DENVER | In the fading din of a post-championship celebration, Dan Woodley leaned back, let out a sigh of relief and tried to reflect on what his Regis Jesuit ice hockey team had done.
And it was good. Historically good.
Minutes earlier, the Raiders finished off an undefeated 23-0 season with a 2-0 victory over Valor Christian on the big ice at the Pepsi Center to cap arguably one of the greatest campaigns in Colorado prep ice hockey history.
Woodley will soon get his fifth state championship ring with the program, but the relentless way in which this team handled the season left an indelible impression on the veteran coach.
“It was a great year, I’m not sure how you could put that season into words,” said Woodley, now 5-2 with Regis Jesuit all-time in finals.
“I’m not sure how I’ll ever come back and try to do that again.”
In the finals for the third straight time — and seventh overall — the Raiders had the experience edge over Valor Christian (20-3), which appeared in the state championship game for the first time in its fourth season of existence.
When the Eagles got a power play chance late in the first period, they thought they had a chance to seize the momentum.
Regis Jesuit senior Connor Kilkenny had other ideas, however, as he anticipated the move of Valor Christian’s Cole Cavey at the blue line, picked off the puck and raced in on Eagles’ goaltender Trey Hirschfield.
With time to consider his shot, Kilkenny put one high off Hirschfield’s shoulder, but it somehow found its way behind him and across the goal line to put the Raiders in front.
“A shorthanded goal in the state championship game? I would never picture me doing that,” said Kilkenny, who had four goals in five postseason games for his team.
“It was more than a dream,” he added.
The Raiders also got their second goal on specialty teams when sparkplug Kale Lone tallied a power play goal near the midway point of the second period.
Lone — who had the go-ahead goal in the Raiders’ semifinal win over Chaparral — took a feed from Justin Lico and unleashed a wicked shot that beat Hirschfield over his far shoulder to find the back of the net.
“You won’t see a better goal than that anywhere,” Woodley said. “That was fantastic to watch.”
But the Raiders knew the game was far from over, especially considering they’d watched a lead — albeit one goal instead of two — disappear last season in the third period of a 2-1 championship game loss to Monarch.
Determined to avoid a repeat, Regis Jesuit kept the pressure on and continued to push the puck into the Eagles’ end, keeping them from generating any real sustained threat.
Raiders senior goaltender Max Harlan lauded the play of the defense in front of him and saved all 11 of the shots he saw for his third postseason shutout.
“My defense stood so tall in front of me, I’m very thankful,” Harlan said. “It was unreal. I waited four years of my high school career to get to this moment and it happened tonight.”
When the final horn had sounded, the finishing touch was complete on Regis Jesuit’s fifth championship, which puts the Raiders (winners in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2016 and now 2018) in second place all-time in Colorado history for championships. Cheyenne Mountain won 14 between 1982 and 2004.
It also marked the second unbeaten season for Regis Jesuit, which had just one blemish on its record in the 2009 championship season, a tie in a 22-0-1 campaign.
“Undefeated? I’m guessing somebody’s done it, but it’s been awhile,” Kilkenny said. “It feels like history.”
Woodley often finds the flaws in his teams to help keep them motivated and working hard.
There weren’t many in this season’s team, which outscored its opponents 26-2 in the postseason (neither of the goals allowed came at even strength) and 157-19 over 23 games.
“That 2009 team, boy did they have a knack for winning games, but this team just absolutely hammered teams,” Woodley said. “There were very few ‘Oh, I’m not sure we’re going to win this game’ moments. When this team dropped the hammer — like in that Chaparral game — I’m not sure how opponents could get through that. They couldn’t get through it this season.
“We had a fantastic offensive team with lines that were out there doing anything and everything to win.
“It was fantastic.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports
(1) REGIS JESUIT 2, (3) VALOR CHRISTIAN 0
Score by periods:
Valor Christian 0 0 0 — 0
Regis Jesuit 1 1 0 — 2
First period: Regis Jesuit — Connor Kilkenny (shorthanded), 15:16
Second period: Regis Jesuit — Kale Lone (Kilkenny, Justin Lico) (power play), 9:20
Goaltenders: Valor Christian — Trey Hirschfield (16 shots on goal-14 saves); Regis Jesuit — Max Harlan (11 shots-11 saves)