While there will always be haves and havenots in the world of Colorado prep ice hockey, the sport took a step in the right direction since the final buzzer sounded on the 2015-16 season.
In a move designed to reduce the prevalance of double-digit blowouts in a two-conference system, the state’s now 32-team field was split in four conferences. The move freed up more room on the schedule for teams to play more teams at their level.
That’s particularly useful for the top-end programs like both that include Aurora players — Regis Jesuit and the Cherry Creek co-op team — that enjoy the chance to play as many high-level contests as possible to sharpen themselves for the postseason.
To that end, the two local teams (which have combined to win three of the past five state championships) have scheduled each other twice, as they will play Jan. 27 and Feb. 4 at the Family Sports Center.
Those matchups should be very compelling given the talent on skates and in pads on both sides.
Coach Dan Woodley’s Regis Jesuit team returns after winning the fourth state championship in program history, as the Raiders vanquished previously undefeated Monarch 6-1 in last season’s state final.
Regis Jesuit returns key goal scorers in seniors Michael Baer, Connor Kilkenny and Kyle Nelson, plus senior Cade Alcock on the back line, but Woodley is pleased with his new additions as well.
Juniors Shane Ott and Wyatt Verity — who excelled in the fall league — have added offensive punch, and Woodley believes Nolan Sargent will be one of the top freshman in the state this season.
The Raiders had another longtime varsity goalie graduate in Sam Gartner, but have a trio of capable netminders that will get their chance this season.
Coach Jeff Mielnicki’s Cherry Creek team — which includes a blend of players from Aurora schools Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest, Grandview and Smoky Hill in addition to those from Cherry Creek — is just a season removed from winning a state title and includes a nice mix of veterans and newcomers.
Seniors Danny Taggart (Grandview), Joe Whitmore (Smoky Hill) and Sam Harris (Cherry Creek) offering some scoring punch, while the return of senior Garret Glaspy is a boost to the backline. Mielnicki is without a veteran goaltender for the first time, but has a strong trio that should solidfy the nets.
Both teams hope to be part of the final four — which seems likely given Regis Jesuit has been there in the semifinals for nine straight seasons and Cherry Creek made two of the last three — and are pleased that the Frozen Four was moved back to the University of Denver.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2016-17 AURORA ICE HOCKEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cade Alcock, D, sr., Regis Jesuit; Michael Baer, F, sr., Regis Jesuit; Billy Bostwick, F, sr., Cherry Creek (Eaglecrest); Brandon Cyrus, F, sr., Cherry Creek (Grandview); Kyle Englert, G, jr., Cherry Creek (Grandview); Jacob Harding, D, sr., Cherry Creek; Garret Glaspy, D, sr., Cherry Creek; Sam Harris, F, sr., Cherry Creek; Connor Kilkenny, F, sr., Regis Jesuit; Diego Lovato, F, sr., Cherry Creek (Grandview); Kyle Nelson, F, sr., Regis Jesuit; Shane Ott, F, jr., Regis Jesuit; Nolan Sargent, F, fr., Regis Jesuit; Jamie Stokes, F, sr., Cherry Creek; Danny Taggart, F/D, jr., Cherry Creek (Grandview); Wyatt Verity, F, jr., Regis Jesuit; Joe Whitmore, F, sr., Cherry Creek (Smoky Hill)
More key dates, informations and schedules for the 2016-17 Aurora ice hockey season, here