LITTLETON — Ralston Valley hockey players came out the energy and urgency of last-minute holiday shoppers in the third period Friday night.
The Mustangs tacked on a pair of goals in the final period while outshooting Columbine 14-3 in the final 17 minutes to secure a 7-3 victory at The Edge Ice Arena.
“We knew we had to come out strong. (Columbine) kind of had the momentum going into the period,” Ralston Valley forward Zack Savarise said. “We wanted to work it up toward their defense a lot.”
Savarise scored his second goal of the night 40 seconds into the third period. Ralston Valley defenseman Carson Hellman took a shot from the point and Savarise tipped it through the five-hole of Columbine goalie Landon Wair. The goal gave the Mustangs a 6-3 lead.
Ralston Valley (3-3 record, 1-1 in Pinnacle League) added a goal in the final minutes by forward Sam Clark to put the game away.
“Our only message between the second and third periods was to really go the first five minutes we would be fine,” Ralston Valley coach Matt Schoepflin said. “That was my challenge to them. We wanted to play our absolute best hockey those first five minutes and everything else would take care of itself.”
Ralston Valley never trailed, taking a 4-1 lead midway through the second period. Cody Hutchison, Jason Ruszka, Savarise and Anthony Colagrosso all scored for the Mustangs to take a three-goal lead.
Columbine (2-5-1, 2-1-1 in Highlands League) battled back late in the second period with goals by Luke Juergensen and Drew Bauer. Bauer was able to match Savarise’s output. Both had two goals and an assist.
Savarise had an opportunity to score a hat-trick, but passed up a couple of shooting chances, instead trying to get teammates in the goal scoring column in the third period.
“He (Savarise) is a tremendous player and a great asset to our team,” Schoepflin said. “I think the biggest thing is his 200-foot game. He is so responsible in the defensive end, on face-offs and is just a good teammate.”
Ralston Valley goalie Blake Hart picked up his third victory in net this season making 15 saves on the night and getting the Mustangs’ record to .500 before the winter break.
“I think the different going into the second half of the season 3-3 instead of 2-4 is a huge difference,” Schoepflin said. “It’s nice to have that good feeling coming off of a win. It’s a good way going into break.”
No one can say Ralston Valley or Columbine have had an easy schedule so far. Coming into Friday’s game all three of Ralston Valley’s losses — Chaparral, Cherry Creek and Fort Collins — were against teams ranked in the top-10 of the CHSAANow.com hockey poll.
Columbine has been in the same boat. The Rebels’ previous four losses — Denver East, Dakota Ridge, Mountain Vista and Chaparral — were also all against top-10 squads.
The Mustangs and Rebels both have a two-week break before their next game action. Columbine hosts Mullen at The Edge on Friday, Jan. 4.
Ralston Valley heads to Loveland to face Resurrection Christian on Saturday, Jan. 5. The Mustangs are trying to bounce back after their roughest season in the program’s history. Ralston Valley went 3-16-1 last season.
“Last year was obviously a tough year,” Schoepflin said. “I think there is tremendous potential with this group. I’m excited that we keep getting a little bit better and a little bit better every time out.”