Crucial weekend ahead for Aspen hockey team
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – There is no panic in Al Butler’s voice. Still, Aspen High’s veteran hockey coach acknowledges he can sense some urgency.
The Skiers are struggling. They have lost six of seven games and currently occupy 13th place in the 14-team 5A Foothills Conference. Friday, they embark on a pivotal three-game-in-four-day stretch that very well could make or break their season.
“Obviously, this weekend will be telling,” Butler said. “But, like I tell [the players], we’re a young team. We’re just trying to get where we need to be. As long as we’re making progress in that direction, we’re doing all right. We’re starting to see that.”
The results have not materialized, however. Aspen, which picked up its only win Dec. 14 in Steamboat Springs, has been outscored, 12-2, in two games after the holiday break. Last Friday, it surrendered three goals to Standley Lake in both the first and second periods en route to an 8-2 defeat.
“What’s happening is that in some games we try to feel the game out, and you can’t play that way. You start too slow and the next thing you know, you’re down 2-0. That just comes from a lack of experience,” Butler said. “Friday night, we decided finally to come out and play from the beginning and play hard. … We played relatively well, but some mistakes we made defensively kind of hurt us.
“[Standley Lake] is a very talented and skilled team, but we competed. We outshot them, 27-25. When you lose a game like that 8-2, something obviously didn’t go right.”
Offensive production has been an issue all season. Aspen has produced just 11 goals in seven games.
It has allowed 27.
“That’s not going to win you a lot of games,” Butler said. “We don’t have those true goal scorers like we’ve had in prior years. We’ve got to figure out other ways to score some goals.
“We need to play a different style. We can’t try to run-and-gun with these types of teams that have a lot of talent and scoring capabilities. We have to play more defensive and try to get our goals off their mistakes – off rebounds and crashing their net.”
Butler also said the Skiers will continue to play with four lines. Against teams that give their standouts increased ice time, Butler is optimistic the strategy will wear down the opposition and level the playing field.
The coach said he is preaching patience at this point in the season. He is trying to make sure his players focus on each game and not worry about the bigger picture.
“You have to understand what you’re working with and the team that you’ve got. Each team and each year is kind of different, and you’ve got to be able to adapt to that. As coaches, we’re trying to back up a little bit,” Butler said.
“With this group being so young, I don’t want to really put any undue pressure on them. … I don’t want to overburden them or make them press any more than they already are. Hopefully, they start to play a little more loose. I hope things start to happen for them positively.”
Butler is hoping that starts at 7 p.m. tonight, when Dakota Ridge (2-7-1) visits Lewis Ice Arena. Aspen will then host Air Academy (5-3) at 4 p.m. Saturday. Steamboat Springs will look to avenge its lone loss in eight games to date when it comes to town at 3 p.m. Monday.
The Skiers play eight of their next 10 games at home.
“We’re making progress and at this point that is what counts. Hopefully that hard work and progress can generate some wins this weekend,” Butler said.
“Hopefully, we can continue to get them motivated to play hard.”
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