For Aspen hockey, time to play catch-up |

For Aspen hockey, time to play catch-up

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Aspen The position is unenviable but hardly unfamiliar.After a lackluster start to the season, the Aspen hockey team is once again facing an uphill battle as a new calendar year begins. The Skiers, ranked fourth in the Rocky Mountain News preseason poll, won just once in six December games and are currently last in the 13-team 5A Foothills conference.Theyre hoping history repeats itself. Last season, Aspen went from 3-3 before the holiday break to 11-4 after. The Skiers were 13-1-1 after Jan. 1 during a 2007 season in which they claimed the schools first state title.You never know if that type of trend is going to continue, but I hope it does, Aspen head coach Al Butler said Tuesday. Were a little behind the eight ball coming in after the break.Theres no reason to panic just yet. Aspen is just three games behind conference-leading Machebeuf with nine Foothills games remaining. Also, the Skiers five losses thus far have come to teams with a 27-9 combined record. Two of those squads No. 3 Steamboat Springs and No. 4 Ralston Valley are 6-1 and ranked in the top five in the Rockys latest rankings, which were released Dec. 17. In most of the games we played, it wasnt that we got blown out, Butler said. Ralston Valley was obviously strong, but in all the rest it couldve gone either way if we had a few breaks.Obviously, wed prefer to be in a little different position than were in, but given the situation right now, I still feel we can turn it around. We have the players to do it.When theyre on the ice. Defensive leader Tommy Mines broke his hand during Dec. 6s game against Summit in the season-opening tournament in Steamboat and has missed the last three games. In addition, defenseman Michael Ryerson has been battling injury and fellow back-line mate David Cottrell has missed time because of an unspecified violation of team rules. Consequently, the teams defensive rotations have been in constant flux, leading to obvious struggles. Opponents are outscoring the Skiers, 21-9.Cottrell is slated to return for Dec. 16s game against Valor Christian. Mines was on the ice Monday night the teams first practice since the break and will return to the lineup Friday against Cheyenne Mountain. His presence promises to restore order, Butler said.It obviously means a lot. Hes a senior, a big player, hes physical and handles the puck well and sees the ice well, the coach added. It should help the rest of the team bring their games up.Theyll need that type of effort if they are to orchestrate a second-half surge. The top eight teams in the final Foothills standings qualify for postseason play. An increase in offensive production is also paramount. The Skiers have been held to one or fewer goals in three of six games. That happened just four times in 21 games last season. It will not be an easy road. Aspen hosts Cheyenne Mountain (4-2) currently fifth in the state and Colorado Academy (4-3) on Friday and Saturday at Lewis Ice Arena. After facing winless first-year program Valor Christian on Dec. 16, the Skiers will travel to Denver to play unbeaten Machebeuf one day later. A home tussle with Regis Jesuit, the states top-ranked team, also looms on Feb. 7. Theres only one way to go, and thats up. Hopefully that starts this week, Butler said. Hopefully, were ready to go. We need to

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