DENVER | After a difficult week emotionally, the Regis Jesuit ice hockey team looked forward to dropping the puck on the postseason Friday.
The Raiders — whose head coach, Dan Woodley, lost his son Cale in a tragic accident at the beginning of the week — cathartically got back to business on the ice with their second round state playoff game against Mountain Vista at Big Bear Ice Arena.
Senior Leighton Walsh loosened things up with a goal on the first shift of the game and fifth-seeded Regis Jesuit added two goals in each of the final two periods on its way to a 5-1 victory that earned it a chance to play No. 4 Denver East at 6:45 p.m. Saturday for a spot in the Frozen Four.
“Once the puck dropped, the game was probably easier to play than all the stuff leading up to it and the emotion that will hopefully carry through the 10th of March,” said longtime assistant coach Terry Ott, who took over head coaching duties for Woodley, whose son, Grant, was also on the bench.
“The game was great, the community support from Regis Jesuit, the whole hockey community and the other high schools has been fantastic,” he added.
In light of the tragic news about the loss of Cale Woodley — who helped Regis Jesuit to a state championship as a senior in 2016 — Ott said Monday’s team practice was made optional, but many showed up at the rink to skate and prepare for the arrival of the postseason, when the Raiders were after a third straight state title.
Despite everything off the ice and a week since its last game, it didn’t take long for the Raiders to strike against a Mountain Vista team they swept in Foothills Conference play.
In the first minute of the game, Walsh found himself wide open in front of the net and when a pass came to him from Caleb Balatbat, he popped it over the glove of Mountain Vista’s Seamas Porter into the net.
“We got the puck in deep, I had my two wingers forecheck pretty hard and was able to pop one out right in front of me and thankfully I was able to put it high,” Walsh said. “(The first goal) really gives us a boost and lets us know we’re here to play, we’re not going to sit around and watch for them to get started.”
For his part, Ott couldn’t have asked for a better start.
“Leighton has been a real leader on the team this year and for him to go out there and get that one on his first shift and then make a huge individual effort on the second on the shorthanded goal, it really helped calm the younger guys,” Ott said. “We only have five seniors this year and we don’t have a lot of playoff experience.
“Having our seniors come out there and set the tone early and get an early one so everybody can take a deep breath was huge for the team.”
Indeed Walsh added some breathing room with a shorthanded goal midway through the second period and then assisted on Sergio Padilla’s goal late in the period for a three-goal edge.
Freshman Kai Oganeku (on Sean Holloway’s second assist of the game) scored early in the third period before Mountain Vista got its only shot past Regis Jesuit netminder Gage Bussey (22 saves) for the first time and Hero Schmidt added another later.
Walsh was glad that the Raiders could perform so well at the end of the difficult week in which they played with their coach and his family on their minds.
‘We all know what Coach Woodley has done for us and what his son, Grant, has done and we just want to go out and prove to them they taught us well,” he said.
Best of all, Regis Jesuit earned a return to the ice the next day for a rematch with a Denver East team it lost to back in its opening game of the season.
The Angels were in top form in their second round matchup with Castle View, winning 9-1, and will be a major obstacle in the Raiders’ quest to return to the Frozen Four for a 13th consecutive season.
“I don’t think the boys think that was our best showing, but at the end of the day, Denver East beat us and they were the better team that night,” Ott said. “They had a heck of a season, so we know we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
REGIS JESUIT 5, MOUNTAIN VISTA 1
Score by periods:
Mtn. Vista 0 0 1 — 1
Regis Jesuit 1 2 2 — 5
First period: Regis Jesuit — Leighton Walsh (Caleb Balatbat), 0:56
Second period: Regis Jesuit — Walsh (shorthanded), 9:59; Regis Jesuit — Sergio Padilla (Sean Holloway, Walsh), 14:50
Third period: Regis Jesuit — Kai Oganeku (Holloway), 1:30; Mountain Vista — Zachary Anderson (Calvin Root), 7:34; Regis Jesuit — Hero Schmidt (Matthew Baer, Oganeku), 11:17
Saves — Mountain Vista: Seamus Porter (24 shots on goal-19 saves), Regis Jesuit: Gage Bussey (23 shots on goal-22 saves)