DENVER — The playoffs have been nothing more than a holding pattern for the Monarch hockey team. The Coyotes have not lost a first period battle in a long time, and the team clearly recognizes the importance of getting off to a fast start.
Monarch was at that again Friday night at DU's Magness Arena — as a team that has gone the entire season with more questions than The Riddler's signature suit surrounding them following four straight title game appearances. Could they get there again?
Yes — emphatically — yes. The Coyotes ruled the ice against Cherry Creek in the second semifinal of the CHSAA playoffs, scoring three first period goals and never looking back in a 4-1 win.
Brodie Wiener scored twice and Franny Churches had a say in all three of the first-frame tallies, and Monarch (15-4-3) will face Regis Jesuit on Monday right back at Magness for a shot at redemption. It is a rematch of last year's gut-wrenching title-game defeat at the hands of the Raiders.
"Coming into this season, yeah, we were a young group but we're just having fun and bonding as a group," said Monarch goalkeeper Logan Gorbitz, who stopped 15 shots in the win. "Really all it takes is heart, and that's what we showed out there tonight."
Monarch entered Friday's game having out-scored opponents 43-15 in the first period this season and again against the Bruins it was a lightning-quick start that got the Coyotes dictating the play.
They crashed the net at times, and yet were rewarded other times with simply throwing the puck at the goal. Churches took advantage of a Cherry Creek turnover just 3 minutes, 7 seconds into the game and 7 minutes later Wiener was able to score his first on a rebound and stuff-it-in marker.
At 15:25, Wiener threw a a shot from the goal line and it deflected right off Cherry Creek goalie Ryan Bevan's left skate into the net for a 3-0 lead.
Cherry Creek turned up the intensity a notch in the second period and appeared to have scored a goal about 5 minutes into the stanza, but the net had come off its moorings prior to the shot.
The Bruins would later score on a power play at the 6:57 mark, but Monarch killed a big penalty toward the end of the frame and took off some more precious time with a power play of their own to keep a 3-1 edge to the third.
That lead would hold up for 17 more minutes and with just a few ticks left the Coyotes could celebrate fully as Oliver Diasabeygunawardena knocked home an empty-netter to provide the final tally.
Gorbitz was calm and collected, helped by his team getting him a large lead to work with, but at the same time felt responsible to hold up his end of the bargain. Cherry Creek had some quality shots but Gorbitz didn't leave much in front of him.
"I feel like we had some nerves right from puck drop but I saw guys battling for pucks and getting the puck deep, and we definitely relaxed after the first goal," Gorbitz said. "It's nice to have guys to put goals in and makes you less worried. I had a few rebounds but the defense cleared them, and when you only allow 16 shots you can't ask for much more out of your defense than that."
It was a team effort that head coach Jimmy Dexter said exemplified the thoroughness of their work ethic, patience and cool-headedness.
"They just keep looking forward, and every time I wonder if they are going to pull something off they amaze me every time," Dexter said. "We were pretty disciplined, backing away from the scrums when we needed to. Logan tonight, every night, it has to be a solid play to beat him, he's just so solid."
Monday's title game will have a 7 p.m. start.
CHSAA Hockey Semifinals
Monarch 4, Cherry Creek 1
At Magness ArenaCherry Creek (14-7-1) 0 1 0 — 1
Monarch (15-4-3) 3 0 1 — 4
Goals (assists) — Monarch: Franny Churches (unassisted), 1st, 3:07; Monarch: Brodie Wiener (Churches), 1st, 10:09; Monarch: Wiener (Churches, Guthrie), 1st, 15:25; Cherry Creek: Danny Taggart (Jacob Harding, Joe Whitmore), 2nd, 6:57 (pp); Monarch: Oliver Diasabeygunawardena (unassisted), 3rd, 16:22 (sh).
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Cherry Creek: Ryan Bevan (51-3-16); Monarch: Logan Gorbitz (51-1-15).