Aspen Junior Hockey girls 19U team wins its third straight state championship
Make it three straight state titles for Aspen Junior Hockey’s 19U girls team, with the latest championship even coming with a perfect record. This past weekend, the Leafs capped off an unblemished 25-0 season by winning the double-elimination state tournament at Edge Ice Arena in Denver.
Paired with last season’s 26-0-1 record that ended in a second straight state title, Aspen’s 19U A team — which is the de facto girls high school team — has gone 51-0-1 over the past two seasons. This was the first season, and therefore first championship, of the Colorado Girls Hockey League, which replaced the Mountain States Girls Hockey League this winter.
“Just to go undefeated is an accomplishment in itself,” said Kirk Golden, the team’s head coach the past two seasons. “To do it two years in a row just shows how consistent they were. They put in the hard work. They deserved it. These games didn’t come easy, but they earned it. They put in the hard work and the result followed.”
Aspen seemingly cruised through the state tournament, including a 6-2 win over New Mexico in the final game. Laney Martens led the team in scoring over the weekend with 13 points (eight goals, five assists) while goalie Sammie Jaworski only allowed four goals over the tournament to finish the season with a .976 save percentage in league play.
This year’s team included five seniors in Martens, Jaworski, Charlotte Howie, Hayley Heinecken and Jaelin Nakagawa.
“One of the reasons why they had so many goals was they were very unselfish with the puck,” Golden said. “That was kind of the main thing. Then they just had chances and buried on them. Being unselfish with the puck and spreading it around makes it really hard to cover and them being really good skaters and shooters, it’s tough for teams to stop them.”
While the single A team’s season is a wrap, the majority of those players also play on the 19U AA team, a regional team that has the potential to qualify for the national tournament. Golden co-coaches the Aspen AA team alongside Keith Howie. They will compete in their state tournament this weekend.
Many of the current AA girls were part of past national-qualifying teams, such as the 14U AA team in 2017 that started it all. The 16U AA team has gone to nationals the past two seasons, although AJH did not field a 16U AA team this winter as most of those players moved up to the 19U level.
The future of girls hockey in Aspen looks bright beyond the current 19U team, considering the 15U single A team also won the CGHL state championship over the weekend. They entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and knocked off No. 1 seed Vail en route to a win over Boulder in the championship game. Aspen’s Kylani Nakagawa led the team and tournament in points. The 15U team was coached by M.E. Cohen, a former AJH standout.
“We got a good hockey culture going and the girls seem to love to play the game,” Golden said. “Us as coaches try to pass on that passion for the game, then it doesn’t seem like hard work for them. They are more enjoying themselves out there and having fun with the game.”
Skiers players were told that Aspen High School hockey isn’t playing varsity for the 2022-23 season. Reasons included a lack of seniors and consternation over experience.