No. 3 seed Aspen hockey prepares for playoff push
Who needs the NHL when you’ve got Aspen High hockey? For the first time ever, Aspen will play host this weekend to the Colorado state hockey playoffs, an honor the Skiers earned by finishing the regular season with a 16-3 overall record. Aspen was perfect in Mountain Conference play at 12-0. Seeded third in the 16-team tournament, Aspen will play host to one of the four brackets – split among the top four seeded teams in the state – in the opening round and quarterfinals Friday night and Saturday. “We’re going to use that to our advantage,” said first-year Aspen head coach Bryan Ganz. The Skiers open against No. 14 Summit, a team Aspen beat 7-2 on Jan. 5. But Ganz isn’t taking Summit, or any other teams, lightly. When asked about Battle Mountain and Air Academy, the only teams to beat Aspen all season, Ganz quickly replied, “We’re not going to look any further ahead than our next game. This is a single elimination tournament.” No. 1 seed Battle Mountain beat Aspen twice this season, 4-2 in early December, and 3-2 on Feb.1. No. 2 Air Academy beat the Skiers 6-3 on Dec. 18. But as Ganz noted, Summit, which finished the regular season with a 6-11-1 record, scored seven goals on Battle Mountain in a 10-7 loss last week. “They can come in here and do that to us if we’re not ready,” Ganz said. “That’s part of the mental preparation.”
And in the post-season, hockey is as much mental as it is physical, Ganz said, especially in the opening rounds when overconfidence can be a killer. In late January, Ganz expressed frustration over his team’s mental preparation in a two-game homestand despite the fact the Skiers recorded consecutive 6-3 wins over Rampart and Coronado. He said it was apparent his players expected to win, and therefore didn’t play up to their potential. Since that point, Aspen has outscored its opponents 31-10. “That’s one of the things the coaching staff will work on this week – making sure that they fully understand you go home if you lose,” Ganz said. “There’s no playing Saturday if night if you lose Friday. You can’t overlook anybody at this point.” If Aspen wins Friday night – the puck drops at 5 p.m. at the Lewis Ice Arena – AHS will advance to face the winner of the No. 6 Machebeuf vs. No. 11 Steamboat Springs opening-round game at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lewis sheet. Prior to the Battle Mountain loss on Feb. 1, Aspen hadn’t lost a game since Dec. 18., and they easily swept their final three regular season games. Ganz attributes much of the teams success to the Skiers four seniors – Tad Norris, Jordan Friedland, Jon Cavaleri and Dane Butler. “Our senior leadership this year has been fantastic, they’ve set good examples with their work ethic on the ice and how they’ve conducted themselves off the ice,” Ganz said. “They’ve been key to our success this year. I owe those guys and the team owes those guys a lot of the credit.Ganz said the seniors bought into his philosophy and helped “fill the gap” between himself and the rest of the team.
“They really bought into our program, and that’s key,” he said. “If I don’t earn the respect of the players it just doesn’t work. But we have such a good relationship.” Leading the Skiers offense is Tyler Doremus, the team’s most consistent scorer and leader. “He’s got to bring a lot of energy to the game, and when he does we follow him,” Ganz said. The line of Doremus, Friedland, and sophomore Nicky Anastas has been “our main line in the scoring end, and that has to continue,” Ganz said. They’re backed by the line of freshman Tyler Moore, and sophomore’s Ryder Fyrwald and Matt Cooper. “They give us a good one-two punch,” Ganz said. “They’ve really come a long way and it’s great to have them peaking right now.” The most versatile line, which Ganz referred to as a “good two-way line,” consists of Norris, and juniors Wylie Melberg and David Goldberg. Ganz said they can score goals but they’re the most defensive-minded bunch. Both Melberg and Norris have missed much of the season with injuries but have been playing strong since their return. “They give us a ton of depth,” he said.
The defense has been anchored by Cavaleri and Butler. “They’ve been the two most consistent defensemen all season,” Ganz said. They’re backed by juniors Sam Harder and D.J. Furth. “We’re going to need those four guys to really step up and play solid, and not turn the puck over,” Ganz said. The net has been tended by both JoJo Hernandez, a junior, and sophomore Kody Hornburg. “Both of them have played well this year, they’re both consistent and steady,” Ganz said. Friday’s Aspen-Summit game at 5 p.m. will be followed by the Machebeuf-Steamboat contest at 7:15 p.m.The state semifinals and finals will be held Feb. 25-26 at the World Arena in Colorado Springs.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.