While Monarch, a team that has yet to climb to the top of Colorado’s prep ice hockey world, comes into the 2015-16 season as the consensus favorite, two local teams that have been there before will be major factors.
In just its third season since being reinstated as a program, the Cherry Creek co-op team won last season’s state crown — dealing the Coyotes a third straight loss in the state title game — while Regis Jesuit has three state championships to its credit and is one of the state’s annually elite programs. Both programs also won national championships.
Bruins’ coach Jeff Mielnicki graduated the goaltender who played a huge role in the postseason as well as his top six goal scorers, so he calls this season a “complete reload.”
Still, Mielnicki is pleased with the potential of his new group, which includes a mix of players from Cherry Creek as well as those from Aurora who attend Eaglecrest, Grandview, Smoky Hill and even Rangeview.
“We’re excited about our season with a good group of young kids who are willing to put the time in,” Mielnicki said. “They are very proud of last year’s accomplishments, but I think they want to make their mark.”
A pair of Grandview students, juniors Danny Taggart and Blake Hoffman, play especially key roles on defense as the team seeks to develop its offensive weapons. Taggart is an offensive defenseman who is eager to move up and join the attack. while Hoffman is more comfortable protecting the net.
Offensively, juniors Jacob Harding and Sam Harris (both of Cherry Creek) will be key, while Joe Whitmore (Smoky Hill) is among a small group of seniors who will need to step up into the void of leadership left by the graduation of many key personalities.
Regis Jesuit, meanwhile, has been stopped by Monarch in the semifinals in each of the past three seasons and has the offense — with eight returning forwards from last season, including leading goal scorer Cale Woodley (20) and assist leader Jack Jordan (23) among them — to make a run at the Coyotes should they meet again in the postseason.
Senior Jack Kilkenny is another experienced cog in an offense that thrives on puck movement and multiple players with the ability to put the puck in the net.
The Raiders graduated some key figures in the back in Carter Alcock and Thomas Jahde, but return two strong goalies in senior Sam Gartner and junior Bret Jahde. Seniors Spencer Chuck and Carmine Lonardo provide quality two-way play in the back.
“We have a pretty talented group and we’ll probably be one of the better teams in the league, but I’m not exactly sure where we’ll stand at the end,” said coach Dan Woodley, who has guided Regis Jesuit to at least the state semifinals for eight straight seasons, but is still seeking the program’s first state title since 2012.
The state ice hockey landscape has changed a bit this season as one more team is added (Castle View), while Valor Christian hired former University of Denver coach and National Hockey League assistant coach George Gwozdecky to lead the program.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2015 AURORA ICE HOCKEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cade Alcock, D, jr., Regis Jesuit; Spencer Chuck, D, sr., Regis Jesuit; Sam Gartner, G, sr., Regis Jesuit; Jacob Harding, F, jr., Cherry Creek; Sam Harris, F, jr., Cherry Creek; Blake Hoffman, D, jr., Cherry Creek (Grandview); Bret Jahde, G, jr., Regis Jesuit; Jack Jordan, F, sr., Regis Jesuit; Jack Kilkenny, F, sr., Regis Jesuit; Carmine Lonardo, D, sr., Regis Jesuit; Joe LoSasso, F, sr., Cherry Creek (Rangeview); Scout Stalcup, G, sr., Cherry Creek (Eaglecrest); Danny Taggart, D, jr., Cherry Creek (Grandview); Joe Whitmore, F, sr., Cherry Creek (Smoky Hill); Cale Woodley, F, sr., Regis Jesuit