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NHL veteran at home on Aspen bench

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen hockey coach Dennis Maruk a pep talk during the break between second and third periods at Lewis Ice Arena in the ARC Saturday night November 8, 2003. Aspen defeated Arvada 7-1 in the 10th Annual Fall Face-off upping their chances to play in the tournament championship. Aspen Times photo/ Paul Conrad.
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Given his quiet, humble demeanor, you may not know that Aspen High’s new head hockey coach, Dennis Maruk, is a former NHL All-Star.

Maruk played 15 seasons in the NHL, scoring 60 goals in the 1981-82 season with the Washington Capitals. At that time, he was just the sixth player in NHL history to score 60 goals in a season, joining the ranks of Phil Esposito, Mike Bossy, Reggie Leach, Steve Shutt and Guy Lafleur. In 1981-82, Wayne Gretzky also joined the exclusive club with an NHL-record 92 goals.

“To be up there with those guys was an honor,” Maruk said.

Maruk was elected to the NHL All-Star team that year, four years after his first All-Star season with Buffalo in 1978.

Maruk came to Aspen four months ago, via Louisiana. Yes, Louisiana. While the state is not exactly hockey-centric, Maruk was very involved with the sport. He coached the minor league Baton Rouge Kingfish (of the AA East Coast Hockey League) and was the director of the area’s youth hockey league.

“You could say hockey is my life,” Maruk said.

Maruk’s connection with Aspen began in 2000, when he came to town to play in a charity hockey tournament designed to raise money for the Aspen Recreation Center (ARC).

“We fell in love with the place, it’s a beautiful place to live,” he said. “Our children are all in college, and my wife and I are [in a position] to be able to enjoy our lives. The time was right last summer to make that move.”

It didn’t hurt that they’re both skiers.

“We’re looking forward to that,” he said.

Maruk was hired as Aspen’s new head coach (both the AHS varsity, and the Midget Major A club team) roughly a month after moving to town; the position opened when former head coach Mark LeRose resigned.

“There was an opportunity to work with the kids and give back to hockey in the area,” he said. “I’m extremely excited to be able to work with these young men, they’ve been extremely responsive.”

Born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1955, Maruk started playing hockey when he was 8 years old. He played in the elite Ontario Hockey Association as a teenager and was drafted by the California Seals, a former NHL team, in 1975. After stints with Cleveland and Minnesota, Maruk was traded to the Washington Capitals in 1978, where he played for five years. He was traded to the Minnesota Northstars in 1983, where he would eventually retire in 1989.

When Maruk’s playing days ended, he dove into coaching.

“I’ve covered all areas [of coaching] from youth up to minors and pros,” he said.

Over the weekend, he made his Aspen coaching debut in the 10th annual Fall Face-Off, which featured teams from all over the state. And although it was with the Aspen Midget Major A club, a select side of Aspen Junior Hockey’s oldest players, almost all of the players double as members of the AHS squad. The two teams are basically interchangeable, and both will compete ” in different leagues ” throughout the winter.

All of the games in the Face-Off were played at the Aspen Ice Garden and the Lewis Ice Arena at the ARC.

With 13 players from last season lost to graduation, Maruk has inherited a young, but talented group.

“We have a young team and we may make some mistakes, [but] I didn’t expect them to be at the level they’re at right now,” Maruk said. “I was impressed with the way they handle themselves on the ice ” skating and stick handling.”

Maruk added that goalies JoJo Hernandez and Oliver Martineau, who will split time in net, are both strong.

The Aspen Midget Major club finished third in the Face-Off with a 3-1 record, falling short of a spot in the championship game by one win.

The Southern Colorado Amateur Hockey Association (SCAHA) beat Arapahoe of Denver in the Midget Major finals, 4-0.

Aspen’s Bantam A and Peewee A teams also finished in third place. In the Bantam finals, Littleton beat Arvada 2-1 for the title, and in Peewee play, Boulder beat Littleton 3-2 for the crown.

Next weekend, the third and final weekend of the Face-Off, features tournament play from girls teams across the state, as well as a mite (under 8 years old) jamboree. A total of 97 teams will have competed in the Face-Off when all is said and done.

“The last two weekends have been really smooth,” said Bryan Ganz, executive director of Aspen Youth Hockey.

“It went phenomenal,” said Tim Ware, the tournament director.

The Skiers will begin practicing for the upcoming high school season next week, and will face Battle Mountain in their opener Dec. 3.


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