ARVADA | There will be a new state ice hockey champion for the first time since 2012 and Cherry Creek seems to have as good as chance as any team after making it possible Saturday.
The Bruins co-op team — a mix of players from throughout the Cherry Creek School District and surrounding schools, including several from Aurora — scored early and late in the first period and held off two-time state champion Ralston Valley 2-1 at APEX Rec Center.
Max Tennant scored just 2 minutes, 1 second, into the first period on a pass from Sean DeKramer and Jack Venuto added a power play goal with just 1:14 remaining in the opening period for coach Jeff Mielnicki’s Bruins, who gained a measure of revenge for a 4-1 loss to the Mustangs on the same ice a few weeks earlier.
The victory earned Cherry Creek a spot in the state Frozen Four for a second straight season, where it will take on Dakota Ridge, a 3-2 winner over Air Academy in the second round. The Bruins topped the Eagles by a goal on Feb. 7 and the rematch is set for 6 p.m. March 5 at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
Regis Jesuit and Monarch — the only other teams in the state to beat Cherry Creek besides Ralston Valley — meet in the other semifinal at 8 p.m. March 5. The state championship game is set for 2 p.m. March 7 on the same ice.
While the Bruins got two early goals, more than they scored in the first meeting between the teams, senior goaltender Brady Mielnicki stood on his head to make it enough to beat Ralston Valley.
Mielnicki weathered a 42-shot Mustang attack and made a season-high 41 saves, keeping Ralston Valley off the scoreboard until a mere eight seconds remained in the contest.
The Bruins defense also had to kill off a 5-minute Ralston Valley power play in the third period after Tennant was given a misconduct penalty for a check from behind.
Cherry Creek earned its way into the second round with a nail-biting 4-1 win over Lewis-Palmer on Friday, as DeKramer (Cherokee Trail) scored the eventual winning goal with just 1:25 remaining in regulation.
Tim Keohane (Smoky Hill) and Pieter Gesink added empty net goals in the closing seconds, while Nick Chavez had the Bruins’ first goal in the opening period.
Mielnicki made 25 saves on 26 shots.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
SECOND ROUND: CHERRY CREEK 2, RALSTON VALLEY 1
Score by periods:
Cherry Creek 2 0 0 — 2
Ralston Valley 0 0 1 — 1
First period: Cherry Creek — Max Tennant (Sean DeKramer), 2:01; Cherry Creek — Jack Venuto (power play) (Pieter Gesink), 15:46
Third period: Ralston Valley — Joe Millar, 16:52
Goaltenders: Cherry Creek — Brady Mielnicki (42 shots on goal-41 saves); Ralston Valley — Scott Albertoni (16 shots on goal-14 saves)
FIRST ROUND: CHERRY CREEK 4, LEWIS-PALMER 1
Score by periods:
Lewis-Palmer 0 1 0 — 1
Cherry Creek 1 0 3 — 4
First period: Cherry Creek — Nick Chavez (power play) (Blake Yount, James Shelton), 13:49
Second period: Lewis-Palmer — Zachary Williams (Nick Pavlik)
Third period: Cherry Creek — Sean DeKramer (Tim Keohane), 15:35; Cherry Creek— Keohane, 16:17; Cherry Creek — Pieter Gesink, 16:55
Goaltenders: Cherry Creek — Brady Mielnicki (26 shots on goal-25 saves); Lewis-Palmer — Marcus Smith (28 shots on goal-26 saves)