A more ideal scenario could not have developed for Regis Jesuit (Aurora)
and forward Conner Wigton
After taking a pass from teammate Ryan Wagner
, Wigton found himself alone just inside the blue line, streaking down the right side of the ice toward the Ralston Valley (Arvada)
net and Mustangs goalie Kyle Piersky
With less than 2 minutes remaining, Wigton had a possible state championship at the end of his stick and he delivered. The junior sent a shot high and tight to the near post to give Regis Jesuit a 3-2 victory Saturday at the University of Denver's Magness Arena.
It was the third title in five seasons for the Raiders, who also won it all in 2008 and 2009 and finished state runner-up last season. In addition, it was the third, one-goal playoff victory in a row for the Raiders (22-1), as they also avenged their only loss of the season. Ralston Valley won the regular-season matchup 5-4.
"It was just a matter of instinct," Wigton said. "I hit it out of our zone, and we got a 2-on-1. It was a great play by Ryan Wagner
to get it to me, and I just put it home.
"We just really wanted to take it to them this time. We felt like owed them a little bit of payback, so it was great to finally get that win."
After struggling to generate scoring opportunities through the first two periods, Ralston Valley unleashed on Regis Jesuit goalie Sam Harden
in the third. They peppered him with 13 shots in the period, finally getting the equalizer on a power-play goal by Casey Riccatone
, who backhanded in a rebound with just less than 12 minutes to play.
The Mustangs, who were outshot 21-8 through two periods, continued to push the action in the game's final minutes before Regis Jesuit called a timeout with 2:30 left to slow the momentum. Shortly after the timeout, Wagner, who scored the game-winner in overtime against Chatfield in the semifinals, found Wigton.
"I think we had the momentum really going," Ralston Valley coach Matt Schoepflin said of the third period. "They even took their timeout, I think, to try and kill a little bit of our momentum. I was happy with where we were."
Said Wigton of the timeout: "We wanted to calm things down a little bit; we had to get (the puck out of our zone)."
While Wigton celebrated a trifecta of sorts – he wears No. 3, scored his team's third goal and his third of the playoffs – Harden also responded when his team needed him most. The sophomore frustrated a Ralston Valley attack that had totaled 17 goals in its three previous playoff games and one that scored four power-play goals in the semifinals against Resurrection Christian.
Harden and his teammates had to overcome some frustration of their own, too. Although Regis Jesuit led 2-1 after two periods, the advantage could have been much more.
The Raiders came up empty on four power-play chances in the second period – after converting one in the opening period. They unleashed 10 power-play shots at Piersky in the second, but scored only when Nolan Carothers
also beat Piersky to the near post when the teams were skating 4-on-4. Luke Slouka
assisted on the Raiders' first two goals.
"We just stayed positive all the way, and we ended up getting the goal that mattered," said Harden, who made 19 saves and was in net for all of the Raiders' playoff wins. "And our guys did a good great job of keeping their guys out front, and I had a good view of most of their shots and got the job done."
Regis Jesuit scored the game's opening goal off the power play on a wrist shot by Marshall Conrad
, who tallied his 29th goal of the season. Ralston Valley tied it just over a minute into the second period, as defenseman Rob Eck
flipped a shot from just inside the blue line that floated over Harden.
After Wigton's fateful goal, Ralston Valley pressed hard and called its own timeout with a little more than a minute remaining. Piersky was pulled shortly after that to get an extra attacker on the ice, but none of Ralston Valley's final attempts found their mark.
Schoepflin said he knew his team would respond to the challenge after being outplayed through two periods.
"This sounds probably cliché, but we are a third-period team," Schoepflin said. "The third period a lot of times has been our strongest period, and that's kind of the message we've been driving home all season. And, we really had nothing to lose and everything to go for (at that point)."
The Ralston Valley coach also took the opportunity to single out the effort of Piersky, whose play nearly had the Mustangs hoisting the championship trophy for the first time in three tries. He made 23 saves.
"He's a senior and he did an incredible job this year, especially down the home stretch," Schoepflin said. "I feel horrible for him right now, but he's the reason the game was so close."