Steamboat rallies to skate past Aspen hockey
The Aspen Times
The Aspen Skiers scored first.
But, on this night, the Steamboat Sailors would score last.
The Aspen High School hockey team opened the home season with a skating flurry in the first 10 minutes of the opening period Wednesday night in a nonleague game against the Sailors at the Lewis Ice Arena.
A half-dozen early shots produced a 1-0 lead for the Skiers in the first period when Aspen senior Kai Cathers skated from his own end, through the Steamboat defense, past the last defender and drilled an upper-shelf shot into the net.
But Steamboat Springs erased Aspen’s 1-0 lead with two third-period goals from senior captain Ben Wharton, giving the visiting Sailors a 2-1 victory over the Skiers.
Wharton tied the game just a minute and 10 seconds in the final period when he took a breakaway pass from Dillon Chapman and scored past Aspen goalie Andy Vernier.
Six minutes later, Wharton converted the game-winner off a pass from Bobby Elliott after the Sailors kept the puck in the Aspen zone with the pressure of a relentless forecheck.
Steamboat Springs preserved the victory when senior goalie Trent Trask made a save on a point-blank deflection in front of the net by Aspen’s Charlie Van Allen with 26.9 seconds left in the game.
Trask saved 22 shots in all while the Sailors (4-1-0) countered with 17 shots of their own against the Skiers (2-2-0).
“We came out and played very well for the first eight or nine minutes,” Aspen head coach Al Butler said. “But from that point on, I don’t think we played very well at all.”
Butler said the Skiers experienced mental lapses in the midweek game.
“We didn’t play our game,” he said, adding that neither team played a strong, complete game Wednesday night.
“They were missing their top two guys,” Butler said. “So, from that standpoint, we should have taken advantage of that situation.”
He said the young Skiers needed better decision-making, better teamwork and more effort.
“We just didn’t put forth the effort,” Butler said. “We … were trying to do too much individually. Not playing as a team … that catches up with you.”
The primary lesson from a game like Wednesday’s is simple, the veteran Aspen coach said.
“This should be a lesson from the standpoint that they have got to show up every night … and you have to play all three periods, all 17 minutes of each period,” Butler said. “You have to … for every shift. You have to show up. That, at least, gives you a chance to win the game.”
He said the Skiers will regroup with a tough Friday trip to Dakota Ridge in Littleton.
“We’re still young. That learning curve is still there,” Butler said. “We’re just not quite on the same page.”
A road trip to Denver and a game against a tough opponent awaits.
“Maybe us playing on the road will be better,” Butler said.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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