DENVER — Rebuilding or retooling after a state championship season isn't easy, especially when you're a title-winning hockey team replacing a goaltender that was a major piece of your team winning it all the year before.
That's where the Monarch Coyotes stood before the 2017-18 season after goalie Logan Gorbitz, who made 26 saves in last season's state championship game, took an opportunity to play AAA hockey for the Stapleton-based Roughriders this winter. But if early indications hold true for the long haul, perhaps replacing Gorbitz wasn't as hard as expected.
The reason for that is junior Reese Kelly, the Coyotes' goaltender of now.
On Thursday at the University of Denver's Magness Arena, the site of last season's title-game victory, the top-ranked Coyotes defeated Denver East 7-2. Still unbeaten after their latest resounding win, the Angels' pair of scores was just the first and second goals the Coyotes have allowed with Kelly between the posts this season.
"I think we have a great team and I've been really confident because I have great guys in front of me," said Kelly, who has made 51 saves in four games. "We're playing awesome defense and I'm just trying to do my best to help them out. We've all been improving a lot this season and playing well as a team, so it's been great so far."
Putting an early goal on the board, the Coyotes (6-0) broke the game open by scoring four goals in the final five minute of the period and led 5-0 to start the second. Denver East (1-2) scored with 8 minutes, 25 seconds left in the second period and again with 8:51 left in the third.
The Coyotes added a sixth goal with 4:10 left in the third, and a seventh with 3:43 left, and went on to win by scoring at least six goals for the sixth time in as many games. Kelly finished with 16 saves. Leo Felt and Connor Akerson, who are currently tied for the team lead with 15 points, combined for four goals and three assists against the Angels.
Though it ended in another win, Thursday's game was made more difficult by a number of Coyotes battling illness and the coaches deciding to make nine more unavailable for the afternoon contest.
"We were missing nine guys today," Coyotes head coach Jimmy Dexter said. "The coaching staff sat some guys because of grades. They were eligible but they were struggling and we didn't want to pull them out of school, and we wanted to send a message to these guys. We were a little more shorthanded than we usually are but other guys stepped up and that was great to see."
On Saturday, the Coyotes will play at Dakota Ridge in their final game before the holiday break.
Monarch 7, Denver East 2
At Magness Arena at DUMonarch (6-0)502—7
Denver East (1-2)011—2
Goals — Monarch: Leo Felt 3, Dalton Reiman, Zack Given, Adam Burtzlaff, Connor Akerson; Denver East: Adam Burton, Chad Kashiwa.
Assists — Monarch: Michael Sandoval 3, Connor Akerson 2, Alex Scatena, Adam Burtzlaff, Leo Felt, Mitchell Ganem; Denver East: Aidan Bender.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Monarch: Reese Kelly (51-2-16); Denver East: Mike Varveris (51-7-36).