Ralston Valley's sustained success is unique in hockey's history

Ralston Valley Steamboat Springs hockey

Ralston Valley has won 38-straight games, and is unbeaten in 42 (41-0-1). (Dennis Pleuss)

This Ralston Valley program is in the midst of one of the greatest runs in Colorado high school hockey history. But you wouldn't know it at a glance.

Wednesday, as snow fell sideways outside, the Mustangs filed into Apex Ice Arena for practice. Snow clung to the bags, their clothes, and piled on top of their hair. It was a half-hour to practice, two days before a big showdown with No. 7 Mountain Vista, but they sat near the rink on benches and quietly chatted.

This is a team that's won 38 consecutive games, including two-straight state championships?

There's no hubris here. Shoot, they don't even know how long their winning streak is.

"It's 38 now?" senior Joe Millar said on Wednesday afternoon.

It's a low-key group, which draws its demeanor from a low-key coach, Matt Schoepflin. Last season, minutes before faceoff at the state championship game with Monarch, Schoepflin was informed his starting goalie had broken a skate blade and would be unavailable to start the game. He shrugged.

"He's always like that," said Ian Snedden, another senior. "He keeps us calm with that kind of stuff."

On top of the 38-game winning streak, the Mustangs are riding a 42-game unbeaten streak, having gone 41-0-1. Their last loss came Jan. 30, 2013 to Chatfield. It was a Wednesday, and they lost at Apex, their home rink.

"That's what made it so much worse," Millar said. "Losing at home in front of a big crowd and your friends is not something you want to do."

Ralston Valley Chatfield hockey

(Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

The Mustangs went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in CHSAANow.com's hockey poll last season, and — surprise — have been No. 1 since the preseason this season with an 8-0-0 start.

Schoepflin, who played at Ralston Valley before it became a CHSAA-sanctioned program, took over prior to the 2011-12 season. His teams are 72-4-2.

Now, hockey programs have won back-to-back championship in hockey before. In fact, since the start of the 2008 season, Regis Jesuit and Lewis-Palmer have both done so. But neither of those programs had such a sustained winning streak during that time.

So, we drift back, to the king of high school hockey: Cheyenne Mountain. That program has won 14 championships. (No other school has won more than three.) Cheyenne has back-to-back titles in 1996-97, won four-straight from 1988-91, and five-straight from 1982-86. They dominated early high school hockey in this state.

Here's the but, and it's a big one: By and large, over that time, high school hockey in Colorado consisted of eight-to-ten teams, and the overwhelming majority of them were based in Colorado Springs. Many referred to the sport's championship as a "city" title.

It wasn't until the early 2000s that hockey started to expand. Now, the league has 29 teams, and they're all over the state.

This is all to say that what Ralston Valley is currently doing is largely unprecedented.

"It is, obviously, something that's cool," Schoepflin said. "It definitely is getting a lot more attention from outside sources than maybe we're focusing on it.

"It's one of those things that I look at, if you can kind of take a step back, you're like, 'Man, this is really cool,'" he added later. "It's just like the undefeated season (last year): To me, that's a potentially once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. Because it's so hard, at any level, regardless of sport, to do that.

"So I think the big thing now, obviously we want to keep winning, but it's really not a focus for us."

• • •

Ralston Valley Lewis-Palmer hockey

The Mustangs are a two-time defending champion, and are ranked No. 1 by CHSAANow.com. (Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

When a new season begins, coaches often harp on the fact that it's a new team. This is especially common of teams coming off of state titles.

Well, that may be more true than not with this season's bunch of Mustangs.

Ralston Valley lost its entire top line of Greg Dyba, Victor Lombardi and Austin Resseguie from last season's team. Together, that trio accounted for 120 points, or 37 percent of the team's production, in 2013-14. And Dyba was the state's player of the year.

It also graduated goalies Zack LaRocque and James Madok, who combined to start 22 of Ralston's 23 games. The defense went through major turnover, as well.

"I think a lot of people forget the fact that's it's pretty much a brand new team," Schoepflin said. "I mean, we've got a small core group that has kind of been there the last couple of years, but for the most part, we've got a lot of new guys."

Guys like Jeff Moffat, this team's leading scorer who has eight goals and 15 points. He attends Pomona, so played his freshman season at Standley Lake, but didn't play last season. This year, he decided to play again, and made Ralston's team.

Or Tony Salazar (13 points), who was among the last cuts during last season's tryouts. Or goalie Scott Albertoni, who played at Ralston as a freshman but then moved around the country playing AAA and junior hockey. He's now a senior and has a 0.93 GAA to go along with a 5-0-0 record.

Ralston Valley Chatfield hockey

(Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

They've blended with returners like Millar, Snedden, Kyle Valdez (11 points), Cody Noel (8 points), and Dom Gomez (3-0-0, 0.89 GAA).

The team has come together nicely, helped in large part that all but one or two play together with the Arvada Hockey Association's Tier II AA team during the offseason.

"Every year, when the kids come in, they know we're a real good team," Snedden said. "They just know that when they come to play for Ralston Valley, winning is something we do."

Another driving force for success: 22 of the 28 players on the roster attend Ralston Valley, which is a rarity in today's league of district teams made primarily of kids from multiple high schools.

"That helps, not only because the kids are together all the time, but because they do make it into a cool atmosphere up at the school," Schoepflin said.

Added Millar: "After the game, the next day, (everyone at school is) congratulating you, saying, 'Hey nice goal, nice win.'"

Schoepflin said last season's team was the closest he's ever been around.

"I'm a huge believer that talent will win you games, but it won't win you championships," Schoepflin said. "Obviously, you have to have a lot of talent to win championships, but to me, good team chemistry, working together, getting along with one another, I think that is way more important than necessarily having the most talent. That has been kind of our success."

• • •

Ralston Valley Columbine hockey generic

(Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

The streak won't last forever. They know that. The question, at least as far as history is concerned, is when will it end?

If — if — Ralston were to reel off another unbeaten season, including a third-straight title, that'd put the streak at 53 games. At that point, you have to start comparing across sports.

Realistically, it's not likely that RV even gets through the regular season unscathed. Still to come are Friday's matchup with Mountain Vista ("We're excited about that game," Snedden said), as well as a game against No. 3 Cherry Creek next Tuesday, and dates with No. 2 Regis Jesuit and No. 4 Monarch. Creek, Regis and Monarch were in the semfinals last year.

"A lot of those big-name teams we have kind of all bunched up at the end of the season," Schoepflin said. "But I actually like that, because I think obviously, it's easy to get up for those games. I also think the big thing is you want to be peaking and playing your best hockey at the best time, so I think you've got to be playing the best teams if you want to do that."

Conversely, nearly every team looks at Ralston Valley as the best team on its schedule. That means every opponent has a little extra motivation each night.

"We're going to be pushed every game," Schoepflin said. "For the most part — you can see the scores — we have been pushed."

Pushed, but not toppled. Thirty-eight straight.

Enjoy it. Because this has never been done before.