Colorado's two new high school ice hockey programs were greeted with nothing more than a passing glance, as many incumbents figured Resurrection Christian (Loveland)
and Mountain Vista (Highlands Ranch)
were nothing more than a couple first-year squads ready to beat up on.
How quickly perceptions change.
Each squad immediately established itself in the pre-holiday portion of the schedule, and each appears a legitimate threat to qualify for the state tournament. Through Tuesday, Resurrection Christian was 4-1 and Mountain Vista 5-2-1, with the Golden Eagles' losses narrow decisions against powerhouses Regis Jesuit and Bishop Machebeuf.
Despite the notion that Resurrection Christian is based in Loveland and Mountain Vista in Highlands Ranch – the schools are 74 miles apart – their immediate steps to prominence are as similar as their goals-to-goals against ratio: Each has a young coach with an extensive hockey background. Resurrection Christian draws from 11 schools in the state's northern sector, Mountain Vista from 10 in the Douglas County area.
"A lot of the kids didn't even know each other in the first few weeks here, but it seems like they've meshed really well," Resurrection Christian coach Jake Pence said. "Honestly, it's been a joy to coach them right now."
Why wouldn't it? The Cougars unearthed themselves with a 9-1 win against a solid Monarch squad that has been in the state tournament the past two seasons.
Led by the likes of Brandon Brewer
, McAllaster Miller
, Garrett Wood
and Levi Weber
, the Cougars have outscored their first five foes a composite 25-11 (Mountain Vista had a 25-13 advantage through five games). Resurrection Christian's lone loss was a tightly contested 3-2 decision to Standley Lake.
Progress has been quick with players such as Brewer – "he has a bomb of a shot and could score from the red line if he wanted to," Pence said – and defensemen
and Joshua Ferreri
. A three-goaltender system has worked so far, as well.
The Cougars even have absorbed their first tinge of controversy, when Pence was suspended for a game against Rampart after his team racked up 15 penalties the previous game, a win against Steamboat Springs. By rule, a head coach must sit out the following game if his team accrues that many, regardless of the fact that most of the penalties were minors in this case.
It worked out just fine, as the Cougars beat Rampart 6-3 behind the guidance of assistant coach Brad Thompson, and you can bet the penalties have ceased.
"We're not really about the scoreboard, to be perfectly honest," Pence said. "We're just making sure that the body of work is there – the work ethic, doing the right thing, the character of the players. And of course we hope it translates into wins, but we're just trying to build a good culture around RCS."
That's a bit of a different take than coach Lev Cohen has at Mountain Vista, at least in regards to team goals. The 25-year-old isn't shy about the Golden Eagles' ambitions for season No. 1.
"I think we have the depth that not too many other teams have, and I think we can compete for a state title this year," Cohen said. "We have a long road ahead of us, but we have four lines of players that can compete with any team out there."
Ten of the Golden Eagles' 25 players are from Mountain Vista, the others scattered about from nearby schools such as Chaparral, Highlands Ranch, ThunderRidge, Castle View and Legend.
Brothers Jimmy Morgan
(a forward) and freshman Joe Morgan
(goaltender) have made an immediate impact, as have several others. Included are forward Michael Ellis
, defensemen Tyler Monteferrante
and John Deward
and goaltender Brandon Yinger
, who rotates with Morgan.
Jimmy Morgan has contributed seven goals and Ellis five goals and seven assists. The defensive pairing of Monteferrante and Deward has produced five goals and 14 assists.
"It's been pretty surprising, actually, because I didn't know how good we were going to be," said Monteferrante, who attends Legend. "I think it's just because we have pretty good players from all around Douglas County."
Cohen is a former Chatfield assistant, a former junior hockey player and member of the University of Denver club team. He is a junior scout for the Janesville Jets (NAHL) and Queen City Steam (NA3HL). Resurrection Christian's Pence, a transplant from Owatonna, Minn., is a former pro hockey player whose career spanned various leagues, including stops in Fresno, Calif., Fort Wayne, Ind., Flint, Mich., Dayton, Ohio and Evansville, Ind.
Each now is linked by something more – a first-year hockey team quickly shedding the stereotype that it takes several years to build a program.