Valor Christian's hockey team took advantage of a crazy bounce to notch a 2-1 semifinal victory over Regis Jesuit on March 5 on the ice at the Pepsi Center in the state high school hockey playoffs.
Top-seeded Valor (19-2-1) was scheduled to face Fort Collins (18-3-1) in the championship game March 10 at the Pepsi Center. The Lambkins advanced with a 3-2 win over Chaparral in the other semifinal contest on March 5.
Junior Evan Pahos got Valor's game-winning goal against Regis at the 2:01 mark of the third period when he shot the puck off the end boards to the side of the net, but the puck bounced back and hit off the skate of Raiders' goalie Gage Bussey and deflected into the net. That pushed the Eagles into a 2-1 lead, which they held during a hectic remainder of the game.
“Based on what team you're on, it was a crazy bounce,” said Valor coach George Gwozdecky. “The end boards here are really lively. Where both teams play, whether it's the Ice Ranch or Family Sports, you don't have those lively bounces like you do at a lot of professional rinks. You thank your lucky stars it was a fortunate bounce for us.”
Valor worked during its pregame skate on getting defensemen and goals to be able to adjust to bounces off the end wall.
Pahos was speechless after he saw the puck glance off Bussey's skate and go into the net.
“I was just trying to get a shot on net with my line mate coming in for a rebound,” said Pahos. “I shot from the blueline off the end boards and it bounced off his skate and went in. Half our bench was looking the other way and then we were celebrating.
“It felt awesome — not just because it was a game-winner but putting our team in the championship game.”
Prior to Pahos' goal, the teams exchanged power-play tallies, with Ryan Kayser scoring for the Eagles at 11:04 of the first period and William Laws tying the game at 11:43 of the second. Jake Stordahl and Kai Organku assisted on Laws' goal.
Valor nursed its one-goal lead over the final 15 minutes of the third period, killing off a a penalty and withstanding heavy Regis pressure. Valor goalie Trey Hirschfield made seven of his 25 saves in the third period.
“We came out with an OK start and in the second period we did not play well at all,” said Hirschfield. “The third period is when we really stepped it up and played our best hockey.
“Ever since I started playing hockey my sophomore year at Valor, Regis has always been the game we circled on the calendar. It makes it so much better to beat them.”
Regis has won six state titles since 2008 and was playing in a semifinal game for the ninth time in 10 seasons. Valor has made two trips to the finals, including this year, in the past three seasons.
Valor went 2-0-1 against Regis during the CHSAA regular season, and including the fall league, the teams played six times this season.
“Every game we've played against them this year has been a one-goal difference, and there was the tie game,” said Gwozdecky.
A moment of silence was held before the game in honor of Cale Woodley, the son of Regis hockey coach Dan Woodley and a former Raiders player, who passed away Feb. 25.
Both Gwozdecky and Dan Woodley offered compliments about the other school's programs that resulted in a close March 5 Frozen Four game.
“It was a hard-fought competitive game from the first face-off,” said Woodley. “The bounce that created the winning goal was unlucky for us, but we have been the recipient of good bounces in the past and I certainly can't complain about the goal. I'm proud of my team. We played as hard and as fast as we could.
“That goal could have just as easily benefitted us, but I want my team to know there are great lessons to be learned from winning and losing, and the value of winning can never be measured unless you've experienced losing.”
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