LAFAYETTE — So much for the Monarch ice hockey team having a down year.
Of course, the Coyotes have more losses than they have averaged over the past several seasons. Falling one-game short of an undefeated season in 2016 is going to make just about any record in 2017 look substandard. But that is primarily because the Monarch boys have developed deservedly lofty standards.
Just in time, the Coyotes are playing back up to their own expectations.
The Coyotes have finished state runners-up in each of the past four seasons. They didn't do it with the same kind of dominance is last season, but the Coyotes have fought their way back into the Frozen Four.
"I really can't believe how much these kids have improved and gotten tougher," Coyotes head coach Jimmy Dexter said. "I think at the beginning of the year, we really struggled with the heavier and more physical teams. Even going up against Mountain Vista in the playoffs, they're a real big and physical team, and I think earlier in the season our team would have kind of turtled. But we're much stronger, physically and mentally, and we're playing great."
The Coyotes (14-4-3) graduated 17 seniors off of last year's team, which went undefeated until it lost in the state championship game. That led to this season's group having to recover from multiple pitfalls during the season, something the program is not used to being faced with.
Since a 2-0 loss to Mountain Vista on Feb. 4, the Coyotes have not been beaten. They have two ties and five wins, including a 3-0 win over Regis Jesuit. On Saturday, the Coyotes won 4-2 in a postseason rematch against Mountain Vista in the third round of the state playoffs. Entering the tournament as the No. 2 seed, they have outscored their first two opponents by a 12-2 margin.
This season has also been highlighted by Brendan Van Haute becoming the program's all-time leading scorer. So far in the playoffs, Conner Akerson (4 goals, 2 assists) and Sal Pisciola (2 goals, 5 assists) are tied for the team lead in points.
On Friday, the Coyotes will take on No. 3 Cherry Creek in the Frozen Four for the chance to play in their fifth straight title game. Who knows, maybe out of the last five, the season in which the Coyotes were least expected to win it all is the one in which they finally break through.