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Hockey: Crucial stretch awaits Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – There’s no place like home.

After a less than fruitful seven-game road trip, and clinging to hopes of a postseason berth, the Skiers return to Lewis Ice Arena on Friday night for the first of four home games to close out the regular season.

Every contest will be crucial: The Skiers (5-8-2 overall), winless since Jan. 14, likely will need to win three of their last four to secure one of the 5A Foothills’ eight playoff spots, head coach Al Butler surmised on Wednesday.

“Obviously, it would be nice to be in a little different position to where we had a little more wiggle room,” he said. “I’m not sure if the kids feel the pressure or not. I’m sure that Friday will be the true test. We’ll see how we come out.

“We’re definitely capable, but we need to put it all together and get some breaks here and there.”

Aspen received very few breaks during its recent road stretch, which commenced with an 8-2 loss in Steamboat Springs. The Skiers rebounded a day later with a 7-3 rout of Dakota Ridge but have struggled since – particularly on offense. They have scored six goals in their last five games and just 33 all season.

“We’ve played some pretty good hockey. In our last game, we outshot Columbine, 39-20, but their goalie stood on his head and we just didn’t quite find ways to get the puck by him,” said Butler, whose squad settled for a 2-2 tie with the Rebels. “We played hard, worked hard, but we didn’t execute when the time came. We hit about five goalposts. … As long as we continue to get chances, hopefully things will change for us. If some of those chances will go in, that will give them some confidence.”

Aspen will be hoping for a strong start against a Kent Denver team that has dropped two straight games. The Sun Devils (7-6-3) lost to conference power Ralston Valley, 8-3, on Monday and will host Rampart on Thursday before making the trip to the Western Slope.

Saturday, the Skiers will drop the puck against Resurrection Christian, currently third in the Foothills standings, then battle Summit on Tuesday. The Tigers blanked Aspen, 5-0, on Dec. 16.

The Skiers close out the regular season against winless Battle Mountain on Friday, Feb. 17. Their postseason fate should be determined well before senior night, however.

“We’re right there where we’ve got to win at least three of four to have a shot,” Butler said. “Obviously, we need to beat Kent, Summit and Battle Mountain for sure. Summit and Kent are in the same boat we are in terms of needing to win to make the playoffs, so we’re playing the right teams.”

Butler and company are hoping home-ice advantage gives Aspen the boost it needs to finish strong and return to the state tournament after a one-year hiatus.

“The joke down at the Edge (Ice Arena in Littleton) is that we were going to start being the home team – we had been there four weekends in a row,” Butler said. “It will be nice to play at home. I know the kids are excited, and hopefully we’ll get a good turnout.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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