SUPERIOR — Moments away from perhaps the signature regular-season victory in program annals, the Monarch hockey team needed only to avoid disaster.
But two-time state champion Ralston Valley makes a lot of disasters happen.
The Mustangs, ranked No. 2 in the CHSAANow.com poll, scored two goals in the final five minutes to send the No. 4 Coyotes to a heart-shattering 3-2 loss in the regular-season finale at Boulder Valley Ice.
“We talked about good habits, and we made two horrible mistakes at the end of the game,” Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter said. “We took a dumb penalty, a retaliation penalty, and they scored. And then we have all day, we could have chipped it out, we try to make a move then make a turnover for a score.”
The Mustangs (17-1-1, 13-0-1) undoubtedly have Monarch’s number. Over the past three seasons, the Coyotes are 0-5 against Ralston Valley and 52-2-5 against everyone else. Two of those losses were in state championship games.
A win Saturday wouldn’t have erased all of that, but it would have been an enormous one for the program.
“I think we played a great game,” Coyotes senior defenseman Justin White said. “We outworked them for the whole second period and a lot of the third, and then we just had two mental breakdowns in the last five minutes that they capitalized on.”
Monarch (14-3-1, 11-3-0), wearing sharp new home uniforms, carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, the product of second-period goals by Andrew Pickner and White.
With 4 minutes, 35 seconds remaining, Monarch’s Ryan Uhland was called for a slashing penalty. Four seconds later, Ralston Valley’s Stefan Fruhwirth blasted home a shot from the point to tie it 2-2.
Overtime appeared imminent, but after the Coyotes took control of the puck in their own zone, Ralston Valley’s Tony Salazar poke-checked it away. Jeff Moffat hopped on the loose puck and scored the game-winner with 29 seconds left.
“We have to play smart hockey and just get the puck out of our zone, and we didn’t do that today,” White said. “It’s not a good feeling but we definitely can learn from it.”
A scary moment occurred midway through the second period, when Monarch junior forward Mattijs Ossorio crashed heavily into the boards and, after having his neck stabilized, was taken to the hospital.
Things were even 1-1 at that point and the Coyotes soon jumped ahead and appeared to be en route to an enormous win. Instead, the loss left Monarch in a three-way tie with Cherry Creek and Dakota Ridge for third place in the Foothills League. A tiebreaker will be needed to sort out where each team is seeded. A win would have left Monarch in sole possession of third place.
“We’re going to have to put this behind us,” Dexter said. “I think we’ll rebound. We’re pretty resilient. I thought we played great tonight, just made a couple bad mistakes that cost us.”
Goaltender Hampus Akesson stopped 19 of 22 shots for the Coyotes, who outshot the Mustangs by four.
Ralston Valley, which went a perfect 23-0 last season, remains a favorite to win it all. But the Mustangs were on the ropes in this one.
“I was really proud of how we played the third period,” Mustangs coach Matt Schoepflin said. “I thought we finally showed up. I wasn’t really happy with our first and second periods. We were just a little off, but we dug deep in the third.”
Ralston Valley 3, Monarch 2
At Boulder Valley Ice
Ralston Valley (17-1-1) 1 0 2 — 3
Monarch (14-3-1) 0 2 0 — 2
Goals (assists) — First period: Ralston Valley: Kyle Valdez (Tony Salazar), 11:19 (pp). Second period: Monarch: Andrew Pickner (Blake Bride), 5:50; Monarch: Justin White (R.J. Harland, Mahito Henderson), 15:44. Third period: Ralston Valley: Stefan Fruhwirth (Salazar, Jeff Moffat), 12:29 (pp); Ralston Valley: Moffat (Salazar), 16:31.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Monarch: Scott Albertoni (51-2-24); Monarch: Hampus Akesson (51-3-19).