TELLURIDE – Last Saturday’s U-19 girls hockey game was do or die. To return to the State Tournament once again this year, the ladies had to win their final match of the regular season – and win they did, like they’ve done for the last ten games.
As defending State Champs, Telluride’s U-19 girls hockey squad trumped Steamboat at home Saturday night 5-4 to win a berth into the upcoming state contest, to be held in Colorado Springs March 13-15. They’ll join Telluride’s U-14 girls hockey team, who has also won an invitation to the upcoming state finals.
“We’re peaking right now,” says U-19 coach John Cohn of his team, whose league record now stands at 8-1-3. “It’s going to be hard to get around us. I think we have the best team out there, and if we do what we’re supposed to do, nobody can beat us.”
Those sound like fighting words, coming from the defending state trophy-winning Telluride coach. But judging from the way his team tackles their competition on the ice, Cohn could simply be speaking the truth. This is a team who is, after all, undefeated in their last ten games. It’s a team that has put a whopping 24 goals on the scoreboard in the last four games. It’s a team that plays with intensity and focus, and a team that badly wants to repeat at the State Tournament.
“If I was another coach and saw our first line coming out at my players, I would panic. Then, putting out a second line that could match our second line would be almost impossible. It’s just really hard to defend against us,” Cohn says of his “production line” of goal scorers and playmakers who comprise the roster of this season’s squad.
As skilled as they are, it hasn’t been an easy route to Colorado Springs for Telluride’s U-19s. In the early season, they dropped to 1-3 after meeting the State’s three top teams. To win an invitation to the State Championships again this season, the girls had to win every game since then – a feat that would seem unlikely, but not for this group. Cohn explains that those early losses proved to be valuable lessons for the ladies. They got their defense in order. They put together a menacing offense that has the knowledge and skill to make moves in front of the net. Finally, they found their way back into their winning ways, and haven’t looked back since.
In Saturday’s match-up, Telluride came up with the evening’s first two goals, jettisoned from the stick of none other than Madison Ward, who was just named as the league’s number one goal scorer. But Steamboat wasn’t about to lay down that easily in front of Telluride’s steamroller. Steamboat’s Courtney Garth put one in to put the score at 2-1 at the end of the first period, but Telluride responded in the second with a goal from Emy Ludwig off a Jacquie Distefano assist. Steamboat came back and landed three goals before the end of the period – and would have taken the lead, had Ludwig not landed an eleventh-hour goal that tied the score 4-4.
When the score is tied and a State Championship berth is at stake, it’s nice to for a team to have a big bag of tricks from which to fashion a winning combination. In Telluride’s case on Saturday, that winning combination came in the form of a one-two punch delivered by the team’s most menacing twosome: Ward and Natalie Brown. Brown had already dished out three passes that lead to goals that evening, and with teammate Ward in her crosshairs Steamboat’s defense didn’t stand a chance. Ward came up with her team’s fifth goal midway through the third period, and thanks to stoic defense from Mckenzie Bronson, Juliette Brown, Naomi Major, and Distefano, Telluride hung onto the lead, taking the win and the State Finals invitation that came with it.
Telluride’s U-19 will get their first opportunity to defend their crown in the double-elimination tournament, to be held in Colorado Springs starting Friday March 13. Their first match pits them against Aspen at 5:15 p.m. Friday. Telluride’s U-14 girls squad will play at 6:30 p.m.