Aspen hockey advances to final 4

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It’s off to the big dance for the Aspen High hockey team.

No. 4 seed Aspen earned a spot in the final four of the state tournament, along with the three other top seeds, by beating No. 13 Colorado Academy 2-0 in the first round Friday, then No. 5 Air Academy 6-1 in Saturday’s quarterfinals at Colorado Springs’ Sertich Ice Arena.

Aspen (15-3) will face a familiar opponent Friday at 5:05 p.m. at Air Force Academy in Cheyenne Mountain (17-1), the No. 1 seed, defending champions, and the team that knocked Aspen out of the playoffs last year, also in the semifinals.

“I’d describe it as an intense rivalry,” said Aspen coach Mark LeRose. “It’s based on good play and respect, but when you step on the ice, it’s a battle.”

Aspen enters the final four riding a 12-game winning streak, one that includes a 3-2 win over Cheyenne Mountain, the only blemish on their record.

“Cheyenne Mountain’s a very beatable team, you just have to come prepared, play hard and play smart. This week will be very focused preparation for that team,” LeRose said.

On Friday vs. Colorado Academy, Aspen senior goalie Jesse Amory carried the Skiers on his back, turning away 19 shots in the 2-0 shutout win, LeRose said.

Seniors Tim Hagist and Scott Tarbet scored Aspen’s only goals in the second period, and relied heavily on Amory to make them stand up.

“It was one of those games you don’t want to open the postseason on; we just were not ready to play. Thankfully, Jesse was ready to play and he won the game for us,” the coach said.

“It was a real eye-opener for us. The captains [seniors Joey Carlson, Reid Hansen and Matt Young] had a closed-door meeting and then I went in and talked with them … about what it’s going to take to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the state championship.”

In Saturday’s quarterfinal against No. 5 Air Academy, a different Aspen team emerged from the locker room. Aspen posted a 4-0 lead in second period with goals from Jon Cavaleri, Robbie Parker, Anders Head, Michael Reveal, then added to the advantage with two goals in the third from Hagist and Hansen.

Air Academy’s Graham Barrett, the leading scorer in the state, scored the only goal against Aspen in the postseason, and more specifically Amory, with seven minutes remaining.

“The thing that stands out is that we were getting scoring from everywhere: our second line contributed, our first line had two goals and we had goals from defensemen like Cavaleri,” LeRose said.

Neither win was cause for celebration, though.

“Celebration would not be the word. They were happy to be going back to the final four, but the underlying feeling on the team is that this is unfinished business at this point. And before you get the four wins, you’ve got to get two and the same with three. That’s the way we’re approaching it and I don’t think you’ll see any celebration until we get that fourth win,” LeRose said.