DENVER — Initially, the Monarch High hockey team’s goal was simply to win a playoff game this season. After three first-round exits, it seemed like a reasonable ambition.
But as the wins piled up — first in the regular season and now in the playoffs — that goal has been modified. Now, the objective is to capture the program’s first state championship.
The Coyotes are right on the cusp of it, too, after Thursday night’s paradigm-shifting, program-altering 5-2 win against Regis Jesuit at Magness Arena. Regis, you see, had won three of Colorado’s past five state championships, including last season.
A changing of the guard is on the horizon, as Monarch and Ralston Valley will meet at Magness on Friday night in the title game (6 p.m.), both in quest of their initial state crown. The Coyotes (19-1-2) also will have an opportunity to avenge their one loss this season.
“We’ve just been taking it goal by goal, not looking too far ahead,” Coyotes forward Noah Zimmerman said. “Just taking it shift by shift. Getting a high seed was the first goal, then get to semis, and now, to state.”
David Neitenbach scored two goals — both assisted by Gian Cervo — while Zimmernan, Jake Orsborn and Cameron Gardner added one apiece for the Coyotes.
“Usually David’s line is more of a grind line,” Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter said. “They’re an energy line. They’re like bumblebees, tough to play against, they go 100 miles an hour all the time. But today, they’re burying goals, which is huge.”
Neitenbach entered the contest with only one goal all season.
“Usually, when we go in the corner we just kind of get it and keep it there,” Neitenbach said. “But with their D guys not being used to pressure, when we got to the corner, we passed it to the front and I got a goal. Well, two.”
After spotting Regis an early 1-0 lead, the Coyotes scored four straight to take command. It started with Zimmerman’s top-shelf blast from the left flank and culminated with Neitenbach’s second of the night.
Zimmerman’s goal came after Coyotes leading scorer Jake Christofferson was double-teamed on a near breakaway, and the puck found its way to Zimmerman.
“We came out shaky, and that definitely helped the team get going,” Zimmerman said.
Regis Jesuit (16-3-3) got one back in the waning moments of the second period when Jack O’Neil sneaked the puck past Coyotes goaltender Ian Oden to make it 4-2.
But the final period was scoreless other than an empty-netter by Gardner, which meant the Coyotes were bound for the title game and Regis’ hopes for a fourth title in six seasons had vanished.
Monarch played Regis to a 3-3 tie in the regular season, a game in which the Coyotes undid themselves with undisciplined play. This time, they committed only one penalty (tripping by Neitenbach in the second period).
Oden’s calf cramped up late in the contest. He was attended to by trainers with 5:17 remaining, but stayed in the game. He finished with 15 saves as Monarch limited the high-scoring Raiders to 17 shots.
Other than the inauspicious start, Oden’s cramp was one of the only issues of stress for the Coyotes all night.
“When we first stepped out there, you could see that we were nervous,” Dexter said. “We made a couple of bad turnovers and they scored. But then, the cobwebs loosened up a little and they fought back in that first period. I’m really proud of them.”
Now, with their chief objective again modified, the Coyotes will have a chance to atone for the 3-2 regular-season loss to Ralston Valley.
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Monarch 5, Regis 2
At Magness Arena
Regis Jesuit (16-3-3) 1 1 0 — 2
Monarch (19-1-2) 2 2 1 — 5
First period: 1. Regis Jesuit: Johnson (Baca), 4:14; 2. Monarch: Zimmerman (Christofferson), 9:33; 3. Monarch: Neitenbach (Cervo), 13:54.
Second period: 4. Monarch: Orsborn (Burnett), 3:20; 5. Monarch: Neitenbach (Cervo); 6. Regis Jesuit: O’Neil (Engh, Tuccy).
Third period: 7. Monarch: Gardner (Christofferson, Burnett), 16:32 (en).
GOALKEEPERS (MIN-GOALS ALLOWED-SAVES) — Regis Jesuit: Harden (51-4-17); Monarch: Oden (51-2-15).