Stiff test looms for Aspen hockey team |

Stiff test looms for Aspen hockey team

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” December is a distant memory for the Aspen Hockey team.

A 1-5 start, one that dropped the Skiers into last place in the 13-team 5A Foothills conference, is history. Now, the Skiers have gone from postseason long shot to virtual lock.

“We’ve kind of turned a corner,” head coach Al Butler said Thursday. “We started to score some goals, and had some players starting to gel. That makes all the difference.”

Wins have followed ” eight straight and counting heading into tonight’s tussle with Heritage at 6 p.m. at Lewis Ice Arena.

That stretch has included two 10-goal outbursts ” Aspen scored no more than two in any of its first six games ” and a victory over previously unbeaten Machebeuf.

The Skiers, ranked fourth in the Rocky Mountain News’ preseason poll, are starting to meet expectations. And with every passing game, they’re starting to resemble 2007’s squad, which rode a late-season surge (13-1-1 after Jan. 1) all the way to the school’s first state title.

“It seems to always be the case that after Christmas we seem to turn things around ” a lot of that is just getting the right line combos together and getting everybody on the same page,” Butler said. “I felt there was a chance [we could make a run like this], but obviously the true test comes Saturday.”

Regis Jesuit, owners of a 13-0-1 record and the state’s coveted top ranking, visit Aspen at 4 p.m. Saturday. The game will provide a true measure of how far the Skiers, who currently occupy fifth place in the conference, have come, Butler said.

Aspen will be shorthanded. Defenseman Tommy Mines, a major catalyst behind the Skiers’ recent spurt, is serving a suspension and will not return until next week. It is the senior’s second stint on the sidelines this season; he broke his hand in December and sat out three games.

Trey Fox, who is nursing an unspecified injury sustained in Jan. 30’s win over Colorado Academy, will skate before tonight’s game but likely will not play this weekend, Butler said.

“I don’t yet know if he’s capable,” Butler added, “and I don’t know if we want to risk it with the playoffs right around the corner. … [Saturday] is one of those games where you go out and give it your best and know that if we’re still able to compete head to head, when we get those two back we’ll be that much better.”

While production has waned in the past week in Fox’s and Mine’s absence, the Skiers managed to pull out two close victories. Saturday, Aspen faced a two-goal deficit just five minutes into its game at Kent Denver, only to rally on goals from Nicky Ufkes and Laker Mines. Taylor Mayer completed the comeback, finding the net 38 seconds into overtime.

Tuesday, in a game Butler called one his team’s worst performances all season, The Skiers made Murphy Fyrwald’s second-period goal stand up against Standley Lake. Zach Ware turned away 22 shots to pick up his first shutout of the season.

“We were not making very good decisions, we did not have really good energy and were not handling the puck very well,” Butler said. “It was a mid-week game, so I don’t know if we were just not mentally prepared or not physically prepared. I don’t know if it was a function of looking ahead or not. … I figure that we’ve been playing so well for so long that at some point there would be a game like that. It was good to come out of it on the right side of the coin.”

Now, the season’s stiffest test looms. Saturday’s matchup with Regis will be Aspen’s fourth against teams currently ranked in the Rocky’s top five. The Skiers are 1-2 in those contests, topping No. 5 Machebeuf but dropping early-season games to No. 2 Ralston Valley and No. 3 Summit by a combined score of 10-2.

“You figure that some of those games we played early on, if we played now obviously the results would be different,” Butler said. “These kids have proven they can win some tough games, even when they’re not at full strength.”

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