Key wins have Skiers hockey riding high |

Key wins have Skiers hockey riding high

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen hockey coach Al Butler still remembers last season’s turning point.His Skiers traveled to Golden on Jan. 27 for a tussle with perennial power Ralston Valley and skated to a hard-fought 3-3 tie – the only blemish on the Mustangs’ otherwise perfect conference record.”At that point, they were the best team we had played all year,” Butler said. “The tie gave us a lot of confidence.”Aspen went on to win its final nine games of the 2007 season, punctuated by a 1-0 win over Ralston Valley in the 5A state championship game. While a trip to World Arena in Colorado Springs and the push for consecutive titles is more than a month away, Butler hopes Aspen’s performance this past weekend will prove to be a similarly seminal moment. He’s hoping convincing victories over Mullen and Summit signal the end of a period marred by inconsistent play and off-ice indiscretions.”We’ve gone through some adversity, but you figure we had a little bit of adversity last year,” Butler said. “Once we got through it, we started to get on a roll right after Christmas.”A road trip to Aurora on Jan. 18 resulted in a loss on the ice to Regis – and four off it. An undisclosed violation of team rules led to the suspension of four players. The distraction came in the middle of a season-long three game slide that cast doubt on whether the Skiers would have the chance to defend their title. “That kind of situation can lead to one of two things,” he said. “It can take you in the opposite direction and bury you, or take you to where you view things differently and come together better as a team.”The Skiers (7-6 overall, 4-3 5A Foothills) appear to have chosen the latter. After dropping a tight game to Chatfield on Jan. 19, they rebounded at home this past weekend. Aspen scored five power play goals Friday, three off Daniel Doremus’ stick, to beat Mullen, 5-2. A day later, Tyler Moore and Gaelen Means scored two goals each in a 6-3 win over Summit. “These guys sometimes take a little bit of time to believe in certain things,” Butler said. “They now believe they can score some goals. We made our good opportunities count. … We’re still sitting in good position but not as good as we would’ve liked. You figure you’ll always have some ups and downs, but we’ve started to turn it around. “This is a good time to be turning it around.”At 4-3 in conference play, Aspen is in a tie for fourth with Peak to Peak. The top eight teams from the Foothills and Pikes Peak conferences will earn state tournament invites.All six of Aspen’s remaining regular season games – including Friday’s matchup with Steamboat Springs at 6 p.m. – are at Lewis Ice Arena. The Skiers are 2-3 at home this season.”It makes life a bit easier,” Butler said. “We kind of have some issues on the road plus, when you’re on the road consistently for a while, it gets old, too. … Hopefully we can get some fans out to help support us and give us some momentum.”Recent circumstances could have crippled his team. Instead, it helped them rally.After a period in which his optimism waned, Butler said he expects the Skiers to finish strong. “If we play like we did this weekend, we’ve got a chance of possibly running the table,” he said. A visit from Ralston Valley on Feb. 8 should be the toughest challenge remaining. “There’s always a turning point during every season. I assume this will be ours.”

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