The Glenwood Springs Demons lingered on the ice at Magness Arena in Denver on Tuesday night. After 70 minutes of hockey, the group consoled each other after falling in triple overtime to Cheyenne Mountain in the state championship game.
They descended on the goal where the long-awaited first score of the night ended their season, where junior goaltender Marek Senn had yet to stand up out of his butterfly position, huddling as one group before shaking hands with the Red-Tailed Hawks. A group that came together from six different schools, all seeking a common goal that brought them closer than some teams that have played together their whole lives, maybe making the loss sting that much more.
“I love how you can see the game of hockey make a whole group of teenagers that don’t know nothing about each other come together as one and then go as far as they possibly can into the state championships that not a lot of teams get an opportunity to do ever,” senior captain Carson Miller — a student at Aspen High School — said following the loss.
“Everyone was really welcoming, the coaching staff, the whole organization was very excited to have us. … I think that excitement and love for the game just kind of triumphed the collateral we had with the team.”
Just a year before, Miller and his Skiers brethren being so complimentary of Glenwood seemed like a distant fantasy. In 2021-22, many of the same players went head-to-head against each other in varsity competition, with Aspen and Glenwood each taking a regular season win against each other in tight, one-goal games with no love lost in the aftermath. Glenwood’s victory was their first against Aspen in the young program’s first year.
Aspen went to the playoffs — where they eventually fell to the same Cheyenne Mountain team — and the appetite for winning only grew stronger. So, when Aspen’s program dropped from varsity level, leaving its players to try out for Glenwood, a younger team with plenty of pieces and already on an upward trajectory, the chance to satiate that desire quickly quelled any previous beef.
“It didn’t take long,” head coach Tim Cota said. “It was a tight-knit group. It was based on family and going out there and working for each other and that showed out there on the ice tonight. Everybody contributed to our success on that end of it. When you have that close-knit group like that, you can do a lot of things. And we did.”
Early in the season, players talked about how the team, composed of players spanning from Fruita Monument High School up to Aspen, with four schools in between, felt like a strong Western Slope club team.
The players found success unlike any of the previous iterations of Demons hockey, officially placing second in their league but claiming the No. 1 seed entering the state playoffs.
After the first playoff victory over Liberty, played at the Aspen Recreation Center in lieu of the Demons’ regular season home at the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center, the team reportedly took a chance to reflect on how they’d come together.
“Somebody said during the Liberty game that it brought the whole valley together, just over hockey,” Aspen senior Ryder Rondeau said. “I feel like that’s really, really good.”
And as a valley, the team got as close to a championship as you can without winning one. After outshooting the Hawks 26-16 in the game and a dominating first half that simply saw the Demons come up just short of converting, an argument can be made that they were the more deserving party.
But along the way, the Skiers learned how to be Demons and created a new, downvalley family.
“There’s a bond that’ll never be broken between the guys,” Rondeau said.
That statement will be put to the test on Wednesday when many of the team’s players face off against each other in lacrosse. Aspen hosts Glenwood Springs as the teams meet in league play for the first time since 2016.
Still, Aspen and Glenwood have at least one more season together before AHS would be eligible to return to varsity status. Despite some key pieces graduating, the Roaring Fork Valley Demons expect to be back next year.