Aspen Junior Hockey’s under-19 girls team bid adieu to the friendly home ice on a high note.
On Saturday, the Leafs walked away with a win and a tie, dealing Colorado Hockey Girls League leader Steamboat Springs Stampede its first loss of the season in the exhibition doubleheader.
In the league, it’s Steamboat and Aspen and then everyone else. With playoffs on the horizon, the Leafs have proved they can hang with the top dog as it gets down the wire, even in games that are considered more “friendly.”
Early on in the season, we had some struggles against Steamboat,” Leafs head coach David Dredge said. “The biggest thing here is just building some confidence going into the postseason. It can be really difficult to turn on your game when you know that you’ve lost every single game against this team, so getting that win will definitely push us to grow and be better. We have quite a few things to work on based on this weekend and hopefully that’ll be the catalyst to really secure some of those future wins against what I consider the other top hockey club in our league.”
According to MyHockeyRankings.com, Steamboat entered Saturday with a 21-0 record compared to Aspen’s 17-4 record. Next in line in the division is the 8-7-2 Hyland Hills Jaguars, defining the Leafs and Stampede as a distinct top tier within the conference.
But before Saturday, Steamboat had been the clear leader. Three of Aspen’s losses had come by way of Steamboat, which outscored the Leafs 10-4. Against other teams, the Leafs entered with a 17-1 record, according to MyHockeyRankings.com.
The 3-1 win on Saturday morning bucked the trend. And with their 2-2 afternoon tie, the Leafs started shifting the needle.
According to GameSheetInc.com scoring, game one was scoreless until the third period, when Kylani Nakagawa and Anabella Simeone scored about five minutes apart. Steamboat got one back under a minute later, at around the 4:26 mark, before Gigi Ostrander’s goal in the last 10 seconds put the nail in the coffin.
Game two started similarly tight until Nakagawa broke through just under halfway into the second period. The Stampede knotted it quickly with a goal less than two minutes later, sending the game to the third period tied again. Simeone capitalized quickly in the final frame, at the 11:54 mark of the 14-minute period, but Aspen couldn’t fend off Steamboat, which tied the game with just under four minutes left on the clock. No overtime period was played, leaving the teams to shake hands with no decided victor.
Aspen found ways to compete with a short bench of only 10 skaters and kept Steamboat from leaving with its fourth head-to-head victory.
“I think we just got out of our own heads,” Dredge said. “We’ve really been focusing a lot on maintaining that offensive possession and taking care of our own D zone first. There’s still some work to be done, but we were really playing a much stronger passing game and a possession-oriented offense than we were at the beginning of the season.”
The win and tie brought the Leafs’ weekend record to a cumulative 2-0-1 following a 5-0 victory over Vail on Friday in which the team prepared to send off five seniors: Ostrander, Lucy McBride, Morgan Rightmire, Ella Zane and Sophia Theriot.
“The biggest thing with this group is that they are a truly special group of players,” Dredge said of his team. “We have a lot of different personalities … but it really makes for a fun environment and there’s a lot of eagerness to learn. I feel that this whole team, they have another gear that they want to get to.”
Aspen travels to Steamboat next weekend to wrap up regular season play for two more exhibitions, then they’ll take a week off of games before heading to Gunnison for the league championship. The hope is to set up a state championship weekend for 19U, 15U and 12U girls for the first weekend of March.