Two ice hockey teams that learned valuable lessons about themselves when they played each other recently might have a chance to put the learning into practice in a big stakes rematch.
Regis Jesuit topped Cherry Creek 6-4 on Feb. 20 at Family Sports Center in what turned out to be the regular season finale for both teams because of weather, but the two teams including Aurora players now find themselves a win away from a showdown for the state championship.
The Raiders and Bruins both take the ice March 5 at the Budweiser Events Center in Boulder for semifinal matchups against Monarch and Dakota Ridge, respectively, with an eye on making the 2 p.m. state title game March 7.
Coach Jeff Mielnicki’s Bruins — a mix of players from Cherry Creek and several Aurora high schools in the district — might be the most improbable team left in the Frozen Four, if only for the path they had to take to get there.
The Bruins had to survive a challenge from Lewis-Palmer in the first round on Feb. 27 (a deceptive 4-1 victory with the tie-breaking goal from Sean DeKramer (Cherokee Trail) and two two empty-netters coming in the final 1 minute, 25 seconds, of regulation), then faced a Ralston Valley team that had beaten them 4-1 earlier and was intent on vying for a third consecutive state championship.
Behind first period goals from Max Tennant and Jack Venuto and a 41-save performance from goaltender Brady Mielnicki, Cherry Creek dethroned the Mustangs with a notable 2-1 victory Feb. 28 on Ralston Valley’s home ice at APEX Rec Center.
“The important thing our guys learned is you have to roll with the punches in these game; I think they understand in the playoffs there’s no tomorrow,” Mielnicki said.
“They’ve stayed focused and we’re proud to be still alive after probably the toughest path we could have had to get here.”
Mielnicki cited the resolve built in his team stemming from the game against Regis Jesuit, in which the Bruins trailed by five goals, but scored three times in a span of 1:41 to get right back in it.
“I think both teams learned a lot from that game,” Mielnicki said. “That’s the most goals they’ve given up in a game, so I think they learned the same lesson that we did. Stay on task and if you don’t, it doesn’t really matter which team it is, the puck’s going to go into the net. Obviously, they are a well-coached team and cleaned that up and so did we.”
The Cherry Creek program — which was shuttered for roughly two decades before coming back in 2012 — is seeking its first trip to the state championship game since a loss to Arapahoe for the 1981 crown. The Bruins won three straight state titles from 1977-1979.
Indeed, coming off the Cherry Creek game, Regis Jesuit didn’t allow a single goal in its playoff wins over Heritage (8-0) and Resurrection Christian (3-0) and appears to be playing as well as ever.
Coach Dan Woodley’s team — still unbeaten at 19-0-1 — is in the semifinals for the eighth consecutive season, but hasn’t been to the state championship game since 2012. Standing in the Raiders’ way of a return is a Monarch team that knocked them out in the semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
“We have guys on this team from last year who have been beaten out and some who have been on the team two years and been beaten out in that round, so I assure you our intensity level will be very high,” said, whose team seeks its fourth all-time crown to add to wins in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
“We’ll be ready to perform…There’s only good teams left, so it will be an intense game.”
Regis Jesuit — which topped Monarch 4-1 during the regular season — has a chance to earn some retribution semifinal losses to the Coyotes in the past two seasons. The Raiders let a 1-0 lead early in the third period slip in a 2-1 loss to Monarch last season at Denver Coliseum and fell 5-2 in 2013 at Magness Arena.
Nobody on the Regis Jesuit team is looking forward to playing in the Frozen Four more than senior defenseman Thomas Jahde, who had to watch last season’s semifinal loss due to a suspension.
“The worst part was not being able to help the team in that moment,” Jahde said. “As a captain, I feel I need to be there to help the team and show the younger guys how to control themselves and play their best hockey. This is one of my best seasons in four years here, so I’m definitely looking forward to these last couple of games.”
Jahde was part of Regis Jesuit’s state championship win as a freshman in 2012, as he assisted on the winning goal in overtime of the semifinals against Chatfield to send the Raiders into the state title game, which they would win over Ralston Valley.
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 STATE ICE HOCKEY FROZEN FOUR
Semifinals, March 5 at Budweiser Events Center (Loveland)
Dakota Ridge vs. Cherry Creek, 6 p.m.
Monarch vs. Regis Jesuit, 8 p.m.
Championship, March 7 at Budweiser Events Center (Loveland)
Semifinal winners, 2 p.m.