CHESTERFIELD, MISSOURI | The Cherry Creek hockey team didn’t let its winning ways end with the conclusion of the high school season.
Slightly reconstituted from the squad that recently won the Colorado state championship, the Bruins — a collection of players from several schools in the Cherry Creek School District — headed off to the U.S. Hockey National tournament and have a chance to bring home a bigger prize, a national title.
Coach Jeff Mielnicki’s Cherry Creek swept through pool play Thursday through Saturday, rallied to top Manatee, Florida, 6-4 in Sunday evening’s semifinals and advanced to play the Dubuque Devils at the championship game of the Combined Division at 9 a.m. Monday morning at Hardee’s Ice Plex.
In the Pure Division, Regis Jesuit also advanced to the Final Four and played Sunday for its own chance to play in a championship game on Monday.
Cherry Creek — which did not have Mielnicki on the bench coaching because of the Colorado High School Activities Association’s rule of no contact between coaches and players on Sundays — did it the hard way in the semifinals against Manatee, falling behind 2-0 just over 7 minutes into the opening period.
Senior forward Sean DeKramer (Cherokee Trail) assisted on Chris Nitchen’s goal late in the period, however, then scored the equalizer himself midway through the second period on the power play.
Tied at 2-2 going into the third, the game remained deadlocked halfway through the period after both teams traded goals, but a power play goal by James Shelton — his second of the period — broke the tie. DeKramer made it a 6-3 edge with his second goal of the game three minutes later and after Manatee pulled one score back, Andrew McCulley scored an insurance goal to seal it for the Bruins.
DeKramer finished with two goals and two assists in the contest, while senior goaltender Brady Mielnicki — who was outstanding in the team’s state championship run — made 30 saves for the victory in the net.
Nitchen — who scored the game-winner for Cherry Creek in the sixth overtime of a semifinal win over Dakota Ridge in the Colorado semifinals — leads the club in scoring with five goals going into the championship game.
Earlier in the day Sunday, Nitchen and McCulley each scored two goals, DeKramer and Jack Venuto piled up three assists each and Cherry Creek rolled to an 8-1 victory over Greenville South (South Carolina) to reach the semifinals.
The Bruins swept through the Avalanche (A) Pool in the Combined Division with wins over McKinley, Texas (3-0), Waterloo, I0wa (3-1) and Lincoln Way (Illinois) 7-2, while the other pool included teams from Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2015 USA HOCKEY NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
SEMIFINALS — COMBINED DIVISION
Cherry Creek 6, Manatee (Florida) 4
Score by periods:
Manatee 2 0 2 — 4
Cherry Creek 1 1 4 — 6
First period: Manataee — Justen Bernthal (Peter Morgan), 4:00; Manatee — Rhett Rampinelli (Morgan, David Tmej), 7:17; Cherry Creek — Chris Nitchen (Sean DeKramer, Garret Glaspy), 19:54
Second period: Cherry Creek — DeKramer (power play) (Andrew McCulley), 9:59
Third period: Cherry Creek — James Shelton, 7:54; Manatee — Morgan, 8:46; Cherry Creek — Shelton (power play) (Noah Ingwers, Glaspy), 12:34; Cherry Creek — DeKramer (Nitchen, McCulley), 15:10; Manatee — Chase Bafia (Tmej, Tucker Barone), 16:18; Cherry Creek — McCulley (DeKramer), 17:07
Goaltenders: Manatee — Dominick Tmej (25 shots on goal-19 saves); Cherry Creek — Brady Mielnicki (30 shots on goal-34 saves)
Cherry Creek 8, Greenville South (South Carolina) 1
Cherry Creek goals: Andrew McCulley 2, Chris Nitchen 2, Nick Chavez, Jacob Harding, Noah Ingwers, Joe LoSasso; Cherry Creek assists: Sean DeKramer 3, Jack Venuto 3, Harding, Ingwers, McCulley, Kody Poon, James Shelton, Jamie Stokes, Victor Weijers; Cherry Creek saves: Brady Mielnicki (18 shots on goal-17 saves), Austen Strauss (1 shot on goal-1 save)
March 21: Cherry Creek 7, Lincoln Way (Illinois) 2
Cherry Creek goals — Noah Ingwers 2, Andrew McCulley 2, Chris Nitchen 2, Nick Chavez; Cherry Creek assists: Ingwers 2, Victor Weijers 2, Chavez, Sean DeKramer, Garret Glaspy, Blake Hoffman, Joe LoSasso, Nitchen, Kody Poon, James Shelton, Jack Venuto; Cherry Creek saves: Brady Mielnicki (17 shots on goal-15 saves)
March 20: Cherry Creek 3, Waterloo (Iowa) 1
Cherry Creek goals — Blake Hoffman, Chris Nitchen, Kody Poon; Cherry Creek assists: Nick Chavez, Noah Ingwers, James Shelton; Cherry Creek saves: Brady Mielnicki (25 shots on goal-24 saves)
March 19: Cherry Creek 3, McKinney (Texas) 0
Cherry Creek goals — L. Gage Blatter, Nick Chavez, Brandon Cyrus; Cherry Creek assists: Jamie Stokes 2, Ryan Heck, Joe LoSasso; Cherry Creek saves: Brady Mielnicki (16 shots on goal-16 saves)