Local girls hockey team shoots for state title
ASPEN Even though the team’s oldest player is 16, Aspen Junior Hockey has the best under-19 girls hockey team in the state. That’s quite an accomplishment for a squad with an average age of 14 and a half, especially considering the fact that the Aspen Leafs nearly didn’t field a U19 team this season – like last season – because of a lack of older high school players.The backstory only makes the club’s undefeated 17-0-3 season more implausible.As for the perfect ending?That would be if the top-seeded Aspen girls claim the Mountain States Girls Hockey League Championship this weekend at Arvada’s Apex Ice Arena.”The team is probably the youngest in the league, and we never thought at the beginning of the year that we would win the regular season title, let alone go undefeated,” said Leafs co-coach Wiley Manering, who put the team together with Dennis Maruk. “The state championships are another separate season, and that is what these girls want badly.”With an absence of older players, Manering and Maruk decided to piece together a team comprised of a number of Leafs players who won the under-14 state title last season.There is no U16 bracket in the MSGL, which means some of the Leafs players must compete against players three and four years older than them. Aspen’s U12 and U14 teams also qualified for this weekend’s state championships in Arvada; the U12 team is seeded fourth while the U14 team is second.Despite the undefeated regular season, Manering said his U19 team has its work cut out for it. The Leafs opened round robin play Friday night against fourth-seeded Telluride and will face off against the state’s other top teams – the Hot Shot Flames and Arvada – today.After the round robin play is complete, teams will be seeded based on win points, and the top two teams will advance to the championship game while the latter two will play a consolation final.”Every team in the final four is highly competitive, and all of the finalists gave us trouble in our regular season games,” Manering said. “As the No. 1 seed, the other three teams will all be gunning for us. We hope to be equal to the challenge.”Aspen’s winning formula during the regular season rested on stellar goaltending and offensive balance. Aspen goalie Alex Brower finished the regular season as the league’s top netminder, posting five shutouts and allowing only 13 goals off 172 shots.Offensively, Aspen doesn’t have a goal scorer among the league’s top 10 – something Manering sees as a strength, not a weakness.”Our goalie has really been a stalwart … and although we don’t have any leading scorers on our team, we have great balance,” he said. “They play a very disciplined style of hockey with great passing and incessant forechecking and backchecking.”For results from this weekend’s tournament, check back in future editions of The Aspen Times.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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The state track and field championship meet got underway Thursday at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood, with Basalt High School coming away with a couple of podiums.