Summit U-19 girl’s hockey enters state tournament with “rebuilding” team
It’s been a rough-and-tumble season for Tigers ice hockey.
First, the boys. After a very, very slow start to the season — the team went 0-6 before eking out a tie against Standley Lake High School — the Summit High School crew found its skates and entered the final stretch with three ego-boosting wins against Mullen, Kent Denver and slippery Battle Mountain. The team still ended the season last week with a losing record, but a losing record with wins against top-tier teams is better than a season of total disappointments.
Now, the girls. The Lady Tigers club team has enjoyed more success than the boys this winter, ending the regular season with a 7-7-2 record in the U-19 division. (Unlike the guys, the girls play in a club league, the Mountain State Girls Hockey League, against teams that aren’t always directly tied to a high school, like New Mexico U-19 and Junior Eagles U-19 of Denver.) It was enough to earn them the fifth seed for the state championships in Littleton this weekend and, of course, a first-round matchup with rival Steamboat. Summit beat Steamboat during the regular season, 3-1, but the Sailors were still a tough draw for the first match of a four-game, round-robin tournament — the same tourney where a stacked Summit team with six seniors lost in overtime to West Elk of Gunnison last season.
“This team found their groove,” head coach Jamilee Cohen said of this year’s team. “They tied and beat two of the best teams in the league during the season. As long as we have our full team we play well. It’s when we’re missing players that we get hurt.”
Rivalries, grudge matches, near misses and missing players — none of that mattered on Friday afternoon, when the Lady Tigers beat Steamboat for the second time this season, 3-2. It puts Summit in prime position for the rest of the state tournament, and if senior captain Meg Rose has anything to say about it, a few more wins for her final team.
“We’re slowly, slowly sinking into what we can do,” Rose said. “I think these will be a good couple of games. I have no idea what the outcome will be, but that’s OK.”
Talk to the Lady Tigers coaches or players and they agree that this season has been a season for rebuilding. It makes sense: The near-championship team last year had six seniors, and the rest of the starting line was filled with 10-year veterans like Rose, fellow captain Natalie Imamura and goalie Cody Osteen, now a junior. The focus, then, for the captains and the coach, was simply finding the right team.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year so this year was a rebuilding year, just having fun,” Rose said. “We were just looking to make improvements and build a team.”
Rose’s coach agrees. Cohen, a player on the first Summit girl’s hockey team in 2000, took a few years away from the U-19 team before returning this season.
“This was sort of a rebuilding year,” Cohen said. “It has been a little tough this year to lose so many seniors (and) we have five total newbies. That brought a new dynamic to the team.”
But it didn’t take long to rebuild, at least if stats and wins factor into the equation. (They should.) Seniors Rose and Imamura stepped wholeheartedly into their captain roles, with Rose taking cues from her time on Summit’s championships rugby team, while Imamura simply let her skating do the talking. She enters the state tournament with the third-highest scoring percentage in the U-19 league.
“My skating has gotten way better than before,” said Imamura, who like Rose has been playing ice hockey since third grade. “It’s something I’ve gotten better with over the past year, just working a lot on it.”
And it’s drawn attention. This weekend, coaches with the University of Colorado-Boulder ice hockey club team will be at the tournament to catch Imamura in action.
“It makes me a little nervous they’ll be there,” she said, the paused with a laugh. “But I think I’ll be fine.”
With Imamura unstoppable up front and Rose a confident leader in the back — “She is so calm and collected back there,” Cohen said — the Summit team is deeper than it appears. Then, there’s goalie Osteen. The Eagle County local is now ranked second in the league with a .935 save percentage on the season.
“She’s always been very good, but this year as a senior she did incredibly by playing with Battle Mountain,” Cohen said. “That experience really helped her this year.”
Just the beginning
The Steamboat win was a major confidence booster, but it’s just the first of four tournament games — and the toughest are yet to come. Summit faces the defending champions, West Elk, today at 2 p.m., followed by Aspen at 7 p.m. The girls haven’t beaten either team in four matches this season. But, if the confidence-boosting Steamboat win from yesterday is an indication, the season of rebuilding might just end with a state championship rematch.
Or, if nothing else, a stellar ending to an unpredictable year.
“I just hope we keep improving, building off this season and everything we’ve learned,” Rose said on her drive to Littleton before the tournament. “If we can do that I think we have the chance to take away a couple of wins at least.”
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