“It was fantastic to see it all come together”
The third time was the charm. After two years of losing in double overtime in the state finals, the Gunnison Blades U19 girls team sealed the deal this past weekend winning the Mountain States Girls Hockey League state title.
It’s been a long season for the team, which is a potent mix of talent from both Gunnison and Crested Butte. From car crashes to injuries to illnesses, the team and coaching staff had its share of issues that could have easily sidetracked any program. But the Blades persevered through it all to remain focused on their objective, hanging a title banner from the rafters.
It was a dubious start to the Blades title run as they dropped the opening playoff game 5-4 to the Colorado Junior Eagles on Friday, February 22.
“We got an early goal and then kind of went flat and they scored four unanswered goals,” says coach Tony Lambert. “We just were not sharp.”
The coaching staff shared some words with the players following the loss and the team responded to rattle off three wins in a row and earn a spot in the championship game.
“We went in and gave them the speech and they started playing like a team and opened up a can the next three games,” says Lambert.
The Blades recovered from the sting of the shock to hand Team New Mexico a 7-2 thumping. Ali McGuire opened the scoring with Jennifer Ehmsen following two minutes later to score and give the Blades an early 2-0 advantage.
Team New Mexico responded in the eighth minute but the Blades came back to rattle off two goals in 20 seconds in the final minute of the first period when both McGuire and Marissa Lambert found the back of the net.
Team New Mexico got the lone strike in the second period to close the Blades’ lead back down to two but McGuire finished her hat trick, Lambert scored her second goal and Hailey Pike added in one lone strike in the third to finish off Team New Mexico.
The Blades continued the onslaught on Saturday, February 23 pummeling Steamboat 7-1 and Telluride 8-3. McGuire recorded her second hat trick in a row, Lambert scored two and Ehmsen and Kaitlin Stewart scored one each against Steamboat.
Jessie D’Aquila did most of the damage against Telluride scoring five of the Blades’ eight goals, Hailey Pike added in two and McGuire netted one.
“Nobody could keep up with us,” says Lambert. “We were just working the puck so well.”
The Blades then lined up on Sunday, February 24 to face Aspen in the state finals.
The game was back and forth with a frantic opening first period.
McGuire put the Blades up 1-0 two minutes into the game but Aspen responded two minutes later.
McGuire struck again in the seventh minute but Aspen surged in the closing minutes of the first period to tie it up 2-2 heading into the second period.
Neither team scored in the second period and the game remained tied for most of the third period causing Lambert fits of flashbacks from the two previous seasons as the clock ticked down.
“When it was under 10 minutes left I was like please don’t go into overtime, we don’t have very good luck in overtime,” says Lambert.
With a minute and a half left, Lambert got his wish as Ashley Crittendon took a pass and poked it through for a 3-2 advantage.
Aspen pulled their goalie but to no avail as the Blades packed the zone and held them to one shot in the final 90 seconds to take the state title.
“The girls worked really hard this year,” says Lambert. “Katie (Brawner) was a great addition to the coaching staff and we worked really hard on teamwork and team play. It was fantastic to see it all come together.”
According to Lambert, this could be the start of several title runs with a slew of talent coming up off the Blades JV team.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent coming up from the red team and next year we should be in the hunt again,” says Lambert.