LAFAYETTE - The Monarch boys hockey team that has played in four of the last five high school state championship games is the best-known prep hockey club from the Northern Colorado area.
But there's another Monarch Coyotes hockey club up north - the Monarch Coyotes girls. And though girls hockey has yet to be officially sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association, these Coyotes have developed into one of the top clubs in the growing sport.
To prove both of the above statements in late March, the Coyotes won the High Plains League state championship and went on to take fourth place at the second ever USA Hockey national championship for girls hockey.
"It was a great opportunity and I loved the fact we got to go to Minnesota and experience that kind of competition," Coyotes defenseman Melina Atwood said. "The group of girls we had this year was just amazing so it was a great experience. I love getting to watch the sport grow, see more girls starting at young ages and get to see how it's getting more and more popular throughout the years."
Atwood has been playing since she was 8 years old and will be a junior next year at Ralston Valley High School. With the girls division of the sport still in a growth phase, particularly in certain areas on the country like Colorado, the Coyotes draw from a talent pool that includes basically every school in the northern Colorado area.
Girls hockey still does not have the requisite number of players to form enough teams to be considered for CHSAA sanctioning. But now that Colorado has programs like the one at Monarch helping it catch up to states like Minnesota, which had two teams play for this year's national title, opportunities to play are increasing and the caliber of player the state produces in rising. Grace Lee, who played on Korean National team at the 2018 Olympics, for example, played for the Coyotes as a freshman and will play at Yale University next season.
But there are still players like Coyotes forward Shana Cote who have to go to great lengths to find higher competition. Cote went to Broomfield High as a freshman but now lives in New Hampshire during the club hockey season from September to March and takes classes online through Colorado Connections Academy before coming back to Colorado to play for the Coyotes. Should girls hockey ever become a CHSAA-sanctioned sport, it would be a big deal for Cote and players in similar situations.
"That would be great because then the girls wouldn't have to leave," Cote said. "Right now, a lot of girls who want to get better have to leave Colorado because there are more opportunities to play in other states. It definitely is growing here and there are a lot more programs around now than there were when I was younger and I had to play boys hockey. But it would be really great if it became an official sport."
While many girls don't mind playing boys hockey, Cote said there is a clear difference in the size and speed of the players. Another big difference between the two divisions is that there is no hitting in girls hockey.
Coyotes general manager and assistant coach Calvin Abila, who started the Monarch girls team in 2007 and also started the boys program before that, has watched the girls program explode over the past five years. This past season, the Coyotes lost just three games and two of those were during their 2-2 showing at nationals. This year, the Coyotes are graduating six girls and five will play collegiate hockey.
"When my daughter was playing girls hockey, she played for the Colorado Select and we had to drive all the way down south to Colorado Springs," Abila said. "It bothered me to see the lack of participation and the lack of respect for girls hockey. They would always get the crappy times and the leftover ice. So I started a girls program up here called the Rocky Mountain Lynx and we started to get treated equally. Then at that time, there were some other clubs in the area and we decided to combine and form the Roughriders.
"We were trying to get girls more growth and opportunity so then we started the girls High Plains League. The girls game has just grown an incredible amount since 2007 or 2008."
The Coyotes narrowly missed the opportunity to play for a national title, since one of their pool play wins came in overtime and the other two teams that went 2-2 both won in regulation, the Coyotes were relegated to the third-place game.
"I thought we were the best team there," Abila said. "We won two of four games but one of the games we won was in overtime and in USA Hockey, you only get two points instead of three for an overtime win. The other two teams both got their two wins in regulation so they went to the finals. We'll just have to get back there and try again next year."