Heritage hockey is making its case that the Eagles should be considered among the contenders this season.
The team, off to a 10-1-0 start this season, have won seven consecutive games heading into Friday night's showdown against Aspen. It is Heritage's best start since they opened 11-1-0 during the 2012-13 season.
"I always knew that they had it in them," said Jeremy Sims, Heritage's seventh-year coach. "It was just a matter of whether or not they were going to come together as a team and continually work together, and they've done that."
Heritage hasn't struggled in recent years — the Eagles were 83-56-0 from 2010-11 through last season — but the fact of the matter is they haven't been this good, either. Last season was the first year in that stretch that the team advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
The Eagles are led by three seniors, Matt More — their captain and leading scorer — along with Corbin Divita and Nicholas DiPonio, who are both alternate captains. But that is the extent of the seniors on the team. It's a young squad.
"Those three seniors have been in the program for four years, and they understand what it is to be a part of the Heritage program," Sims said. "They've grown up through the program, and the leadership from these three seniors has been outstanding so far this year."
Despite that relative lack of experience, "I think we have more skill than we've had in our program in the past," Sims said.
"So it was kind of having the older kids bring in and mentor the younger kids, make everybody feel comfortable, make everybody moving in the same direction," the coach added. "And it's happened."
The early wins stacked up for a 3-0-0 start in December before Heritage was humbled 9-0 by perennial power Regis Jesuit on Dec. 9. But the Eagles have responded with their seven-game winning streak, which includes victories over Mountain Vista, another traditional contender, and Resurrection Christian, which made the semifinals last season.
Heritage hadn't beaten rival Mountain Vista in seven years, and it was the program's first-ever win over Resurrection Christian.
"That was a huge win," Sims said of topping Mountain Vista. "And I think that helped us carry into the Resurrection Christian game."
Strong goaltending from James Purse (7-1-0, 3.17 GAA) and Mitchell Myles (2-0-0, 0.59) have played a big role. Jakob Boos (eight goals, six assists) and Joe Carpinello (five and seven) have also been big contributors. More leads the team in goals (10) and points (19).
The expectations have followed.
"It's one of those things that they're excited about it, but they also understand that now we're not going into games playing as the underdog," Sims said. "Now we're coming in, and every team's gunning for us, every team wants to beat us. It's a little bit of a different mindset, but at the same time, I think the kids are very willing to embrace it, and they're having a good time with it right now."
Added the coach: "Now it's just about going out and playing continuously like we have over the last few weeks, and keeping momentum going."
Now comes Friday's matchup at Aspen, a team that sits just outside the top-10 in the coaches poll and the RPI, and a team that traditionally makes noise in the postseason.
"They're always a tough team up there," Sims said. "It's a long trip, but at the same time, they're a good hockey team. It's going to be a battle."