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Overtime heroics fuel Aspen’s run to RMJHL championship

 

AspenLeafs-RMJHLchamps

After trailing the Breckenridge Bucks 6-1 going into the third period of a Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL) semifinal on March 3, it looked all but over for the Aspen Leafs.

About an hour later, Aspen captain Taylor Knight’s overtime winner completed the comeback and the Leafs had a 7-6 win and a date in the inaugural RMJHL championship game with the Pikes Peak Miners.

One day later, Aspen finished off their storybook season with another OT win, 4-3 over the Miners on a goal 7:08 into extra time from Aspen native Charlie Van Allen.

It was fitting that the RMJHL final pitted two teams with identical season records (34-6-0) and who split the regular season going 4-4 against one another before playing the postseason at the Cadet Ice Arena on the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

“Development is what we do here and our top priority, but winning is obviously a good thing for us,” said Aspen coach Jay Miller. “It’s great for the kids to put the work in and get a bit of recognition for all that time and effort in the ups and downs of a first-year season. It means a lot for me to see these kids happy and rewarded.”

Even after the dust has settled on his dramatic goal, Van Allen said it hasn’t sunk in completely.

“At the moment, I think I’m still in shock,” said Van Allen. “But looking back on it, I feel like that goal and that win will definitely drive the younger generation in this town to strive for greatness and strive for a better hockey community. The amount of love and appreciation that I’ve gotten from the community and from younger kids is incredible and really touching. I hope that I can be an example for younger kids in this town that it’s possible to stay in Aspen and be successful in hockey.”

In describing his goal, Van Allen was nothing short of excited.

“That goal was definitely the biggest of my career,” Van Allen said. “I think it was the culmination of one of the best hockey years of my life and my first playing juniors. There really are no words for describing the excitement and happiness I felt after that puck hit the back of the net. But after the goal, I did throw my gloves 12 rows up in the stadium. The goal came off of a simple 2-on-1, something that Jay has always made us practice over and over again. I have to give a lot of credit to Hayden Knight. He did all the hard work and I just tapped it in.”

The goaltending was spectacular throughout the final game as the Leafs’ Mike Cowell made 42 saves and Pikes Peak’s Erik Anderson stopped 41 shots.

“Truthfully, the win set in immediately for me,” admitted Knight. “What hasn’t set in is that I don’t have practice today or tomorrow. As soon as we scored, I felt we had achieved what I had come to Aspen to achieve. I felt that I had done my job for the team. Looking back, our team had many obstacles and setbacks, but we always came together and fought through. The same happened in the playoffs. We got off to a rocky start, were being outworked and the puck was not bouncing our way. Again, we came together and accepted the challenge. I guess it is just a matter of confidence – we always felt the game was winnable.”

Cam Dufault, Viacheslav Goev and Boston Lindlahr also scored for Aspen, while Kole Mudra scored a pair for the Miners and Trevor Paradise netted the other.

The Miners defeated the Colorado Rampage 9-5 in the other semifinal as Mudra and Patrick Allredge each scored two goals.

— Matt Mackinder