LITTLETON — It was a first for Dakota Ridge’s hockey program Tuesday late afternoon at Edge Ice Arena.
The Eagles, No. 8 in the latest CHSAANow.com hockey rankings, scored their first-ever victory against Jeffco rival Ralston Valley, which is ranked third this week. Dakota Ridge scored three straight goals in the third period to take a 7-4 victory over the Mustangs (6-3, 3-2 in Foothills League)
“I think a lot of people underestimated us going into the game,” Dakota Ridge captain Charles Huang said. “This victory, we were expecting it. We just haven’t played enough competition to show how good we are.”
The fast-paced and hard-hitting game was 4-3 in favor of Dakota Ridge heading into the third period. Johnathan Tanji put home a rebound at the 4:22 mark in the third to give the Eagles (6-1-1, 4-1) a 5-3 lead.
Drew Eickelman and Huang, who both scored two goals in the victory, scored 52 seconds apart just past the midway point in the final period to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead.
“It was kind of lucky,” Huang said of his short-handed breakaway goal with just more than 7 minutes left that gave the Eagles a 7-3 lead. “It was our afternoon. That was the cherry on top.”
The first-period shots on goal statics didn’t look good for Dakota Ridge. Ralston Valley outshot the Eagles 13 to 4, but the Mustangs couldn’t capitalize on a pair of power plays.
“I thought we played a good first period. I thought we had good energy,” Ralston Valley coach Matt Schoepflin said. “That’s a good team over there and if you don’t capitalize on mistakes it gives them a little momentum.”
Dakota Ridge leaned on goalie Nick Scott to keep the Mustangs scoreless in the first period. Jack Bonniwell’s shot from the outside worked its way through traffic and beat Ralston Valley goalie Joseph Doig with 19.9 seconds left in the first period to give the Eagles a surprising 1-0 lead.
“I just wanted to keep the team in it,” Scott said about the first period. “I knew we would get some goals. My mindset was we would get some goals.”
The goals came in waves in the second period. Ralston Valley showed its firepower with goals from Andreas Fuentes, Jack Steffer and Andrew Frerich. Dakota Ridge got second-period goals from Huang, Eickelman and Carter Jones to keep the 1-goal lead.
“We’ve been struggling to put the puck in the back of the net the last two of games,” Dakota Ridge coach Alec Hines said. “Today was fun to watch.”
The three straight Eagle goals in the third period put the game away. Frerich scored his second power-play goal for Ralston Valley with 23.5 second left to make the final score 7-4.
“For our seniors it means a lot,” Scott said. “Ralston Valley has always been a good team. It feels good to finally beat them.”
Ralston Valley and Dakota Ridge have been the top of the class of the five Jeffco schools that have hockey programs over recent years.
The Mustangs won back-to-back state championships in 2013 and 2014. Ralston Valley advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2015 and semifinals last year.
Dakota Ridge have made the 16-team state tournament that past three seasons, including an appearance in the semifinals in 2015 and advancing to the quarterfinals last season.
Ralston Valley gets its shot against top-ranked and defending state champion Regis Jesuit (8-0, 4-0) at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Apex Ice Arena in Arvada. The Raiders have outscored their opponents 50-8 so far this season.
“With the realignment of everyone I think that’s the beauty of it. Every (league) game is a tough and important game,” Schoepflin said of the Foothills League that features six of the top eight ranked teams in the state. “I think we are excited about Friday night and hopefully we can have a better effort. I think we will.”
Dakota Ridge has another tough test as it hits the road to face No. 9 Resurrection Christian (4-3, 4-0 Peak League) at 8 p.m Friday in Fort Collins.
“This was a very big step about where we are in this league,” Huang said. “There is no doubt in my mind we can keep this momentum going against Rez Christian.”