DENVER — Dakota Ridge has punched its ticket to the program’s first hockey state championship game.
“I had all the confidence in the world,” said Dakota Ridge senior Drew Eickelman after the Eagles’ 5-1 state semifinal upset victory over No. 2-seeded Valor Christian on Friday night at Pepsi Center. “The last couple of games we’ve been playing really strong as a team.”
Eickelman ended up with a hat-trick to lead Dakota Ridge to the victory against Valor, a team that defeated Dakota Ridge 6-0 in a regular-season meeting.
“I had so much faith and belief in these young men,” Dakota Ridge coach Jeff Towle said of his Eagles (15-5-2 record). “We aren’t going to win every game, but we are going to win that last game. They are starting to believe that.”
The Eagles has one pervious appearance to the Frozen Four back in 2015.
No. 6 Dakota Ridge faces top-seed and defending state champion Regis Jesuit (21-1) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Monday, March 4, at Pepsi Center. The Raiders defeated Chaparral 4-0 in the first semifinal Friday night.
“It’s super exciting, but we aren’t going to stop working,” said Eickelman, who had a hand in all five of Dakota Ridge’s scores with three goals and a pair of assists. “We are going to stay hungry and get ready for Monday.”
Putting the puck into the back of the net hasn’t been a problem for Dakota Ridge hockey during the postseason. The score bonanza continued Friday night against last year’s state runner-up Valor.
Dakota Ridge came into the state semifinal against Valor having scored 17 goals in victories over Pine Creek and Fort Collins. Valor hadn’t given up a goal in its pervious two playoff games.
“It definitely helps our confidence when we can put the puck in the net,” said Dakota Ridge goalie Riley Allen, who finished with 25 saves. “If I lock it down in the back we can all really work as a team.”
It all started in the first period with Dakota Ridge scoring three unanswered goals in the final nine minutes of the first period to take a 3-1 lead. Eickelman was the catalyst scoring goals with 8:57 and 6:22 left in the period to give Dakota Ridge a 2-1 goal.
Eickelman set up the third goal that came with 1.3 seconds left in the period. Forward Parker Spaan one-timed a pass from Eickelman to send Dakota Ridge’s student section into a frenzy going into the first intermission.
“That was super exciting,” Eickelman said of the three goal in the final nine minutes of the first period. “We capitalized on our chances. It was a great team effort in those nine minutes.”
The hat-trick for Eickelman came with just more than a minute left in the second period. Eickelman’s twin brother Jake and Graham Mansfield assisted on the hardworking goal that Drew was able to shovel past Valor goalie Jack Kuzia to put Dakota Ridge up 4-1 heading to the final period.
Spaan added an empty-net goal in the final minute to cap off the 5-1 victory.