Lance Ostrom powers Steamboat hockey to victory against Aspen

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— In preparing for his team’s rematch with Aspen, Steamboat Springs High School hockey head coach Jeff Ruff felt no need to deliver an impassioned speech.

“I told them, ‘Hey, if you need me to get you fired up to beat this team, then there’s something wrong. You’ve really got to find it within yourselves,’” Ruff said.

Lance Ostrom and the Sailors heeded those words, shaking off a slow start and an early one-goal deficit Wednesday night at Lewis Ice Arena. Ostrom scored his team’s final three goals to record his second hat trick in as many games and propel Steamboat to a 4-2 win — avenging Dec. 14’s 3-1 loss to the Skiers.

“[In December,] the guys on paper thought they were going to come in and win the game against Aspen. I think we were guilty of not being mentally prepared for that game,” Ruff said. “As I told them, this is high school sports and on any given night any team that wants it more and is hungry to win has the better chance of winning. Give credit to Aspen for coming out and working hard.”

The Skiers again got off to a fast start Wednesday, striking first in this battle of Foothills foes. With 11 minutes remaining in the opening period and his team on a power play, Aspen’s Gus Gregory sprinted up the ice and attempted to split two defenders; the puck was tapped backward to a wide-open Joey Vernier, who ripped a liner from a few steps inside the blue line that Sailors goaltender Erik Owen could not glove.

“I thought we would’ve come out harder,” Ruff admitted. “We played pretty lackadaisical in that first period.”

At least for the first 10 minutes.

With little more than 6 minutes remaining in the first, Steamboat made one of its 5-on-4 advantages pay off. Senior defenseman Patrick Weston controlled a pass and fired a seemingly innocuous shot from left of the net that slid past Skiers goaltender Alex Parrish, squaring the game.

Ostrom took over from there. In the final minute of a second period highlighted by physical, often contentious play, the junior spotted a seam in the Aspen defense and attacked. He knifed through a host of defenders, then flicked a backhanded shot past Parrish and into the net.

“He’s really starting to play with a lot of confidence. Confidence in his abilities,” Ruff said.

Less than 1 minute into the third period, Ostrom extended the Sailors’ advantage on a power play. Owen, who turned away 30 of 32 Skiers shots, hit the winger in stride with a well-executed clear up the far side, and Ostrom caught Aspen out of position for an easy tap-in score.

“Yeah, I guess stuff is really going my way, but I have to thank my team. They’re giving me great opportunities,” Ostrom said. “Luckily, I’m putting them in and not hitting the posts like I used to.”

Aspen (2-8 overall, 1-3 conference) gave the home crowd a glimmer of hope with a quick answer 45 seconds later. Daniel Kelso fired a shot on net, and Taylor Mayer cleaned up the fortuitous rebound to trim the Skiers’ deficit to one.

Ostrom put this game out of reach, however, with an athletic goal on a breakaway about 10 minutes later.

“I have maybe two moves I do [in those situations], and luckily it went in,” he said. “I faked the forehand and went backhand. The goalie read it perfectly and had great position. I have no idea how the puck went in.”

Aspen emptied the net in the waning moments but could pull no closer en route to dropping its second consecutive home game.

“We are getting our game together, the puck is moving better and the intensity is out there. There just seems to be a break here or there that doesn’t quite go our way,” Skiers head coach Al Butler said.

“They’re a good team, a physical team and I felt we went toe-to-toe with them. We outshot them 32-28. They just capitalized on their chances, and we didn’t once again.”

Aspen will look to regroup at 6:30 p.m. Friday, when it faces off against another Foothills power, Ralston Valley, at Apex Ice Arena in Arvada. The Mustangs were 8-2 heading into Wednesday night’s game against Columbine.

“I think every weekend going forward is big,” Butler said. “As long as we come out and play with effort and heart, the little things will continue to improve. If we continue to compete and win some of these games, we should be able to make the playoffs.”

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