There is a new hat-trick king in town and it’s not any players from the Colorado Avalanche. Instead, it’s Dennis Lisunov from the Arapahoe Warriors 10-and-under hockey program.
As the six-month-long season came to a close in early March with the Colorado Cup Championships Tournament, Lisunov finished with 109 points and 98 goals in the 40-game season.
It is nothing for Lisunov to turn in multiple hat track performances. By the end of the 2023 season, the 10-year-old had 23.
Lisunov said about three years ago his father took him to see a Colorado Avalanche game. Lisunov recalled the Avalanche winning 7-3, noting he became hooked on the game.
“Before that, I was only on roller skates, but I knew I wanted to get into hockey,” Lisunov said. “On the ice you just go faster and smoother.”
The 2022-23 season is Lisunov’s first year playing competitive hockey, joining the Arapahoe Warriors Yellow team.
In the start of the season, players are paired with those with similar talent and skill levels.
For spectators, teammates and coaches, it was clear early in the season that Lisunov had natural talent and a drive to succeed.
Besides practicing with the Arapahoe Warriors team, which consists of players from Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, Lisunov started doing early-morning private lessons multiple days a week.
His progress, along with the Warriors coming together as a team on defense, paid off quickly. Lisunov led his team to the Colorado Cup Championship on March 5 where they defeated Arvada 5-1 in the final round.
"Dennis’ leadership has flourished from day one," said Warriors' Coach Chris Castelli.
It’s difficult to teach leadership to youth hockey players and Dennis was able to naturally evolve into that leadership role. The friendships and trust with his teammates grew overtime and they started gravitating towards him when their backs were up against the wall. The team fed off his energy and that created momentum for us down the stretch."
While teammates say Lisunov is a vocal leader on the ice, pushing everyone to perform better and telling them when he’s being covered a lot to shoot more and keep going, he’s quiet off the ice.
“I just want us all to play together well,” Lisunov said. “Whenever another team scores, I always tell our team we can keep going and to always play hard. Even in the early season when we did not do as well, I just told (teammates) to keep their heads up and we can do it.”
When asked about early season goals and how the season turned out, Lisunov had a simple answer, “I just wanted to learn and keep scoring as much as I could.”
As Lisunov started turning in more big games and accumulating hat tricks, he said he understood that other teams were looking at him. Most games had swarms of defenders getting on him. However, private lessons were proving to be successful, as the young player learned to circle behind the Warriors’ net and weave up the ice to rack up more unassisted goals.
As the season continued and Lisunov became a true threat to opposing teams' defenses, Castelli said he was often double, triple, or even, quadruple teamed at times.
"His toughness was on display, the grit adn determination were an epitome of his work ethic and dedication to his craft," Castelli said.
Lisunov said one of the scariest moments in the season came in February during the Mile High Meltdown tournament. In the championship round, the Warriors faced Hyland Hills Black. Early in the game, with a tie score, Lisunov was leveled on a blindside check that sent him flying backwards.
With a neck injury, Lisunov was taken to the locker room to be checked by trainers, and later the doctor. While the player guilty of the hit was not ejected, he was given a 10-minute major penalty.
Lisunov said he wanted to return for his team, knowing his importance to the team. However, after an attempt to play in the game, he knew his injury was too much.
The following week he worked to recover to get back into the competition during the final Colorado Cup tournament. He said he felt more comfortable and adjusted in the first round when the Warriors breezed to the second round in a 7-0 victory, which was another hat trick for Lisunov.
Castelli said as Lisunov pushed upwards towards 100 points and goals, the team coaches continued to be excited by his growing cache of highlight reels.
"It was entertaining for our coaching staff and fans to witness," Castelli said. "We even had a team mom on the scorer’s table that had said it was more entertaining to see
the coaching staff’s reactions as we were as animated as anyone to see how the next goal was going to materialize."
Lisunov credited season success to his dad for always taking him to practices and lessons and pushing him to work hard.
While Lisunov was born in the U.S., his parents moved to America nearly 15 years ago from Romania. Lisunov said his mom, with her strong accent, can be heard in the stands yelling and cheering him on. He said his mom has been one of his biggest supporters throughout the season.
Looking to the future, Lisunov said he loves hockey and wants to eventually become a pro player.