Will the fourth time be the charm for Ralston Valley?
The top-ranked Mustangs earned the opportunity to snap a 0-3 record in state-championship hockey games Friday night with a 5-1 semifinal victory over Resurrection Christian at Magness Arena on the University of Denver campus.
And tonight’s chance (6 p.m. start) will come against a fourth different opponent, as Monarch knocked off defending champion Regis Jesuit 5-2 in the second semifinal to avert a repeat title-game matchup.
Are the Mustangs, who also lost in the final to Aspen in 2007 and Lewis-Palmer in 2010, finally the team of destiny?
“I don’t really think about it from that sense,’’ said second-year coach Matt Schoefpflin. “Every year’s a new team with a brand-new 29 guys. Yeah, some of them were here last year, but it’s a new group, a new chemistry a new kind of vibe for the team every year.’’
But bringing home the first title after coming up just short too often is on the minds of Ralston Valley’s players.
“This is going to be the fourth time, and obviously we want to change that,’’ said senior forward Charles Joly, who contributed a goal and two assists to bring his team-high points total to 41 (23 goals, 18 assists).
In typical fashion, the Mustangs (19-2-1) outshot Resurrection Christian, 28-13, and seized an early lead on a breakaway goal by Darius Maes 7:57 into the first period. Greg Dyba added his 18th goal of the season and third in three playoff games 2:13 into the second period, and Tanner West, on Joly’s second assist, made it 3-2 with the first of two power-play goals in the final 10:05 of the second.
The Cougars (16-4-2) matched West’s power-play goal when Russell Pavsek knocked in a rebounded shot by Tanner Ulland. But Joly deflected a shot by Nick Wiemelt past goalie Brandon Alcorn to regain a three-goal lead for the Mustangs and Tim Hunton added an empty-net goal in the waning seconds of the third period.
“We played to our style of game, which I think is important,’’ Schoepflin said. “We try to use our speed and throw as many things to the net as possible. There’s never a bad shot, I think is kind of our philosophy.’’
The Mustangs and Cougars played to a 4-4 tie during the regular season when the Loveland school was outshot 45-30. Resurrection Christian never got untracked in this one, even though Schoepflin learned about 30 minutes before the game that top goalie Zach LaRocque was too ill to play. Tyler Anderson played just his second game since Feb. 4 and allowed just the power-play goal.
“They came out firing and we didn’t,’’ said Resurrection Christian coach Jake Pence. “We tried to readjust and readjust, but they’re a well-coached team and it was tough to get the puck out of the zone against them.
We played almost the first 30 minutes of flat hockey, and that’s not good enough to win at this level.’’
The Cougars’ potent line of Ulland, Garrett Wood and Tyler Weber, which had accounted for 50 goals and 110 points including five goals in the two playoff wins, managed just one assist.’’
It didn’t help the Cougars that Ralston Valley committed just two penalties. “We wanted to stay out of the (penalty) box more, and we did that,’’ Joly said. “In the last game they scored three power-play goals on us. And wanted to floor-check harder and play the body more, and it worked out for us.’’
The Mustangs probably would have preferred a chance for revenge against Regis in the title game, but Monarch, the No. 2 seed to the Raiders’ No. 4, certainly will be a worthy opponent. The Coyotes (19-1-2) are 11-0-2 (including a tie against Regis) since falling to Ralston Valley 3-2 on Jan. 14, and had Friday’s semifinal well in hand except for a scare at the end of the second period.
“That can happen,’’ said Regis coach Dan Woodley, whose team was seeking its fifth championship-game appearance and fourth title in six years. “We were fourth-ranked. Monarch was ahead of us and played like champions. … Our seniors have won a state title and they know what it takes to win. It had to be taken away from them, and Monarch took it away.’’
The Raiders jumped ahead 1-0 on Grant Johnson’s goal, assisted by Logan Baca, just 4:14 into the game, but Monarch scored four unanswered goals -- two by unheralded David Neitenbach, assisted both times by Gian Cervo – for a 4-1 lead 10:47 into the second period.
The Raiders got a power-play goal from Jack O’Neil (assists to Brian Engh and Tony Tucci) with 28 seconds left in the second and almost cashed in an opportunity in the waning seconds but were turned back by Monarch goalie Ian Oden.
“We had some chances where I thought the puck was going into the net,’’ Woodley said. “But he had such quick feet, he kicked his legs out and made a couple of low saves where I thought the puck was by him. He made some saves that were game-changers.
“If we pop one of those in or get to within one goal, maybe it’s a different game. But we pushed and pushed and pushed and just couldn’t get one by him.’’
Cameron Gardner scored an empty-net goal for Monarch late in the third period.
If Monarch has a concern for tonight based on Friday’s game, it would be special teams. Regis killed all four of the Coyotes’ power plays and scored on its lone extra-man advantage.
But Monach, which hadn’t won a playoff game until this year, won’t be lacking confidence. The Coyotes feel they let one get away when they faced Ralston Valley in January.
“We were up 2-0 on them,'' said Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter. "I think we kind of sat back a little and they tied it. In the last three minutes we took a stupid penalty, and they ended up burying it. So it will be a battle.’’