Ice Hockey: Regis Jesuit, Cherry Creek could be on postseason collision course opposite Monarch

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Regis Jesuit's Kyle Nelson, left, fires a shot towards the net that went into the goal during the Raiders' 5-3 win over Cherry Creek during the 2015-16 regular season. Regis Jesuit and Cherry Creek ended up on the same side of the state ice hockey bracket and could meet in the Frozen Four if they win first round and quarterfinal games Feb. 26-27. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)
Regis Jesuit’s Kyle Nelson, left, fires a shot towards the net that went into the goal during the Raiders’ 5-3 win over Cherry Creek during the 2015-16 regular season. Regis Jesuit and Cherry Creek ended up on the same side of the state ice hockey bracket and could meet in the Frozen Four if they win first round and quarterfinal games Feb. 26-27. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

For the past three seasons, the Regis Jesuit ice hockey team’s season has ended in a Frozen Four loss to Monarch.

That won’t happen this season to coach Dan Woodley’s Raiders, no way, no how.

The Coyotes may still get the better of Regis Jesuit when all is said and done, but it would have to be with the state championship on the line. The Raiders and the Cherry Creek co-op team sit on the opposite side of the state tournament bracket as undefeated Monarch.

“We’re happy with the bracket that we’re in and we’ve had some success against many of these teams relatively recently,” said Woodley, whose team holds wins over five of the seven teams in its side of the bracket.

“We really value the games against Monarch,” he added. “While we feel like we’ve come up on the short end the last few times in big games, we still value the opportunities…We’d like to see them in a winner-take-all game.”

The Raiders begin their quest for their first trip to the state championship game since 2012 — when they won the last of their three all-time titles — with a first round contest against seventh-seeded Cheyenne Mountain (8-10-1) at 5:45 p.m. Feb. 26 at Family Sports Center. The Steamboat Springs vs. Lewis-Palmer winner would await on the same ice at 3:15 p.m. Feb. 27.

Woodley’s team has been hitting on all cylinders of late and comes into the postseason in relatively good health. Particularly hot from an offensive standpoint is senior winger Eamon Duffy, who has rocketed to the top of the Raiders’ point list with 63.

Duffy leads the team with 29 goals and his 34 assists ranks fourth behind only Jack Kilkenny (42), Kyle Nelson (37) and Cale Woodley (35).

“Eamon’s been playing really well lately and we’re super happy with the results,” Woodley said.

“We also have guys like Kilkenny, Jack Jordan and Cale (Woodley) who are accustomed to the playoff race and are all peaking at the right time.”

Senior Sam Gartner and junior Bret Jahde both have risen to the occasion in the goal in big games recently, giving Woodley options.

Getting past Cheyenne Mountain and Steamboat Springs or Lewis-Palmer in the second round could earn a matchup with Cherry Creek in the semis.

Coach Jeff Mielnicki’s Bruins — a mix of players from around the Cherry Creek School District and other Aurora schools such as Rangeview — won last season’s state championship, but a nearly complete overhaul of the roster has kept the target off the team moreso than other returning state championship squads.

Mielnicki is just fine with that scenario and has seen his team take great strides recently during the backloaded portion of its regular season schedule.

“We finished with the same record as we had last year with a completely remolded team, so I feel that’s quite an accomplishment,” Mielnicki said.

“We’re an underdog now and we’ve really never been highly-ranked. If we play the type of hockey that I think we’re capable of though, we’ll be right there.”

Cherry Creek (15-4) plays Liberty (9-7) at 7:45 p.m. Feb. 26 at South Suburban in the opening round and would skate at 3:45 p.m. Feb. 27 against Mountain Vista or Aspen with a victory.

Mielnicki believes hot goaltending will be the difference and he has two strong options in senior Scout Stalcup (Eaglecrest) and sophomore Kyle Englert (Grandview).

Offensively, the Bruins haven’t been as high-powered as some of the other offenses in the playoffs, but they haven’t needed

Junior Danny Taggart (Grandview) leads the Bruins in goals with 23 and assists with 23.

On the opposite side of the bracket, Monarch is undefeated and favored, but road to the championship game is difficult. In the mix with the Coyotes is perennial powerhouse Ralston Valley (17-2), returning 5A Frozen Four member Dakota Ridge (15-4) and upstart Denver East (15-4) among others.

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel

2016 STATE ICE HOCKEY PLAYOFFS

LOWER BRACKET

First round (Feb. 26): No. 7 Cheyenne Mountain (8-10-1) vs. NO. 2 REGIS JESUIT (18-1), 5:45 p.m. at Family Sports Center (Hamilton); No. 6 Steamboat Springs (12-6) vs. No. 3 Lewis-Palmer (13-5-1), 8 p.m. at Family Sports Center (Hamilton); Quarterfinals (Feb. 27): Steamboat Springs/Lewis-Palmer winner vs. Cheyenne Mountain/REGIS JESUIT winner, 3:15 p.m. at Family Sports Center (Hamilton)

First round (Feb. 26): No. 8 Aspen (10-8) vs. No. 1 Mountain Vista (14-5), 6:20 p.m. at South Suburban; No. 5 Liberty (9-7) vs. NO. 4 CHERRY CREEK (15-4), 7:45 p.m. at South Suburban; Quarterfinals (Feb. 27): Liberty/CHERRY CREEK winner vs. Aspen/Mountain Vista winner, 3:45 p.m. at South Suburban

Full state ice hockey pairings & schedule, here.