The usual suspects — Valor Christian, Denver East, Ralston Valley and Regis Jesuit — battled on the ice at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs on March 4 in the Class 5A hockey state semifinals.
The top 4 seeds in the state tournament have combined to win nine hockey championship titles over the past 11 years. Top-seeded Valor and Ralston Valley were victorious to set up the state championship game scheduled for Tuesday, March 7 — after press deadline — at Magness Arena at the University of Denver.
(3) Ralston Valley 3, (2) Denver East 2 (3OT)
COLORADO SPRINGS — A triple-overtime goal by Ralston Valley senior Blane Keller is sending the Mustangs back to the state hockey championship game in almost a decade.
Keller scored the game winning-goal with 2:49 left in the third 8-minute overtime period to give Ralston Valley a 3-2 victory over the defending 5A state champions — Denver East. Senior Chris Homer slid a pass to Keller near the blue line. From a sharp angle, Keller took a slap shot that found the back of the net.
“I don’t want to talk about me right now,” Keller said moments after the game winner. “I’ve been through hell and back with these boys. I couldn’t have been close to this place without them. I love all these boys.”
Both goalies — Ralston Valley’s Kaleb Bartholomew and Denver East’s Samuel Cozart — were outstanding from early in the third period through the three overtime periods before Keller ripped a shot past Cozart.
“I feel real confident going up against Valor,” Keller said looking ahead to Tuesday’s state title game at Magness Arena. “We had some injuries when we lost to them last.”
Ralston Valley (14-4-2 record) actually handed Valor its lone loss of the season. The Mustangs defeated the Eagles 4-3 in overtime back on Dec. 3. Valor won the second go-around 4-2 on Jan. 7.
On Saturday night in Colorado Springs, Ralston Valley got on the scoreboard first with a great individual effort by Ralston Valley senior Cole Francque. The Mustang forward peeled off the boards and toward Denver East goalie Samuel Cozart. Francque fired a shot that got past Cozart with 8:44 left in the first period to give Ralston Valley a 1-0 lead.
Denver East tied things up with a power-play goal with 12:47 left in the second period. Senior Nicholas Chadd put in a rebound behind Bartholomew to even things up 1-1.
It looked like the Angels had a great chance to take their first lead going on a power-play minutes later, but Francque struck again.
A Denver East turnover on its power-play chance was cleared out of the Mustangs’ defensive zone by Ralston Valley senior Tsavo Cole. Francque got to the puck, weaved past an Angel defender and then toe-dragged around another Denver East player before ripping a shot past Cozart for a huge short-handed goal.
“They were pretty awesome goals,” Francque said of his two goals. “I stayed a little bit patient on that second goal to let the defense commit and buried them.”
The Mustangs took a 2-1 leading heading to the third period.
However, Ralston Valley took another penalty at the end of the second period. Chadd cashed with his second extra-strength goal 24 seconds into the third period to knot things up 2-2. Chadd poked the puck past Bartholomew with a mass of bodies in front of the net.
Cozart and Bartholomew both came up with numerous saves in the third period with the game tied at 2-2.
The Angels were coming off their incredible run to the program’s first state title last season. Denver East finished the 2021-22 campaign with a 20-1-1 record that included a 16-game win streak that was concluded doubling up Valor in the championship game 6-3.
Ralston Valley made its second straight trip back to the Frozen Four. The Mustangs won back-to-back state titles in 2013 and 2014, but this is their first trip back to the title game since the 2014 state win.
(1) Valor Christian 3, (4) Regis Jesuit 2
COLORADO SPRINGS — The third go-around between Valor and Regis went just as expected.
“It was a typical Regis versus Valor, 1-goal game,” Valor coach George Gwozdecky said after the Eagles defeated the Raiders 3-2 to advance Valor to the state championship game. “We’ve been fortunate to come out on the winning side of those 1-goal games this year. It was hard fought.”
The Eagles took 1-goal victories in both regular-season meetings Feb. 4 and Feb. 10.
“Regis is such a great team. It’s a great rivalry,” Valor senior Aiden Owen said. “To play them again was awesome.”
Owen put in the eventual game-winning goal with 3:05 left in the second period to put Valor up 3-2.
“He (Owen) in my mind is the best defenseman in the state,” Gwozdecky said. “He isn’t going to intimidate you with his size, but he has gamesmanship, competitive nature, skill level and aggressive demeanor.”
After the Eagles and Raiders combined for four goals in the second period, it was a shutout on both sides in the final period.
“We knew going into it that it would be a high-scoring game,” Owen said. “The guys really came together on the defensive side.”
Regis pulled its goalie in the final 2 minutes and had the majority of the possession in the final minutes in an attempt to send the game into overtime.
“We knew it was far from over,” Owen said of the final 2 minutes. “Guys were putting their bodies on the line and selling out for the team. We wanted to get back to that Tuesday (championship game) so bad after last year’s loss.”
Valor is on a 19-game winning streak. The Eagles (19-1) dropped their season opener to Ralston Valley 4-3 in overtime more than three months ago and haven’t looked back.
It didn’t take Valor long to get on the scoreboard. Senior Garrett Covney was able to slip the puck past Regis goal Alijah Hernandez just 1 minute, 27 seconds into the first period for a 1-0 Valor lead.
Senior Alec Alfieri picked up the assist on the goal.
Valor extended the lead to 2-0 with a shorthanded goal with 11:25 left in the second period. Alfieri made the diving effort along the boards to get a pass up to senior Jeremy Muhr. The Eagles’ defenseman was able to fend off a Regis player and get a stick on the puck just before it got to Hernandez. Muhr’s last slap of the puck got it through Hernandez’s five-hole for the 2-goal lead.
“That gives us so much momentum,” Gwozdecky said of the short-handed goal. “We had the opportunity to completely smother. You give them (Regis) full credit for coming back and taking advantage of some dumb penalties that we took.”
The Raiders had a handful of power-play opportunities that they couldn’t convert, but that changed midway through the second period.
Regis battled back with a pair of goals just over 3 minutes apart to tie things up in the second period. Regis junior Reece Peterson had a great pass in front of the net to senior Jake Filler who fired it into the net for a power-play goal with 7:41 left in the second period.
A rocket shot from just inside the blue-line by sophomore Parker Brinner beat Valor goalie Cooper Robinson to tie it up 2-2 with 4:35 left in the second period.
Valor answered for the fourth goal of the period on a nice pass from senior Brooks Wright over to Owen. The shot by Owen beat Hernandez to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead heading to the final period.
“I jumped into the play when I saw the one side wide-open,” Owen said. “Brooks fed me the pass. He did a great job drawing the defender. I just got the puck and wanted to get it on goal. Thankfully it went in. It was electric. It was awesome.”
It’s was sixth concussive Frozen Four trip and now fourth straight state championship game appearance for Valor. The Eagles won back-to-back titles in 2020 and 2021 before losing to Denver East 6-3 last season in the final game of the season.
Regis was the dominate hockey team in the state from 2008 to 2019 winning six championships over the 12-year span. The Raiders haven’t made the title game since their last state title in 2019.
Dennis Pleuss is the sports information director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.