Vail Mountaineers U12 team wins Colorado Amateur Hockey Association PeeWee state championship
Vail came back from three goals down to win epic final over Aspen/Glenwood
The old sports myth saying it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in one season mean’s nothing to the Vail Mountaineers U12 hockey team. How about six times?
That’s what the Mountaineers did to win the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association PeeWee A state championship on March 12 in Colorado Springs. It was the 12th time this season the Mountaineers had faced Glenwood Springs/Aspen, and going into the title bout at Colorado College’s new Ed Robson Arena, the squads were practically dead-even with a 5-5-1 record against each other.
“The Aswood(Aspen/Glenwood combine) squad is an outstanding and well-coached group of players,” said Mountaineers coach Erik Barcza of his opponents, who won the Western Colorado Hockey League crown. “We’ve had a fierce rivalry with them from our first match against each other early in the season. The players know each other and are friends, but on the ice, the hometown teams come first.”
In the first round of state, the Mountaineers crushed the Colorado Competitive Hockey League DU team 7-2, with Alex Barcza scoring twice. Later in the day, six different players scored goals as Vail rolled over Steamboat Springs 6-1. On Saturday, the Mountaineers defeated Lafayette 6-1 and 4-0 to set up a final — and the ultimate rubber match — against Glenwood Springs/Aspen.
After a scoreless first, it was all “Aswood” early in the second. Magnus Carlson scored at the 11:13 time mark and three minutes later it was Nathan Fry off a dish from Carlson. With 5:24 remaining in the period, Fry took it himself to put his team up 3-0 as a somber mood and quiet hush enveloped the Vail bench.
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“I told them we still have half a game to go and all we needed was one goal to change the momentum,” Barcza said of his words to the team at the time. “Keep your chins up, support each other and keep grinding.” The boys didn’t wait long to execute.
Alexander Barcza found the back of the net with 3:41 remaining, with assists coming courtesy of Martin Crofton and Christopher Dunn.
“That changed the whole game. We were fired up and took it to the next level,” the coach stated, adding that no strategy was amended throughout the comeback. “We stuck to the systems and just worked harder.”
Barcza came through with another goal two minutes later and finished his period two hat trick with 36 seconds left. Jakub Topor and Cash Walker assisted on the former and Lindsey Wadey on the latter.
“Alex is a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of player; he leaves everything on the ice, every shift,” stated the coach, who has witnessed vast improvement from the emerging student-of-the-game thanks to the athlete’s daily dedication to shooting pucks in the driveway and watching game replays. “He drives his mother nuts stick handling all around the house,” he continued. “He’s a north and south player, he expects the same from his teammates and they deliver.”
Mattox Swanson also provided a steady presence in the goal. “He played on his head and consistently turned away fierce offensive attacks with poise and grace throughout the game — true hero in my book,” Barcza praised.
The Mountaineers were whistled for two penalties in the third period, but came through unscathed. Then, Mountaineers forward Chris Dunn put his team in front for the first time on a dramatic penalty-shot goal after being fouled during a breakaway with 3:16 to go in the game.
“He really came into his own in the state title game,” the coach said of Dunn .
Aspen/Glenwood pulled the goalie late, allowing Jay Holton to put in the empty-netter with five seconds left and seal a dramatic, come-from-behind 5-3 victory.
“I knew we had the goods early on in the season to develop a very competitive team. The players were very skilled and very coachable,” said Barcza, who was quick to credit the rest of his coaching staff — Justin Bradshaw, Kristina Landa, Marty Topor, Trent Swanson, Jason Peters and Quinn Sypniewski.
Thomas Werner, Jake Topor, Alex Barcza, Chris Dunn, Jay Holton, Costner Bradshaw, Charly Landa, Grady McGalliard, Gage Scahill, Lindsey Wadey, Cash Walker, Marty Crofton, Mattox Swanson, Kolt Sypniewski, Brooks Heinemann, Jules Mather and Erik Peters.
Coaches: Erik Barca (head coach), Justin Bradshaw, Kristina Landa, Jason Peters, Marty Topor, Quinn Sypniewski, Trent Swanson and team manager Nichole Swanson
“Sometimes, teams peak at some point during the season — this squad got better and better with every practice until the end. They worked hard and never complained,” he continued, noting that the goal to win state was the athletes’ target from the first team meeting.
“We battled hard to get there, we struggled a little mid-season and dropped some games we should have been more competitive in. But I think those losses helped in the long run, making us realize that we have to work for it from the first puck drop to the last buzzer, no matter who we are facing.”