterfinals, the Aspen High hockey team is looking for revenge today when the two teams meet in a playoff rematch in Superior. This time, it’s the 12th-seeded Skiers (9-8-2) who come in as the underdogs after an inconsistent regular season. The fifth-seeded Buffaloes (13-6) enter the game as the second-best team out of the rugged Metro League.Which Aspen High hockey team will show up in Superior remains to be seen.Last month, in a Friday night showdown with No. 1-ranked Cheyenne Mountain, the Skiers skated to a hard-earned 4-4 tie. The following day, Aspen was thoroughly outplayed at home in a 4-1 loss to unranked Regis.Skiers coach Mark LeRose speculated Thursday that his team would come out hungry in its playoff opener after such a disappointing loss at home last year. But he also admitted that he’s had a difficult time gauging the focus of his players throughout this season.
“It’s been a real challenge this year trying to find what buttons to push at the right time,” LeRose said. “I think we’re ready. This is a winner-take-all situation, so if you have an off night, your season is over.”Just last Friday, the Skiers avenged their home loss to Regis with a come-from-behind 3-2 win on the Raiders’ home ice.LeRose said that win might be the turning point of the season.”That was the first time all season that we’ve come back from a deficit,” he said. “There’s been a lot of growth since the beginning of the season, a lot of maturing.”There is also evidence to the contrary. Peak to Peak handed Aspen a 5-1 loss the following day – after the Skiers skated to a 4-3 loss in the first meeting between the two teams.Thus, the Skiers could be starting a Cinderella run to the state semifinals today – or it could be the final game for seven talented seniors, including standouts Sam Harder, David Goldberg and D.J. Furth.
LeRose is confident about the chances for an upset because of the team’s travel itinerary and the game’s afternoon start. Every one of the Skiers’ disappointing losses this season came in an early-morning gamesToday’s game is set for 3:30 p.m., but could be pushed back depending on the playoff games beforehand.”We’ll have an opportunity to control the environment with us staying in a hotel the night before the game,” LeRose said. “We can make sure they’re in bed early, then they can wake up and have breakfast, warm up, have a nap, then a pregame meal. It will be like a regular college travel schedule.”If Aspen is to get past the Buffaloes, it would likely set up a rematch with No. 4 seed Air Academy, which beat the Skiers, 3-1, in the second game of the season.The Skiers would definitely be up for another crack at the Kadets, LeRose said.”I really like the way the brackets turned out,” the coach said. “Like I’ve said all along, it doesn’t matter in preseason rankings, what matters is how you play in the postseason. We’re not looking past Machebeuf, but when we played Air Academy, we had more scoring chances and outshot them on their home ice. This game would be on neutral ice, so I like our chances.”
As for Machebeuf, LeRose wasn’t coaching at Aspen last year but said he got a “good read on some of the systems that they run, and some of their tactics” from watching film of the playoff loss. LeRose began his second stint as Aspen’s head coach this season, after turns at both the college and minor-league level.By the numbers, the Buffaloes have a well-rounded scoring attack. Brad Wilday leads the team with 16 goals, and Josh Kelly and Jordan Roberts each have 11. Machebeuf has done most of its damage in the first period, outscoring opponents, 43-31. The team has also finished games strong, outscoring opponents in the third, 21-8.Last year, Aspen never recovered from a five-minute major penalty at the start of the third period. Machebeuf went on to break the 1-1 tie on the ensuing power play en route to its 3-1 win.The Skiers enter the game with a healthy lineup. The only player who will miss the game due to injury is sophomore defenseman Steven Boenning.”That’s the key thing come playoff time,” LeRose said. “Our starting goalie, Kody Hornburg, was sick last weekend, but he’s all better. It’s good to have nearly everyone at 100 percent.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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