Skiers face off against hockey title game foes
ASPEN Aspen’s run to a first-ever state hockey title went through Ralston Valley last February. Determining whether the Skiers can repeat could very well hinge on the outcome of Friday’s much-anticipated rematch.”It’s always nice to get into these types of games against a team you beat in the playoffs and are having a good run this year,” Aspen head coach Al Butler said Thursday. “This will be a good measure for us. … I’m looking forward to it.”The last time the two teams faced off in the regular season, on Jan. 27, 2007, they skated to a 3-3 tie – the only blemish on Ralston’s otherwise perfect conference record.Butler called that result the turning point of the 2007 season; senior-laden Aspen won its next nine to clinch the state title.While Friday’s game might not have similarly far-reaching and immediate implications, it won’t be devoid of drama. Not with both teams looking to position themselves for another postseason push. And not with the two squads squaring off in the shadow of the 2007 state championship banner – a symbol of Aspen’s triumph and the Mustangs’ futility – that hangs prominently from the Lewis Ice Arena rafters.”We have to weather those first five minutes,” Butler said. “I know [Ralston coach John McKibbon’s] style and what he’s going to do. They’ll basically be coming out to bang us hard right in the beginning. … We’re going to have to give them a taste of their own medicine.”Butler’s expectations prior to last season’s title game did not materialize. Both teams settled into a slow-paced defensive bout instead of the wide-open shootout Butler anticipated. The Skiers escaped a first period in which they were outshot, 10-2, then scored the game winner in the second. Seniors Matt Butler and Nicky Anastas connected for a power play goal, and senior goalie Cody Hornburg thwarted all 23 Mustangs shot attempts to seal the victory.Expect more than one goal to find the net tonight. Third-ranked Ralston (14-1, 7-1) is outscoring opponents, 90-20, and has scored seven or more goals five times – including a 15-goal outburst Jan. 5 at Machebeuf. Their lone loss came against top-ranked Regis.Aspen has, by all accounts, rebounded from a month marred by inconsistent play and off-ice indiscretions that shook up its roster. The Skiers have won a season-high four straight, relying heavily on the contributions of both veterans and underclassmen.”We’re improving as the season goes along,” Butler said. “It’s better that way heading toward the playoffs than starting strong and going down or staying even throughout the course of the season.”Tonight will be an all-important barometer of Aspen’s progression. The Skiers are 0-3 this season against teams currently ranked in the top four.”It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re always up for a challenge,” forward Logan Tierney said after Saturday’s win over Rampart. “It’s a big one.”In preparation for tonight, Aspen’s focus this week has centered on shoring up its zone coverage and working on both the power play and clearing the puck, Butler said. The coach is hoping his third line can hold their ground and his second line can contribute at least one goal. And, to counter the Mustangs’ inevitable flurry in the opening five minutes, Butler said the Skiers will counter with aggressive play of their own.After that, they’ll settle into a more conservative pace in an attempt to maximize each offensive possession and cut down ill-advised plays that could result in odd-man Ralston rushes.”In the games we lost after Christmas, we had a hard time and gave up too many of those opportunities,” Butler said. “We cut those down. Now, we have to cut them down even further.”If they can successfully deter Mustangs rushes and stay out of the penalty box, Butler said his team will be well-positioned for a victory. As for matching Ralston’s intensity, he said Aspen is well equipped to hold serve on its home ice.”They realize what type of team Ralston Valley has,” Butler said. “They’ll come out strong and play hard.”Drop the firstname.lastname@example.org
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