Aspen Junior Hockey girls hoping to continue recent success with 19U teams
With a core group responsible for back-to-back state championships and three consecutive trips to nationals, both of Aspen Junior Hockey’s 19U girls teams are poised for another strong winter season. Their seasons got underway over the past few weekends with results that back up their recent success.
“We had a great season last year, so we’ve raised the bar quite high,” said Keith Howie, who co-coaches both teams alongside Kirk Golden. “It’s something to shoot for again this year. The girls are playing really well and we are hoping to get back to that level we were at last year. Got a good group of returning players. It’s going to be hard to do, but that’s kind of what we are shooting for.”
AJH is fielding both a 19U Single A team, competing out of the newly formed Colorado Girls Hockey League, and a 19U AA team that has potential to make nationals at the end of the season. There is no 16U AA team this winter, with many of those girls having moved up to play at the 19U level.
The 19U A team is the two-time reigning Mountain State Girls Hockey League champion, a league that was replaced by the CGHL this winter. This is the de facto girls high school team, as girls hockey isn’t a sanctioned sport through the Colorado High School Activities Association, although girls can and have played alongside the boys at times.
The Leafs 19U A team hasn’t lost since the 2017-18 season. They went 26-0-1 last winter in defense of their state championship and are off to an 8-0 start this season after winning the Adele Dombrowski tournament hosted by Steamboat Springs two weekends ago.
“It’s good. We like the pressure. We like to treat pressure as a privilege,” Golden said. “We are a really deep team, so it’s not one girl every night. In every game there is someone who steps up.”
While the CGHL team is predominantly just Aspen skaters, the AJH 19U AA girls team is a mix of players from Aspen, Vail, Steamboat, Summit and the West Elk, or Gunnison, areas. About a third of the AA players also play for Aspen’s CGHL team.
While teammates at the AA level, many of the girls play against each other on the Single A level.
Aspen Junior Hockey has had a lot of success in recent years with its AA girls. In April 2017, the 14U AA team played in the USA Hockey National Championships in what was believed to be a first for AJH, which goes back to its founding in 1972. A year later, many of those same girls returned to nationals, although as part of the 16U AA team, the first of back-to-back appearances at nationals for the 16U team.
Many of those girls are now playing at the 19U level this winter.
“We have a lot of experience in that sense,” Golden said of having players with national-level experience. “The core group of the girls has been at each of those. It’s good to have that experience.”
The 19U AA team has a core group of Aspen seniors that have been a key piece of all this success in recent years at both levels. Those players include Charlotte Howie, Laney Martens, Hayley Heinecken and goalie Samantha Jaworski. They are 2-0-1 after opening the season this past weekend.
With a couple more teams in the regional fold, Golden said getting this year’s 19U AA team to nationals will be much more of a challenge than with the 16U team of the past two seasons. However, with so much talent, depth and experience, it’s well within reason that it could happen.
“Two of the other teams are really strong, so it’s a tough situation,” Golden said. “I think we can do it since we have that experience of girls going to nationals in years prior and just being together for the last few years. Nothing comes easy. It’s going to be hard and we have to work for it, but we are up for the challenge.”
Regional play takes place in March with nationals scheduled for April.
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.