Mini miracle on ice

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

ARVADA One parent compared it to the U.S. national team upsetting the loaded USSR Red Army squad in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Maybe that’s a stretch, but the U12 Aspen Leafs’ girls state championship win over Front Range all-star team Colorado Select last weekend in Arvada certainly qualifies as a great underdog story.The Select hadn’t lost a game all season and entered Sunday’s championship game as the clear favorite. Fourth-seeded Aspen skated to a 1-1 tie with the same team Friday night – after two ties during the regular season – but was still a long shot Saturday after advancing past Steamboat Springs and Telluride.When it counted most, however, Aspen’s young team was at its best, earning a 3-2 win and the local junior hockey program’s first U12 girls state title. Goalie Marisa Dreher stopped 22 of 24 shots, and Natasha “Sushi” Allen knocked in all three of Aspen’s goals – none bigger than the game-winner with seven minutes to go.

“It was very close,” said Leafs head coach Doug Coombe. “They were really taking the play to us Sunday, but we hung in there.”Aspen was outshot 24-6 but never trailed after Allen knocked in the Leafs’ second goal in the second period for a 2-1 lead.The Select got an equalizing goal with 10 minutes left in the third, but once again Allen answered. She picked up a loose puck at the red line, then made a break down the ice through the Select defense for the chance on goal, which she buried.”Her speed was just fantastic,” Coombe said. “She just made a great rush down the ice to outskate the other team.”Coombe said the team’s older girls, who carried the Leafs through the tournament, were deserving of the win. Allen and Dreher were among only six 12-year-old players; the rest of the team consisted of three 11-year-olds and seven players 10 and younger. “It’s pretty amazing that we won against a Denver team made up of nearly all 11- and 12-year-olds,” he said. “The majority of the team is young, so the older girls were pretty excited. We just had some great games. Marisa and Sushi – they were the MVPs.”

Dreher allowed only three goals in four games during Aspen’s championship run, including 3-0 and 4-0 routs of Steamboat Springs and Telluride on Saturday.The win over rival Steamboat was the Leafs’ best game of the season, Coombe said.”The whole team played fantastic – every line, every player just came out great that day,” he said. “I can’t say how much the younger girls helped get us to this position and how much they’ve grown this year in their abilities in playing hockey. Kylie Davis, she was outstanding as a defenseman. … The youngsters did a great job as role players doing what they needed to do, and the older girls were the superstars and stepped up when we needed it.”Dreher and Allen also played for the Leafs’ U14 team, which lost in the state final to Arvada, 1-0. The two teams split in the regular season, and Aspen beat the same team Saturday morning, 3-1, but came up short in the final.Aspen’s U19s entered the state tournament with a 17-0-3 regular-season record, but lost twice to finish third after beating the Aurora Hot Flames, 4-2, in Sunday’s consolation game.Despite falling short of a perfect season, U19 co-coach Wiley Manering said the future looks great.

“Our young overall age may have had something to do with our playoff results, but we have no excuses,” he said. “Our girls do not make excuses. … Next season we don’t lose anyone and won’t for another three years. We will add a strong group coming up from the U-14s, and we’ll be even stronger.”Manering said his team wasn’t mentally prepared Friday night in its 2-1 opening loss to Telluride.”It was a tight game but we just didn’t make the most of our opportunities,” he said. “Kelsey McCartney, Brianna Morse, Ellissa Walter and Katrina Beusch played great on defense, but their shots from the point just didn’t make it through for our forwards to capitalize on rebounds in this game.” Aspen bounced back with a 6-1 win Saturday morning against the Hot Flames with Shelby Butler, Gentry Fyrwald, Nicole Twohig and Lacey Moore leading Aspen’s offensive push. Goalie Alex Brower also derailed the Flames’ offense, which led the Mountain States Girls Hockey League in scoring during the regular season. A rematch against Telluride for the title was not to be, however, after Aspen lost a hard-fought 2-1 match Saturday afternoon to Arvada.Forwards Whitney Hills, Kelcee Corwin, Ruthie Prikyl and Lizzy Eastley led a rush on goal to give Aspen a 1-0 lead, but Arvada rallied for two goals and the win.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is