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Ice hockey: New Centaurus program brings different dynamic to northern area

Centaurus captains Henry Ziegler, left, and ...
Tim Hurst/Staff Photographer
Centaurus captains Henry Ziegert, left, and Ross Biggerstaff pose for a portrait on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at YMCA of Northern Colorado in Lafayette, Colo.
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Like many young hockey players in the BoCoPreps.com area, a big part of Henry Ziegert’s identity has long been tied to the well-regarded high school program housed at Monarch.

He has, after all, been the Coyotes’ captain and the face of the program.

But with the addition of a new varsity program at Centaurus, where Ziegert is a student and is thus now required to play in Season B, the prep hockey landscape has been shaken up significantly, both at the local and state levels. And while it will be strange to see Ziegert to play his senior season with the Warriors instead of the Yotes, he and others in similar situations are making the most of it while shifting their focus and excitement toward pioneering a new program and helping grow the sport they love.

“It’s definitely been a long and mind-engaging process just thinking through it all,” Ziegert said. “Before I played Monarch hockey, I was attached to the Boulder Bison program and I got to know a lot of the guys through that. Obviously, I have a great relationship with all the coaches and players over there at Monarch and I’m grateful for everything they taught me about how to play this game the right way.

“As far as moving over here, I see it as an opportunity to grow and that’s my main focus.”

After building towards this season for years, Centaurus will field a varsity team in Class 5A for the 2020-22 cycle. The Warriors played at the junior varsity level for the past two seasons and had a developmental club program for several years before that. They will play their home games at the YMCA of Lafayette.

Starting a new program is a challenging endeavor and doing so amidst a global pandemic has made things more difficult for the Warriors. With that in mind, Centaurus co-captain Ross Biggerstaff, a student at Broomfield, and other Centaurus and Monarch seniors alike are simply glad they’ll at least get to have a season, albeit an unusual and abbreviated one.

Tim Hurst/Staff Photographer
LAFAYETTE, CO – JANUARY 22: Centaurus captain Ross Biggerstaff poses for a portrait on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at YMCA of Northern Colorado in Lafayette, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

“When all the corona came and we were getting canceled all season, we were worried that we were not going to have a senior season at all,” Biggerstaff said. “This is our last year as seniors and also the first year that the program is happening, so it’s great to get a chance to play and to be a part of that start.”

Though some might expect the Warriors to struggle like most budding programs, the Centaurus group hopes that its hard work over the past several seasons will allow them to hit the ground running when they play their first-ever game at home against Standley Lake on Wednesday.

Now that there are two local hockey programs, players who attend Monarch or Centaurus have to play for those schools. Players in the Boulder Valley or St. Vrain Valley school districts who attend schools that do not have their own hockey teams can choose to play at either Centaurus or Monarch. So as exciting as it is for Centaurus to have a new team, Monarch, a perennially contending program that played in four straight 5A state title games before winning a championship in 2017, will obviously be impacted by the emergence of another local program.

But while no coach in his right mind would be pleased at losing some his top players like Ziegert, Monarch head coach Jimmy Dexter said he thinks, overall, that adding another program in the northern area is good for the sport at the high school level.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Dexter said. “It might be tough to support two varsity programs just because we have a huge Tier 1 program (Rocky Mountain Roughriders) right here in the north. So, a lot of kids from Monarch actually play Tier 1 hockey and we already lose a lot of kids there. Now that Centaurus has joined the mix, we’ve definitely lost a lot of kids to that too. We’ll definitely be fighting over players, and maybe one of us should be 5A and the other 4A, and having two teams will definitely affect us in the long run. But it’s a great thing for the game.”

Dexter added that despite the dispersion of local talent and resulting lower numbers, he believes Monarch has the talent to remain among the top title-contending teams in Colorado. The Warriors, on the other hand, haven’t even played an official varsity game yet and they’ve already faced adversity.

On New Year’s Eve, the team lost Andy Finney, a beloved assistant coach and program staple for the past four years, to pancreatic cancer. Head coach Stephen Cunningham said Finney’s constant display of toughness during the final years of his life has motivated the Warriors even more to play in his honor.

“It’s really exciting for the kids to play varsity hockey and they really are going to be playing for Andy,” Cunningham said. “These kids are really champing at the bit to get back on the ice and they really are excited to show what they can do.”

It’s going to be a very different hockey season, in nearly every way, in the northern area for Season B. And both Monarch and Centaurus have a lot to look forward to, including a pair of head-to-head North League matchups on Feb. 12 and March 6 in which plenty of familiar faces will be skating in different colors for the first time.

“Obviously, I’m going to go out there and play against them as hard as I can,” Ziegert said. “But it’s all love with those guys and it should be a fun game.”