LOVELAND — First, there was the backhand flick. And then, the hat trick.
For Monarch senior forward Blake Bride, no one was going to deny the Coyotes and this group of 18 seniors the chance to play for a state championship. Yet again.
Taking advantage of plenty of Ralston Valley mistakes in their state hockey semifinal at Loveland's Budweiser Events Center on Thursday, Monarch rocketed into the championship game for the fourth straight season with a resounding 6-2 victory, highlighted by Bride's penalty-shot goal midway through the second period that just about squashed any chances of a Mustangs upset.
Now 20-0, Monarch is in position to see this season all the way through to the end. They'll play either Regis Jesuit or Mountain Vista on Saturday afternoon right back at the BEC (1 p.m.).
"We've gone out there and played our hardest, and hopefully it's our year. But you just never know how the bounces go," said Bride, who completed his hat trick with 5 minutes still remaining in the second stanza. "We're confident and I think we're ready to step up this year."
"We set that goal to get to the championship again at the beginning of the season, and we've been working all year to get to that and now we're finally here," added goalie Hunter Ingino, another senior. "Now it's just about keeping things simple and doing what we've been doing every game."
Consistently, that's been getting a lead and then stepping on the gas pedal. The Coyotes did it to RV in a late January game — a 5-1 decision — and the same type of scenario played out Thursday.
Brendan Van Haute had an early beauty of a setup for Jake Young and found the net himself twice, as well, and Ingino once again was much more steady in net than his Mustangs counterpart finishing with 17 saves in the win.
It was Ingino that was initially getting tested, as Ralston Valley (19-3) circulated the puck well early and forced some Monarch turnovers to get a couple good chances.
But once the feeling-out process became more of a take-it-to-them attitude for MoHi, the Coyotes poured it on. They scored two first-period goals 34 seconds apart, and then began the second period with Van Haute's centering pass from the corner that caromed off a Mustangs defenseman and into the back of the net to make it 3-0.
Monarch got tagged with the game's first penalty at the 7 minute, 14 second mark of the second, but Bride intercepted a crossing pass along the blue line and was hooked down as he honed in on RV goalie Joel Ives.
He chose to go backhand on the penalty shot and lifted the puck over Ives' shoulder, and Monarch was well on its way to the win. Shots were 32-19 in Monarch's favor.
"I struggled at the beginning of the year but in playoffs you try and find another level," Bride said. "We got used to the feeling of playing, and once we got the first one we just felt we all could do more. Every line started going."
"If BB gets going like he can ... he can bury it when he needs to," said MHS coach Jimmy Dexter. "Blake, again with his effort, for him to get that puck and keep his feet moving down the ice, I think to be up 4-0 kind of sealed it."
CHSAA state semifinal
Monarch 6, Ralston Valley 2
At Budweiser Events CenterRalston Valley (19-3) 0 1 1 — 2
Monarch (20-0) 2 3 1 — 6
Goals (assists) — Monarch: Jake Young (Brendan Van Haute assist), 1st period, 8:21; Monarch: Blake Bride (Mason Peterson, Andrew Pickner), 1st, 8:55; Monarch: Van Haute (Adam Tybor, Jake Young), 2nd, 3:18; Monarch: Blake Bride (unassisted, penalty shot), 2nd, 7:14; Ralston Valley: Stefan Fruwirth (unassisted, power play), 2nd, 8:17; Monarch: Bride (Mason Peterson), 2nd, 11:51; Monarch: Van Haute (Young), 3rd, 1:38; Ralston Valley: Matt Trubacz (unassisted), 3rd, 14:30.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Ralston Valley: Joel Ives (51-6-26); Monarch: Hunter Ingino (51-2-17).