The state ice hockey Frozen Four seems to move from venue to venue year after year.
No matter where the four best teams end up deciding the state championship — Pepsi Center is up for another turn in 2017-18 — coach Dan Woodley’s Regis Jesuit team is always likely to be there.
The Raiders have been there in fact for the past nine seasons, including 2016-17 when they lost to Monarch in the state final at the University of Denver’s Magness Arena.
“We certainly have the ability to be there,” Woodley said of the semifinals. “It’s going to be a situation where our guys are going to have to play up to the level of competition and find a way to put ourselves in position to peak at the end of the season.
“If we do that, this team would definitely be one of the top four teams in the state.”
Regis Jesuit’s offense lost some firepower with the graduation of double-digit goal scorers Michael Baer and Kyle Nelson, but return the high-scoring duo of seniors Shane Ott and Wyatt Verity.
Playing on the same line last season, Ott and Verity combined for 29 goals and 21 assists during the regular season and added four goals and six assists to the mix in the Raiders’ four playoff games,
Junior Kale Lone is slated to share the top line and give Regis Jesuit plenty of punch.
“It would be hard to duplicate such a great season those guys had last year, but they are capable of doing it,” Woodley said. “If they did, that would certainly give us a powerful line right there.”
Offense has rarely been an issue for Regis Jesuit and shouldn’t be again, but defense is what Woodley is most encouraged about with his team.
Last year’s reserve goaltender, Max Harlan, slides in between the pipes and will have a talented unit in front of him that is full of talented two-way players.
Junior Rowan Barnes added some offense from the backline in the postseason a year ago with three goals and four assists in four games, while sophomore Nolan Sargent also played a key role on specialty teams.
Juniors Shane Gautsche and Riley Krause add depth in the back as well.
The other team featuring players from Aurora schools — the co-op team based out of Cherry Creek — also has a chance to earn its way in the final mix at the Pepsi Center.
Coach Jeff Mielnicki’s Cherry Creek team includes a mix of players from all across the Cherry Creek School District, with at least one player from Cherry Creek, Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest, Grandview, Overland and Smoky Hill on the roster between the varsity and junior varsity levels.
Mielnicki has dubbed his varsity team the “Baby Bruins,” an apt moniker for a team that figures to have a whopping eight sophomores and a freshman seeing significant ice time with the graduation of a large group that helped the Bruins make last season’s semifinals.
Senior forward Neal Sklar (Cherry Creek) has the most seniority on the team in his third season, while senior forwards Colton Holub (Cherry Creek) and Ben Altschuler (Grandview) will serve as captains for a young group. Ryan Bevan (Grandview) brings experience as well in goal.
Sophomores Gavin Berkey, Blake Benson, Nick Fall and Liam Huywan (Cherry Creek), Luke Flay (Cherokee Trail) and Nick Hoppe (Grandview) form the nucleus of the offense and consistently outperformed more veteran players in tryouts.
“We’re going to be really young, but I’m excited about this group,” Mielnicki said.
“We’ve been preaching our team unity as the way we are going to have success. We’re not an overly skilled team, but we’re high energy and we have a high compete level. These guys are willing to learn and execute strategies, which is what I’m really excited about.”
Regis Jesuit and Cherry Creek face off twice in league play, skating first against each other Jan. 6 and again on Jan. 26, both at Family Sports Center.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2017-18 AURORA ICE HOCKEY
Aurora players to watch: Ben Altschuler, F, Cherry Creek (Grandview), sr.; Rowan Barnes, D, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Blake Benson, F, Cherry Creek, soph.; Gavin Berkey, F, Cherry Creek, soph.; Ryan Bevan, G, Cherry Creek (Grandview), sr.; Will Desmond, F, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Anders Erickson, F, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Paxton Erickson, F, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Nick Fall, F, Cherry Creek, soph.; Luke Flay, F, Cherry Creek (Cherokee Trail), soph.; Adam Frances, D, Cherry Creek (Cherokee Trail), sr.; Shane Gautsche, D, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Alec Grey, D, Cherry Creek (Grandview), sr.; Colton Holub, F, Cherry Creek, sr.; Nick Hoppe, F, Cherry Creek (Grandview), soph.; Liam Huywan, F, Cherry Creek, soph.; Connor Kilkenny, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Riley Kraus, D, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Justin Lico, D, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Kale Lone, F, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Shane Ott, F, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Nolan Sargent, D, Regis Jesuit, soph.; Neal Sklar, F., Cherry Creek; Wyatt Verity, F, Regis Jesuit, sr.