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Michigan nets win against Steamboat

Melinda Mawdsley

Playing hockey is the easy part. It’s breathing that is difficult.

For the second consecutive year, a team traveled from Ann Arbor, Mich., to take part in the annual Girls Winter Carnival Hockey Tournament, showcasing its skill and depth while players gasped for breath on line changes because of the altitude.

The 19-and-younger Michigan team defeated Steamboat’s U19 team, 4-0, in Saturday’s early game at Howelsen Ice Arena behind refined offensive skills and superior stick-handling abilities.

But then again, Michigan is home to some of the country’s premier female players, and Ann Arbor is home to three ice arenas with rinks of all sizes.

Michigan coach Rob Blackburn and three of his players also took part in last year’s tournament. Blackburn opted to return with a mostly new team for a couple of reasons:

First, there is the skiing, and the hockey isn’t too bad, either.

“This tournament is run really well, and we enjoyed it,” Blackburn said. “The facility is beautiful, as well.”

The team arrived Tuesday, but Saturday was its first time on the Olympic-sized rink at Howelsen Ice Arena. Both teams skated to a scoreless tie at the end of the first period before Michigan began putting pressure on Steamboat’s defense and goalie Lena Fancher in the second.

Before the tournament, Steamboat coach Rob Hodnett said Fancher’s play in net has been one of the team’s strengths all season. Saturday, she turned away 20 of the 24 shots she faced, including several stops on breakaway attempts by Michigan.

Michigan was able to score 12 minutes and 50 seconds into the second period off a goal from Ashley Leblanc. The assists were given to Megan Borsvold and Christina Blackburn.

The Ann Arbor team added its second goal nearly six minutes later when Heather Davidson knocked a rebound past Fancher. Danielle Maludy was credited with the assist.

Maludy added an unassisted goal at 6:14 in the third. Leblanc finished Michigan’s scoring at the 5:26 mark off a pass from Borsvold.

Steamboat had several power play chances during the game but could not capitalize. The home team did manage three shots on goal in the third period, equaling its offensive output from the first two periods combined.

Steamboat did a relatively good job on defense and penalty kills, and the Steamboat girls were able to skate with Michigan for most of the game.

The difference between the teams was the ability to finish on offense and handle the puck, skills that come with practice and repetitions.

“We’re building as a team,” Steamboat captain Siara Atkinson, 14, said. “It was nice to skate with a team.”

The girls who make up Steamboat’s U19 team need to practice together more, Atkinson said, but that can be difficult because of the competition hockey gets from other sports in town. For example, Tara King, one of the stronger skaters on the team, has two basketball games this weekend, as well, but she is going to play hockey as much as she can this weekend.

Blackburn said he’s noticed a lot of improvement among Steamboat’s girls since last season, and he offered some advice for the local hockey team:

“Never give up on yourself. Always work hard and keep your confidence.”


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