DENVER — Monarch, finally, is a state hockey champion.
After four consecutive seasons of losing in the title game, Monarch reversed its fortune on Monday night at Magness Arena. The Coyotes beat Regis Jesuit 2-1 to claim the crown, the program's first.
"We just weren't going to take no for an answer this year. We really weren't," said Monarch senior Brendan Van Haute, who scored the winner.
Monarch trailed 1-0 entering the third period, and looked listless before the final intermission. But things changed in the final frame.
Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter said he didn't say much in that intermission.
"I just told them 17 minutes is a lot of time, that (goalie Logan Gorbitz) has kept us in it," Dexter said. "All we needed is one goal to give us all the momentum."
Conner Akerson provided that one goal, and he did it just 1:51 into the third with a power play tally that beat Regis Jesuit goalie Dillon Whalen on the far side. Sal Pisciola make a great pass to set him up in front of the net.
"The goalie was sliding across and I just saw the other side open," Akerson said. "I shot it and somehow it went in. I don't even know."
"That one goal just got us going," he added.
Said Van Haute: "We knew that one goal was nothing. We knew that if we tied the game, we'd have all the momentum. And that's exactly what we did."
Three minutes later, Van Haute scored on the power play, notching the most important goal in program history.
"A bouncing puck squirted out to me," Van Haute said. "To win championships, you've got to get the bounces. And it bounced to me, I kind of controlled it, and just let it go. I wasn't even looking, to tell you the truth."
That Van Haute scored the clinching goal was fitting: Dexter said he is the program's all-time leading scorer.
"He's unreal," Dexter said. "The stuff he does is just amazing."
But Monarch had to weather a sea of chances from Regis Jesuit, including a power play with nine minutes remaining where Gorbitz made three big saves.
Later, the Raiders called timeout with 1:37 to go and pulled their goalie. They threw everything they could at the Monarch net. But Gorbitz stood tall.
"Going into that third period, coach is standing over here in the tunnel and shouting at us, 'Are you guys ready to win a state championship?'" Gorbitz said. "That's what we did in the third period, we never gave up and finished the game out strong. We all knew that this was our fifth year here but we just worked hard and got the score we wanted."
Monarch's monkey had been on their back for four years. The four losses — to Ralston Valley (in 2013 and 2014), Cherry Creek (2015, in 3 overtimes), and Regis Jesuit (2016) — weren't exactly daily conversation, but everyone on the roster was well aware of the history.
The loss to Regis last season especially stung given that Monarch entered as a heavy favorite.
"I think that loss really motivated us," Van Haute said. "We weren't quite there yet at the start of the season, especially our younger guys. They worked so hard to get there. And they did. And we won. And that's great, man."
Said Akerson:"I'm still in shock. It's unreal. I can't believe we got it done."