ARVADA — The chasm between the top two hockey teams in the state still is pretty wide.
Second-ranked Monarch had ambitions Tuesday night of overthrowing top-ranked Ralston Valley in the Mustangs’ own barn, but just like last season’s state championship game, Ralston exerted its dominance.
The Mustangs skated to a 4-1 win at the Apex Center by controlling the flow of play early, then leaning on the efforts of goaltender Zack LaRocque after Monarch began to find its groove offensively in the Foothills League showdown.
“We’ve got a lot to work on,” Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter said. “I think we need to get a little bit physically stronger to match up well with them.”
Ralston Valley (9-0, 4-0) got two goals apiece from Cody Noel and Greg Dyba, and things immediately tilted in the Mustangs’ favor after Monarch had potential goals from Adam Tybor and Blake Bride disallowed in the opening period.
Monarch (7-1, 4-1) entered with a composite 57-5 scoring advantage, but was outshot 11-2 in first. The Coyotes escaped the period down only 1-0 when starting goalie Bailey Aust allowed only Noel’s goal on the final second of a power play.
But Ralston Valley got a pair of tallies from Dyba in the second, and LaRocque prohibited the Coyotes from scoring on two 5-on-3 advantages. Although Monarch outshot the Mustangs 15-7 in the second, Ralston Valley exited the period in control 3-0.
“He was a wall tonight,” Dexter said of LaRocque. “I mean, I think we made him look a little better than he was. A lot of shots we hit him in the chest, which we have to then do a better job of shooting low for rebounds. But he played phenomenal.”
Coyotes junior forward Walker Harris echoed those sentiments, saying: “Goalies at this level make a save on the first shot 95, 98 percent of the time. So you have to get those second-chance opportunities on rebounds.”
Monarch finally got on the board with 4 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, when Brett Kiyota redirected an Andrew Pickner shot from the point into the net. LaRocque didn’t get the shutout, but the junior got a keynote win in the biggest regular-season game in the state so far this season.
“We put a lot of stock into this one,” LaRocque said. “The whole week of practice, we were really working hard to be ready for this game.”
Ralston Valley nearly duplicated its 5-1 win against Monarch in the state championship game last season at Magness Arena, and reaffirmed its status as the team to beat on the state landscape.
The contest was chippy in the latter portions, with the penalty boxes on both sides regularly occupied. Ralston Valley’s Victor Lombardi was assessed a 5-minute penalty in addition to a game misconduct after a blow to the head of Monarch’s Drew Wagner in the third.
Aust was something of a surprise starter in the net, considering Ian Oden was the Coyotes’ primary netminder last season. Aust was solid, as two of his goals allowed were on the power play and the other two on breakaways.
Monarch, which ended up outshooting Ralston Valley 29-24 after the dismal start, is aiming to quickly move on from the defeat, knowing another chance at the Mustangs could loom in the postseason.
“Well, tomorrow we have a tough game at Dakota Ridge, so we have to come right back out,” said Harris, who had the secondary assist on Kiyota’s goal. “We just have to keep working, try to get another shot at them.”
Ralston Valley 4, Monarch 1
At Apex Center
Monarch (7-1, 4-1) 0 0 1 — 1
Ralston Valley (9-0, 4-0) 1 2 1 — 4
Goals (assists) — Ralston Valley: Noel (Dyba), pp, 9:04; Ralston Valley: Dyba (Lombardi, Resseguie), pp, 17:51; Ralston Valley: Dyba (Resseguie), 25:58; Ralston Valley: Noel (unassisted), 38:24; Monarch: Kiyota (Pickner, Harris), pp, 12:37.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Monarch: Aust (51-4-20); Ralston Valley: LaRocque (51-1-28).