Aspen hockey tops two-time defending state champs
Special to The Denver Post
Aspen, CO Colorado
CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Colter Birk’s first career goal and point for Aspen will be hard to top.
It just may be the biggest goal of the season for the Skiers.
Aspen made Birk’s score with 1:02 left in the second period hold up for a 1-0 victory over two-time defending state champion Regis Jesuit at Family Sports Center on Friday.
“That’s a huge step for us,” Birk said. “It was our first game after the (holiday) break and it was kind of do-or-die for us.”
Aspen (5-1-2, 5-0 Foothills Conference) handed Regis (7-2) its first Foothills loss in four games and first home-ice loss since 2006-07, when the Skiers won state.
Birk, a junior who made the Aspen varsity but opted for more ice time by playing for a midget club team last year, had gone scoreless in the Skiers’ first seven games.
“I had too many (missed)chances,” he said.
Not this time.
A member of Aspen’s second line, Birk had just come off the bench when he took a pass on the right side from defenseman Laker Mines. Birk stroked an ice-level shot past the right side of Regis goalie Mitch Sungelo, who otherwise was perfect but not overly stressed.
Aspen managed just nine shots on goal, three in the second period and one in the third protecting the lead.
This Aspen team plays a different style — more like that of Regis — than the one that won state three years ago.
“This year our strength comes from goaltending and defense,” said Skiers coach Al Butler. “Our championship team was more offensive-minded.”
Aspen goalie Zach Ware stopped all 21 shots by the Raiders, including eight in the first and third periods.
Regis, which survived three Aspen power-play opportunities in the first period, failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:11 early in the third.
“Other than (the 5-on-3), most of (Regis’) chances came from the outside,” Butler said.
“That’s a good team,” Regis coach Dan Woodley said of Aspen, which remains in the Denver area for a game today against Standley Lake. “They were smart. They took the territory on us and we weren’t able to get one by. They had two good scoring opportunities and managed to get one by.”
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Basalt went 11-5 in the shortened regular season and finished a mere fourth in the Class 3A Western Slope League behind Moffat County, Gunnison and Delta. Then the Longhorns were the No. 21 seed in regional play that only includes 24 teams, but still shook up the bracket with a pair of big upsets.