“As a team we’re peaking at the exact right time”[ by Than Acuff ]
It appears the West Elk Hockey Association (WEHA) u19 girls Wolverines hockey team is gathering momentum when it matters most as they rattled off two wins in a row at home over the weekend with the league playoffs set to start on Friday, February 10 in Gunnison.
The Wolverines have spent almost the entire season on the road leaving the team with an extremely short bench for most games. But hosting games at Jorgensen Ice Arena helped bolster their bench for their games against Telluride on Saturday, January 28. The Wolverines even called upon two younger players to join them, further building a foundation for success over the two games.
“We’re lucky if we have two on the bench and we had almost three full lines of forwards,” says coach Alex Stefan. “It was good to have the two younger players. They’re talented and that shows the depth we have in the program overall.”
They opened the double header Saturday morning with a 4-1 win paced by a hat trick from one of those younger players Riley Aslanian and another goal from Gabi Silva.
“What really impressed me is that everybody has to have a go playing everything, so we’ve been working a lot on back-checking and a lot around angling opponents into the boards and they did that really well,” says Stefan. “Our breakout started to happen too, but we needed to see better communication in the second game.”
The second game with Telluride that day did come with some extra nerves as seniors Cassidy Wirsing and Vivian White were recognized prior to the game. That, and playing on home ice, certainly drew a larger crowd for the game.
“They were so nervous before that game,” says Stefan. “They hadn’t played in front of that many people all season.”
The nerves had a positive effect at the start as the Wolverines scored in the opening minute of the game when Aslanian carried the puck up the boards and into the high slot to score for a 1-0 Wolverines’ lead.
The nerves also led to some frantic play by the Wolverines though and Telluride started to take control of the game. The Wolverines killed off a penalty in the fifth minute of the game and goalie Reilly Seward had several stops to hold the lead. Kathryn Frey worked hard in the offensive zone to try and generate more goals for the Wolverines, but Telluride took care of their house and the Wolverines finished the period with a tenuous 1-0 lead.
“I told them at the start of the second period, let’s be the ones who set the pace and to be more mindful of communication on the ice and on the bench,” says Stefan. “It was awesome that they went out there and did that.”
With improved passing and communication, the Wolverines pressed into Telluride’s zone to set up additional shots on net. Telluride held them off and then tied the game 1-1 midway through the second period.
Yet, before Telluride could gather more steam, Nicola Roberts collected the puck and skated into the attacking zone, around a couple of Telluride players and scored to put the Wolverines back on top.
Both teams traded off rushes and Seward continued to make the needed saves to hold the lead. Telluride got hit with a penalty late in the second period and when the Wolverines opened the third on a powerplay, they made it count as a shot from Roberts from behind the net somehow found its way into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead.
The game opened back up with teams skating up and down the ice. Fortunately for the Wolverines, their deeper bench than normal allowed them to maintain their pace.
Silva then struck again for the Wolverines as she skated inside the blue line and fired a wrist shot past the Telluride goalie for a 4-1 Wolverines lead. While Telluride continued to work, the Wolverines had the legs to hold onto the lead winning the second game 4-1.
“It was nice to have the extra legs,” says Stefan. “We were able to keep the intensity up for all of the game.”
The Wolverines have two weeks to continue working on things before they head into the post season, at home, as the Jorgensen Ice Arena hosts the Colorado Girls Hockey League u19 playoffs Friday through Sunday, February 10-12. The Wolverines open the playoffs against Durango on Friday with the puck dropping at 4:30 p.m.
“As a team we are peaking at the exact right time,” says Stefan. “It’s coming down to crunch time and we feel ready.”