More teams, new conference creation and realignment and a playoff field expanded by eight teams combined to make the 2016-17 ice hockey season significantly more interesting than those past, but not much has changed at the back end of it all.
Powers in the Foothills Conference such as Regis Jesuit, the Cherry Creek co-op team and Monarch have dominated the postseason for quite some time and those three programs made it through all the differences to appear in the Frozen Four again this season.
Coach Dan Woodley’s top-seeded Raiders earned their 10th consecutive trip to the 5A semifinals and have converted four of their previous trips into state titles, while coach Jeff Mielnicki’s third-seeded Bruins have made three times in the last four years with one state championship victory.
The hope for a final between the two local teams is alive, which would need Regis Jesuit to beat No. 4 Resurrection Christian at 5 p.m., followed by Cherry Creek against No. 2 Monarch at 7:30 p.m., with both games scheduled for Magness Arena on the University of Denver campus.
The semifinal winners square off for the state championship on the same ice at 7 p.m. March 6.
Regis Jesuit hasn’t faced Resurrection Christian since Dec. 11, 2015, when it handed the Cougars a 7-1 defeat.
Woodley’s team appeared to be in fine form in its opening two playoff victories, a 7-1 defeat of No. 17 Lewis-Palmer in the second round on Feb. 24, followed by a gritty 3-2 victory over No. 8 Dakota Ridge — another Foothills Conference team — on Feb. 25.
As per usual, Regis Jesuit’s depth has come through as seven different players have scored at least one goal in the postseason, topped by Michael Baer, Connor Kilkenny and Shane Ott with two apiece, while nine players have at least one assist, led by Justin Lico with four and Ott, Rowan Barnes and Kyle Nelson with three apiece. Dillon Whalen has faced 38 shots in two games and saved 35.
Resurrection Christian, meanwhile, topped Valor Christian 3-1 to advance to the semifinal matchup.
Cherry Creek suffered an 8-4 loss to Dakota Ridge late in the regular season that appears to have delivered a wakeup call to Mielnicki’s team, which won its last three regular season games — all against playoff teams — handily, then handled No. 14 Battle Mountain (4-0) and No. 11 Steamboat Springs (3-1) in its two playoff games.
In two postseason contests, senior Danny Taggart (Grandview) has three points on two goals — including a shorthanded score to spark the Bruins in their first victory — and an assist, while fellow Grandview students Brandon Cyrus and Diego Lovato have also lit the lamp and goaltender Ryan Bevan has saved 27 of 28 shots.
The Bruins face a tall task in Monarch — which outlasted Mountain Vista in the quarterfinals — though their last perfromance was encouraging. In a vastly different result from a 5-1 loss to the Coyotes in their first meeting, Cherry Creek actually held the lead for quite awhile in a Feb. 8 rematch that ended in a 2-2 tie.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel