It was a season of firsts for the Chaparral hockey team, but advancing to its first state championship game will have to wait after the Wolverines were handed a 3-2 loss to Fort Collins in the March 5 semifinal state playoff contest at the Pepsi Center.
“This was our third straight year in the Frozen Four, which is special in itself,” said coach Ryan Finnefrock, whose team finished with a 16-3-3 record. “We did a lot of firsts this year. It was the first time we've ever beaten Regis (2-0 on Feb. 13), and we had never been ranked No. 1 in the state of Colorado, and that was our highest ranking and we were one game away from winning a conference title for the first time. So we've done a lot of firsts this year.”
However, the Wolverines fell behind Fort Collins 3-0 after Nolan Williamson scored at 2:28 of the second period and could never overcome the slow start.
`'We gave ourselves opportunities down the stretch.,” said Finnefrock. “You saw the fight in these guys. They never quit. At this stage and how good high school hockey has become with the margin of error, we played two good periods and not three. That first period hurt us but the fight in these kids is special.”
Blake Johnson, with assists from Colin McCready and Simon Herz, scored a power play goal at 14:33 of the second period, and the Wolverines pulled to within one after junior Jackson Mundell's goal, off an assist from John Connolly and Herz, at 12:22 of the third period.
“I don't really know what happened in the first period, we didn't have our feet going but we have a special group,” said Mundell. “After that first period, we went into the locker room and discussed what we needed to do and in the second and third periods we came out stronger.
“We had three words we were taught and they were grit, joy and compassion. After that first period, we came out with those words in our heads but we fell a little short. Yeah, we fell a little short, but for the whole season this is probably the best team I've ever played on. The chemistry was amazing.”
Chaparral kept attacking the Fort Collins goal in the third period but Lambkins goalie Sam Simon kicked out all the shots except for Mundell's goal.
“We fought and got a goal at the end of the second period and we thought that gave us momentum going into the locker room and you could see in the third period we kept it in their zone the whole third period and had good chances,” added Finnefrock. “We got one goal with four or five minutes to go and we were close. We competed really, really hard.”
Herz, a senior defenseman, gave Simon some credit for preventing Chaparral from tying the game in the third period.
“We struggled in the first and the bounces didn't go our way,” said Herz. “We picked it up after but it was just too little, too late. We have a lot of respect for the Fort Collins goalie. He's probably the best goalie in the state. He's really good. But our team is just a bunch of warriors and we just continued to battle and battle. After last season's Frozen Four, I didn't think we would be in this position. We lost a bunch of players but we still proved we are one of the best teams in the state.”
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