Aspen Aspen forward Tyler Moore eyed an opening in the middle of the Steamboat Springs defense and charged.
He slowed 10 feet from the net and fired a strong shot that sailed wide right. The puck caromed off the boards and straight back to Moore's stick. The senior converted the second time around, beating Sailors goalie Matt Dawes to give Aspen the 1-0 lead late in the first period Friday night.
The puck had bounced Moore's way. It was a sign of things to come.
Moore scored twice more and assisted on one other goal during the first 10 minutes of the third period as the Skiers blew open a tight game. Goalie Alex Owen held the Sailors at bay for the game's first 43-plus minutes, and Aspen rolled, 4-1.
"We're starting to get the feel of things, and we believe we can win games," Butler said. "It makes a big difference when you have that confidence.
"That third period was pretty solid."
In a game marred by penalties and missed opportunities, two untimely Sailors miscues wound up costing them a chance to avenge an earlier 4-0 loss to Aspen. Ian Anderson was sent to the penalty box with 1:31 to play in the second after a hooking penalty. A half minute later, Dawes was whistled for a delay of game, giving the Skiers a 5-on-3 advantage.
Steamboat escaped the second with just a one-goal deficit because of Dawes, who acrobatically thwarted two apparent goals in the final minute.
The Sailors were not as fortunate in the opening seconds of the third, however. The Skiers (8-6 overall, 5-4 in Foothills Conference play) spread the ice and Simon Dolginow passed off to Moore in the right corner. Moore took one step toward the goal, then skipped a pass across the ice to Daniel Doremus, who lined up a slap shot and hit the net.
Thirty-one seconds into the third, the Skiers doubled their lead.
"That really gave us the momentum for the rest of the period," Aspen coach Al Butler said.
Moore controlled a pass from Doremus with 7:45 to play, nimbly avoided one defender then lofted a backhanded floater over Dawes' glove. A little more than two minutes later, the duo connected once more.
Doremus kicked the puck around with his stick and skate and somehow managed to fire a shot on goal; Moore, like he had been all night, was perfectly positioned to play the rebound and pick up the hat trick.
"My last one probably came a few years ago - it's a good feeling," Moore said. "The key coming out on those shifts is to send a message and get the puck deep."
The Sailors had their chances, thanks in large part to Aspen penalties. Steamboat had a two-man advantage less than two minutes into the first period after tripping and boarding penalties, but generated just one odd-man rush; Owens easily slapped the puck out of harm's way.
The goalie was tested throughout the second period; the Sailors fired nine shots on net and had three man-up advantages. Steamboat peppered the goal with multiple shots from close range with two minutes remaining, but Owen, who fell on his back during the exchange, smothered the puck - and the Sailors' chance for the equalizer.
"He stood on his head and made some huge saves for us," Moore said. "He gave us some motivation on the bench and picked up our spirits."
And he almost picked up the shutout. Owens sprawled to swat a shot from Cody Fritz with 1:09 remaining and came up empty.
Judging from the smile on his face at game's end, however, Owens was content with another big win - Aspen's third straight after a mid-January slide.
Steamboat plays next at Palmer at 4:30 p.m. Friday.