ARVADA | The Ralston Valley ice hockey team had its Colorado win streak snapped at 38 games a few days earlier, so Cherry Creek knew the situation it was headed into Tuesday night.
Coming off an overtime loss to Mountain Vista, the two-time defending state champion Mustangs had something to prove when the undefeated Bruins came calling to the APEX Rec Center.
Ralston Valley scored twice in a three-minute span in the second period and used strong play in the net to deal Cherry Creek a 4-1 Foothills Conference loss in front of a packed house. While disappointed in the defeat, Cherry Creek coach Jeff Mielnicki put the result into perspective, especially considering the amount of young players he had on the ice.
“I know some of our players wanted more, but I didn’t want to make it more than it was,” Mielnicki said. “We will certainly adjust. … You see how they mobbed each other after a regular season game, they had really more to lose than we did. Another loss and things could spiral.
“Plain and simple, they answered the bell and we didn’t, but there’s a lot of hockey left.”
James Shelton scored the lone goal for Cherry Creek (10-1 overall, 7-1 in Foothills Conference), a team filled with players from several district schools, which suffered its first loss since it fell to Ralston Valley in last season’s state semifinals. The Bruins played a rare early week game ahead of a Friday-Saturday doubleheader against improving Columbine and powerful Mountain Vista.
Cherry Creek’s loss leaves Regis Jesuit (12-0) as the only unbeaten team remaining after Monarch suffered its first loss of the season to Dakota Ridge on Monday. The Raiders and Coyotes play on Friday.
Tony Salazar gave Ralston Valley (9-1, 6-0) the early lead when he streaked in and beat Cherry Creek goaltender Brady Mielnicki after a hard Cherry Creek shot helped the Mustangs break quickly out of their own end.
The Bruins tied it up on Shelton’s goal just over six minutes into the second period, which came just seconds after a Cherry Creek power play opportunity had expired. Shelton put home a rebound for the equalizer, with assists going to Chris Nitchen and Jack Venuto.
The deadlock lasted for four minutes until a fortunate deflection came to Matt Trubacz, who found the back of the net to put the Mustangs back in front. Three minutes later, Fruhwirth roofed a shot from point blank range following a face-off in the Cherry Creek end.
The Bruins were shorthanded to end the period, but nearly got a goal back in the final seconds. Senior forward Tim Keohane (Smoky Hill) skated onto a loose puck and streaked toward the Ralston Valley net, where goalie Dominic Gomez just got enough of the puck with his skate to keep it out of the goal on the doorstep.
“I got a good shot net, but he made a nice save; credit to him,” Keohane said.
Gomez continued to rise to the occasion as Cherry Creek finally began to generate some dangerous chances in the final period. The Bruins’ desperation led to Ralston Valley’s final goal, which came on a 3-on-1 break with just over two minutes left.
Cherry Creek led in shots on goal with 28, but Gomez stopped 27 of them in his first start since Jan. 9, while Brady Mielnicki turned aside 20 of 24 Ralston Valley shots.
“We had some great opportunities later on our power play and I would say had four or five that were labeled for goals,” Jeff Mielnicki said. “Their goalie rose to the occasion and we made some mistakes defensively. We learned a few things.”
Keohane, a co-captain and the team leader in goals (9) and points (18), lost no confidence in his team despite the result.
“We were prepared for this game, but we had a couple of lapses,” he said. “I still think we can take these guys. This is just one game in the middle of the season, so I’m not worried. … We learned about what we need to do when we play them again. I expect to play them again.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
RALSTON VALLEY 4, CHERRY CREEK 1
Score by periods:
Cherry Creek 0 1 0 — 1
Ralston Valley 1 2 1 — 4
First period: Ralston Valley — Tony Salazar (Jeff Moffat, Stefan Fruhwirth), 9:22
Second period: Cherry Creek — James Shelton (Chris Nitchen, Jack Venuto), 10:49; Ralston Valley — Matt Trubacz (Joe Miller), 6:29; Ralston Valley — Fruhwirth (Salazar, Moffat), 3:52
Third period: Ralston Valley — Salazar (Moffat), 2:05
Goaltenders: Cherry Creek — Brady Mielnicki (24 shots on goal-20 saves); Ralston Valley — Dominic Gomez (28 shots on goal-27 saves)