by Than Acuff
Every year when the league schedule is announced, the West Elk Wolverines girls hockey team circles the Aspen date. It’s been a long-standing rivalry, and while Aspen had the upper hand for a couple of years, the Wolverines have dominated the rivalry the past three years. They just did it again last weekend as they handed Aspen back-to-back losses in Aspen.
Aspen was sitting on top of the league standings with an undefeated record, leaving the Wolverines with somewhat muted expectations as they entered the weekend.
“I was really just hoping for a split on the road against the number one team,” says head coach GJ Santelli.
Fortunately, the bruised and battered Wolverines picked up a few key players for the weekend including the return of Bryar Robbins off of injury as well as the dynamic duo of Ruby Barron and Jensen Lucas from the U14 Wolverines team to bolster the bench. It also doesn’t hurt to have Anika Anderson in net, who leads the league in both goals against average and save percentage.
“Anika was just brilliant,” adds Santelli.
The two teams opened the first game on Saturday, January 7 embroiled in a back and forth battle until the Wolverines struck eight minutes into the first period. As Aspen looked to break out, Izzie Dethloff broke it up with a quick forecheck and Kendl Santelli grabbed the loose puck to fire it past the Aspen goalie for a 1-0 Wolverines lead.
“That really helped us right away,” says Santelli.
Aspen tied it up toward the end of the first period and the two teams skated through a scoreless second period as the Wolverines struggled to take advantage of four powerplay situations.
“We’ve been working on our powerplay but we didn’t capitalize,” says Santelli. “We moved the puck and got the shots but just didn’t finish them.”
While successful penalty kills by an opponent can sway a game in their favor, the Wolverines made sure to stop any Aspen surge before it could even start, rattling off two goals in the opening minute of the third period.
The first strike came 40 seconds into the third when Jaden Cavarra crashed on a rebound to score. Santelli won the ensuing face-off and dropped the puck back to Hailey Shrieves. Shrieves found Lucas up-ice with a stretch pass and Lucas buried her shot from just inside the blue line for a 3-1 Wolverines lead. The Wolverines maintained their composure for the rest of the third period to close out the 3-1 win.
“We were holding the game pretty good and those goals just finished it off,” says Santelli.
The Wolverines returned to the ice on Sunday, January 8 to face Aspen once again. This game was far tighter than the first with Anderson standing on her head in net to record the shutout.
After a scoreless first period, the Wolverines scored 13 minutes into the second period when Santelli chipped the puck up-ice and Barron ripped a one-time shot into the upper corner.
“That was the real McCoy,” says Santelli. “The puck just whistled by the goalie’s ear.”
The Wolverines maintained their slim one-goal lead the rest of the game and then sealed the win when Shrieves scored an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“We work on that almost every practice,” says Santelli. “When you can dump it and score, game over.”
The two wins now send the Wolverines to the top of the league standings. They will have a break from league action the next two weeks before traveling to New Mexico for games on Saturday and Sunday, January 21-22.
“They played two pretty darn good games,” says Santelli. “Now we have the bullseye on our backs.”