CHESTERFIELD, MISSOURI | The icing on top of the cake of a tremendous season for the Cherry Creek ice hockey team came with a national championship victory Monday morning.
The co-op team featuring players from schools around the Cherry Creek School District and others from Aurora — which won the Colorado state championship just a few weeks previous — finished off a perfect 6-0 run through the 2015 U.S. Hockey National Championship Combined Division bracket with a 2-1 victory over Dubuque, Iowa, at the Hardee’s Iceplex.
Seniors Sean DeKramer (Cherokee Trail) and Nick Chavez, the hero of the Bruins’ state championship victory with his winner against Monarch in the third overtime, scored first period goals as Cherry Creek rallied from a 1-0 deficit to beat Dubuque.
“For the whole tournament, it didn’t seem like they were going to be denied,” coach Jeff Mielnicki said Monday afternoon, shortly before the team departed to return to Colorado.
“They were having a lot of fun and executing and having success,” he added. “Today was really more of the same. We just made a few adjustments and got it done. It was a great experience.”
Mielnicki’s Bruins — with a roster of just 20 players, many fewer than during the high school season — topped a Combined Division that included teams from Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.
Colorado teams finished 2-for-2 at the U.S. Hockey Nationals, as Regis Jesuit — a Colorado state semifinalist — won the Pure Division with a 3-1 victory over Santa Margarita, California.
To get to the championship game, Cherry Creek survived two games on Sunday without Mielnicki on the bench per the Colorado High School Activities Association’s rule about no contact between head coaches and players on Sundays.
The Bruins prevailed in a wild 6-4 semifinal win over Manatee, Florida, in a game Mielnicki had to just watch and described as “one of the most fast-skating, skilled” games he’s seen, especially on the Olympic-sized ice at the Hardee’s Iceplex.
Cherry Creek faced a completely different animal in Dubuque.
“They were really physical and we knew they were going to be, plus they moved the puck around a lot, so we had to work hard with our man on coverage,” Mielnicki said. “The kids did a great job of that. We basically took away their neutral zone and forced them to dump the puck a lot. They didn’t like that.”
DeKramer — who Mielnicki described as “out of this world” along with C.J. Nitchen for the tournament — tied the game up with a goal on an assist from Nitchen in the first period, just 3:30 after Dubuque had drawn first blood. DeKramer finished the tournament with three goals and six assists, while Nitchen scored five goals and had a pair of assists.
Chavez’s fourth goal of the tournament came four minutes later and stood up as the winning goal as goaltender Brady Mielnicki and the Bruins’ defense stiffened.
Mielnicki made 28 saves on 29 shots and earned the win in all six of Cherry Creek’s games.
It didn’t take long after the game’s conclusion for the reaction to pour in to Jeff Mielnicki from back home.
“I’m getting a lot of text messages and emails from young families that I know are going to be part of the program going forward, so I’m happy about that,” Mielnicki said. “I think that is always the goal, having those young players wanting to play for you.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2015 U.S. HOCKEY NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
CHAMPIONSHIP — COMBINED DIVISION
Cherry Creek 2, Dubuque (Iowa) 1
Score by periods:
Dubuque 1 0 0 — 1
Cherry Creek 2 0 0 — 2
First period: Dubuque — Drew Sienes (Luke Thormann, Carter Grobstick), 5:14; Cherry Creek — Sean DeKramer (Chris Nitchen), 8:37; Cherry Creek — Nick Chavez, 13:15
Goaltenders: Dubuque — Christopher Kluesner (20 shots on goal-18 saves); Cherry Creek — Brady Mielnicki (29 shots on goal-28 saves)