Losers? Not Aspen girls hockey squad | AspenTimes.com

Losers? Not Aspen girls hockey squad

The state championship came down to a shootout, twice, and both times Aspen’s Jacqueline Pearlstone turned away all comers.

Pearlstone, the clutch goaltender on Aspen’s under-19 girls hockey team, blanked the Colorado Selects on a total of nine penalty shots on Sunday in Fort Collins to lead Aspen to its third straight Mountain States Girls Hockey League state championship.

After a 3-1 loss to the No. 1 Selects on Saturday, Aspen, the No. 2 seed in the six-team championship, fought its way out of the loser’s bracket to earn the right to face the Selects again in the finals on Sunday.

However, because the Selects entered the finals of the double-elimination tourney unbeaten, and Aspen had one loss already, the Aspen girls had to beat them not once, but twice to complete the “three-peat.”

Both games ended in ties after regulation and five-minute sudden-death overtimes, and both games swung in Aspen’s favor in the five-player shootouts, thanks largely to Pearlstone, a senior at Aspen High.

“Our third one was very gratifying – coming up through the loser’s bracket and winning it all,” said Pete Whitmore, head coach of the Aspen team.

“Jacqueline stonewalled the other team, both times, and it was just an incredible performance. She’s the only senior on the team, so what a wonderful way to end her career.”

The Aspen U-19s beat Colorado Springs 2-0 in their first game Saturday morning, then cruised past Breckenridge 4-1 that afternoon. In Aspen’s final game Saturday night vs. the Colorado Selects, Aspen outshot the Selects 29-12 but still came up short.

Then Sunday morning, Aspen rebounded with a 5-0 win over Vail to advance to the two-game finals vs. the Selects.

Elizabeth Severy, an AHS graduate now at University of Colorado-Boulder, and AHS junior Dylan Braun scored in the first game, but the Selects answered, locking the game at 2-2.

In the deciding shootout, where five skaters get one-on-one rushes against the goalies, Pearlstone stopped all five attempts. Meanwhile, AHS student Maddy D’Amato, as Aspen’s third skater, scored on a backhand shot to the five hole to give Aspen a 3-2 win and force a second “final” final.

“Jacqueline had ice in her veins,” said Wily Manering, head coach of the Aspen U-15 girls, a team with many of the same faces as the U-19 squad that finished third in the U-15 division tourney also at Fort Collins.

“This was such exciting hockey. People were coming up after saying they’d never seen a girls team pass the puck like this one.”

In the second and final final vs. the Selects, again the teams played to a tie, this time 3-3, after regulation and sudden death. Braun and linemates Reilly Gallagher and D’Amato scored for Aspen.

“We’re figuring because of the way we shellacked them in the first game [outshooting the Selects 53-14], that we were OK. But they came back,” Manering said. “The quality of play in girls Colorado hockey has just skyrocketed; the Colorado Selects had 100 players tryout for their team. It’s great for everybody, and it really shows what our girls can do.”

In the ensuing shootout, once again Pearlstone was perfect, stopping the first four Selects shooters.

Meanwhile, Aspen High freshman Katrina DeVore, a 15-year-old defenseman who played with Aspen’s U-19 and U-15 teams, was the first skater from Aspen to shoot. She hadn’t been selected in the previous shootout.

“She’s very nervous, but she goes in, delays, delays, delays and just shows the patience of a Peter Forsberg and puts it over the glove hand and in like a seasoned vet,” said Manering.

Aspen’s next three shooters failed to convert, but Aspen’s fifth shooter did.

After whiffing on her shot in the first shootout, Braun skated up to the puck a second time knowing that a goal would win it outright and a miss would push the game to the Selects’ fifth shooter vs. Pearlstone.

“She’s got the best shot on the club, but what does the coach tell her to do, I tell her to deke,” Manering said. “But what does Dylan do? She’s doesn’t deke – she shoots. And that whiff from the first shootout didn’t matter – she put a top-shelf wrist shot, as hard as anyone can shoot the puck, into the corner. And that was it.”

The Aspen coaches credited forwards Maria Piessis, Lauren Johns, Christy Severy, Montana Neiley, Caitlin Dunn and Victoria Work, along with defensemen Alia Strong and Carly Magill and backup goalie Teagan Walter (“our goalie of the future,” said Manering) for helping cement the win.

“We told the team at the beginning of the season that we wanted them to set a standard for girls hockey in Colorado, with good passing, skating, shooting and good sportsmanship,” said Whitmore, “and to remember that they represent the city of Aspen.

“As coaches, we insist that their passes be flat, hard and accurate. Over and over, in practices and games, we have emphasized this. It paid off, as we controlled the play with our passing game.”

[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com]

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