The 2019 Girls MSGHL 19U State Title game was the matchup of the season, and to some the matchup of the decade. Undefeated regular season champs and defending title-holder Aspen versus the rough, tumble and high scoring Lady Roughriders from northeast Colorado in the title game. Both teams prepared with this script all season; number 1 versus number 2, a true heavyweight prizefight to those in the world of boxing.
After cruising through pool play games with wins over Salt Lake City (6-1), New Mexico (2-1), Summit (4-1) and Vail (6-0), Aspen focused all their attention onto the firepower of the Lady Roughriders, who also went without a loss in pool-play competition. When the puck dropped for the final game, the sights and sounds of held breaths, vocal gasps, incessant gum chewing, and rampant pacing permeated the stands. It was championship time, and the drama was palpable.
Midway through the first and second periods, Aspen’s Mia Seltzer found the back of the net twice off feeds from Casey Chesner. The 2-0 lead provided Aspen fans no comfort, it never felt like a big enough lead; and in the true spirit of hockey, the infamous 2-goal lead vanished early in the third period. Looking like Rocky Balboa on the ropes late in the game, Aspen took on a staggering 27 shots in the third period. Fortunately goaltender Sammie Jaworski saved her best performance for the end, skating away with player of the game honors by stopping 38 of 40 total shots, including the barrage in the final stanza.
It was with just under five minutes left in regulation when Aspen got their big break. Laney Martens picked up a loose puck just inside her defensive blue line and quickly found herself alone on a breakaway. Racing to the net with at least 110 feet of ice to go before launching a shot, she used her foot speed and body to protect the puck like a veteran pro. Five feet from the Roughrider goalie, Martens fired off a wrist shot that went top-shelf glove-hand side with precision, lifting her team to a late 3-2 lead. The Aspen bench and the faithful fans in the stands erupted with elation; the vocal excitement filled the arena as the scoreboard clock slowly ticked down.
With over 90 seconds dealing with a pulled Roughrider goaltender and extra attacker, Aspen stood tall in the defensive zone blocking shots and eating the puck against the wall to kill time. With almost all 10 players in a scrum trying to get the puck off the boards in the waning seconds, even the old school ending finished like the script was already written before the season started. It was special to watch. At the buzzer, this proud and determined Aspen team made history achieving a rare feat--completing an undefeated 26-0-1 season and successfully defending their title run from the previous year.
15U Leafs Finish as State Runner-Ups
The Aspen 15U Girls followed their story line as the #2 playoff seed to the championship game, only to fall short to Cinderella's New Mexico Mustangs. Sensing from the start that a #1 vs. #2 final matchup was imminent, Aspen became the last hope to blemish an undefeated Mustang record and derail their fairy tale season.
In pool play competition Aspen defeated Mountain rivals Steamboat (4-3) and Vail (4-2). The Leafs skated to ties against front-range opponents Air Force (2-2) and Boulder (0-0). Their two wins and four points was enough for a championship appearance as the second seed.
In the final game, New Mexico struck first and kept Aspen from mounting a sustained attack. Down 2-0 in the third period, Aspen made a valiant comeback pulling within one, but couldn’t tally the equalizer. The Mustangs pulled away with a couple late third period goals to finish their perfect season.
Entering the MSGHL State playoffs as the second seed, the Leafs expected to be fighting for a championship at the end. They finish the season with a 18-6-5 overall record.
12U Leafs Finish in 3rd Place
Like the 15U team, 12U team repeated their performance from last season, coming home with a third place finish after failing to advance to the title game. This season it was Colorado Springs who took their spot in what turned out to be a controversial finish.
After giving up an early 1-0 lead in the first period, a goal seemingly scored by Colorado Springs was disallowed by the referees officiating the game. In an unprecedented move (and violation of USA Hockey rules), later in the game an MSGHL tournament official reversed the call during a stoppage of action, giving Colorado Springs a 2-1 lead in the third period.
The Tigers added an empty net goal to secure the victory, and then defeated Salt Lake City to claim the championship title. Aspen finished third after defeating Boulder 2-1 and the Colorado Select 2-0; they lost to #1 seed Salt Lake City 1-0.
Entering the MSGHL State Playoffs as the #3 seed, the outcome wasn't below expectations. Although a little more limited in competition and number of games this season, the Leafs demonstrated immense improvement, finishing with a 13-6-1 overall record.