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Steamboat Springs hockey players skate to national championships

Steamboat Springs' Alexa Paoli, left, and Lillie Armstrong were part of the Aspen Leaf's U14 AA girls hockey team that won a regional tournament in Phoenix last weekend.
Courtesy Photo

— The snow may be melting in the Yampa Valley, but Steamboat Springs hockey players Alexa Paoli and Lillie Armstrong are not ready to put their season on ice — just yet.

The two Steamboat Springs girls will join nine players from Aspen, three from Summit and another from Vail in Troy, Michigan, in early April to compete for a national title as part of the Aspen Leafs U14 AA girls hockey team.

“This is kind of a mountain community team,” coach Keith Howie said. “We had the talent to play in this league, but we didn’t have enough players. So we reached out to other communities to put this team together, and it’s been a great experience.”

The Aspen Leafs play a regular season schedule against three other teams from Colorado including the Colorado Select, the Colorado Lady RoughRiders and the Colorado Springs Tigers. The teams normally meet once a month throughout the winter and play the other three teams in the league during a 12-game season.

“I think we have only had one practice this season where everyone was there,” Howie said. “We had a few practices early in the season where we were missing one or two. It’s hard to get everyone in the same place, at the same time. They come from a lot of different places, but when we get them together, they really seem to mesh as a team.”

This season, the squad went 5-4-3 in league play but peaked in time for the playoffs, finishing second in the state tournament and then winning the Rocky Mountain District championships, where the top two teams from Colorado faced off against the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars March 17 to 19 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Aspen team defeated the Lady RoughRiders, the only team to finish higher than them at the state tournament, in the championship game in Phoenix.

“This is a first for us,” Howie said of making it to the national tournament. “Two years ago, we lost in the finals, and last year, we were third in the league and lost in the playoffs.”

Howie said the team is pumped to be playing in the national tournament, which will take place April 7 to 10. The squad is one of 16 that will be in the tournament.

Those teams will be divided into four pools with the top team teams from each pool advancing to a single-elimination format. Those teams will advance through a playoff bracket until only the winner remains.

“Having the Steamboat players has been great,” Howie said. “Despite not practicing a lot together these girls have really meshed as a team this season, and that bond showed in the regional tournament.”

Paoli plays forward and defense. She netted three goals and had four assists in 14 games this season. Armstrong is a wing, and in 13 games this season, she scored three goals and had five assists.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966


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