Monarch hockey coach Jimmy Dexter has seen his share of big classes leave the Coyotes' program, but not one quite like the class of 2018.
"We have a good group, but we're young this year," Dexter said. "We graduated 18 seniors, but it should be fun. I am excited with the group we have."
Dexter recalls seeing 17 seniors graduate a couple of years ago from his team, but in his tenure with the Coyotes, this is the largest group he will see leaving at once.
Even with the high number of athletes who have moved on, expectations remain focused on making a run in the playoffs and getting to the Pepsi Center in March for the Frozen Four, a spot the team has been in for six consecutive years entering the 2018-19 slate.
"Last year, we weren't a real disciplined team. I think our character is better this year," Dexter said. "We may have been a little bit more talented last year, but as a coach, I like this group better than last season."
The team is fueled by recent history of making it to the Frozen Four, but also for coming up short of the state title most of the time there. The Coyotes played in five straight state championship games from 2013 to 2017 but only took home the title once — in 2017. Their streak of playing in the championship game came to an end in the semifinals last year with a 4-0 loss to the Valor Christian Eagles.
They have become a new rival for the Coyotes based on recent history.
"We've lost to Valor (Christian) in the semifinal game three times in a row with the CPHL and high school seasons," MoHi's Zack Given said, referring to the offseason league most teams play in. "That definitely stings. Every time we get in the weight room, that comes to mind for sure."
Zack and his brother, Jake, are two of the seniors that will provide the leadership and experience for the Coyotes this season. Both are looking to follow the footsteps of Leo Felt and Conner Akerson to try and be senior captains capable of scoring 40 points between goals and assists in a season.
They also know it will be their job to help ease the new players into the varsity lineup this season.
"It's the same game," Jake Given said. "They just have to play the game they have been the whole time, don't over-think it and don't go too fast. There are more lights and stuff going on, but it's the same game."
The team that will hit the ice this week to face Standley Lake and Fort Collins has been playing with each other since the end of the high school season and the USA Hockey National Championships in Plymouth, Minn., where the Coyotes finished in second place in the Division II bracket. This year's varsity team played together in the CPHL club season that finished just before the high school season and made it to the semifinal round.
If the Coyotes are to keep their Frozen Four streak alive, it's up to the veteran leadership and how the newcomers respond to more ice time.
"Every year, we have a good group of guys with experience to help pass the torch," Zack said. "They have taught the work ethic back to us. Every team has good skill and chemistry, but it's a matter of coming together to cross that bridge in the playoffs. You have to step up when you're playing teams like Valor Christian and Regis Jesuit back-to-back in the playoffs."
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