“Those were the best games they played all season”
by Than Acuff
It was so close, and then it was gone. After running roughshod through the first two days of the MSGHL state tournament, outscoring opponents 9-1, the West Elk Wolverines u19 girls hockey team fell one goal short of returning to the state championship game.
They opened the tournament playoffs on Friday, February 23 against the Vail Mountaineers. The Wolverines tied with the Mountaineers twice during the regular season, scoring just one goal in the two games.
“We told the girls that it was a redemption game and a chance to show who really was the better team,” says coach Jena D’Aquila.
The girls took the coaches’ words to heart, netting two goals in the first period. Jansen Lucas scored three minutes into the game during a power play and Sierra D’Aquila added a second goal late in the first period off an assist from Sophie Hall.
Vail came back to score in the second period but the Wolverines refused to fold and held on through the third period for the 2-1 win.
“It was really good and reassuring for the girls to get that win,” says D’Aquila.
They ramped up their scoring effort in their next game on Saturday, February 24 skating to a 3-0 win over New Mexico. Sierra started it off for the Wolverines seven minutes into the first period off an assist from Lauren Shrieves. Jaden Cavarra tacked on a second goal midway through the second period off an assist by Bryar Robbins and then Lucas sealed the deal with a short-handed goal late in the third period for the shutout.
“New Mexico had a full bench and so it was really important to get the score up and then maintain,” explains D’Aquila.
The Wolverines faced off against Steamboat that evening and kept the scoring train rolling. While handcuffed through the first period, they returned to their scoring ways, finding the back of the net twice in the second period. Kaylee Kaminsky opened the seal on the Steamboat net late in the second period finishing what Lucas and Elizabeth Shaw started. Soon thereafter Lucas and Shaw switched roles as Lucas netted a goal off an assist from Shaw.
While the game started to get chippy, the Wolverines maintained their composure. Ruby Barron then gave the Wolverines a little more breathing room, scoring in the sixth minute of the third period and Lucas put the game officially out of reach in the 10th minute for the 4-0 win, capping a dominating two days of hockey for the Wolverines.
“Those were the best games they’ve played all season,” says D’Aquila. “The biggest part was they came together as a team. Another big advantage was, the girls are really well conditioned and they realized that and started gelling.”
With three solid wins under their belt, the Wolverines faced longtime rival Aspen on Sunday, February 25. The two teams met earlier in the season, with Aspen winning the first game 2-0 and the teams playing to a 1-1 tie in their second contest. Yet, with solid play on Saturday, the Wolverines were poised to avenge the earlier loss and looked to take down Aspen with a shot at the finals within reach. A win or a tie against Aspen would send the Wolverines on to the finals.
“Getting those wins was really good going into Sunday’s game,” says D’Aquila.
But it wasn’t going to be easy. For starters, Aspen finished the regular season on top. Second, the team was pretty banged up from the Steamboat game. And third, four of the Wolverines—Emma Woodford, Kaminsky, Lucas and Barron—are double-roster players and were in the midst of the u16 tournament as well. By the time they went into the Aspen game, they all had seven games under their belt in two days.
“We had a lot of things working against us,” says D’Aquila.
Yet they still had solid defense and Anika Anderson in net and there was no doubt the game would come down to the wire.
Aspen struck first, scoring in the seventh minute of the first period, but the Wolverines tied it up in the second period when Sierra scored off an assist from Shrieves. The two teams continued to battle through the third period but in the waning minutes, Aspen scored to win the game 2-1.
Due to the round-robin format, the top teams advanced to the finals and after crunching numbers and comparing tournament records, the Wolverines finished one goal short of advancing.
“It was a huge bummer and crazy how it all played out,” says D’Aquila. “But for the girls to go out there and leave it all out on the ice at the tournament was great to see. They all played really hard.”