State hockey: Fort Collins tops Chaparral to advance to state title game

DENVER — Tanner Marsh had no desire to wait around for history to happen. He was determined to make it and it was clear from the very minute the puck dropped in the second hockey Frozen Four game at Pepsi Center.

It took less than three minutes for him smoothly glide past Chaparral goalie Joseph Holguin and get the Lambkins on the board. They controlled the game the rest of way and got a 3-2 win to advance to the first state championship game in program history.

"We knew we had to get a good start," Marsh said. "We got off to a good start against them earlier in the year but we let off so we knew we had to keep the momentum going."

The Lambkins will meet Valor Christian on Tuesday night at Pepsi Center. The Eagles also advanced to the state title game with a 2-1 win over Regis Jesuit earlier in the night.

Nearly 11 minutes after Marsh got his team on the board, Jason Campos buried a shot of a rebound to push the lead to 2-0. Nolan Williamson scored early in the second to make it a 3-0 game a give the Lambkins a feeling that something special was about to happen, but it still wasn't going to come as easily as they'd like.

"We knew it was going to be close," Marsh said. "We knew it was going to be a one-goal game for sure. It wasn't going to be a blowout."

Fort Collins Chaparral hockey

More photos. (PaulDiSalvoPhotography.com)

Williamson followed up his goal with a slashing penalty late in the period and the Wolverines took advantage as Blake Johnson hovered around the net as the puck danced loose in front of Fort Collin goalie Sam Simon.

Johnson slammed the puck into the net to give Chaparral its first goal of the game and a bit of momentum heading into the third period.

But Fort Collins wasn't going to allow a comeback to happen. The Lambkins had dropped a 3-2 game to Chaparral earlier in the season so surrendering a three-goal lead in the state semifinals was not an option.

"One of the things we talked about before this game is that it's not a mistake that we're playing in this game," Fort Collins coach Dylan Strom said. "We battled all season to get to this point."

Fort Collins' regular season loss to Chaparral was followed up with a 4-2 loss to Valor Christian, the very team that the Lambkins will play for the state title.  

That stretch of games near the end of the regular season resulted in three losses out of four contests. But heading into Tuesday's state championship clash, it was a stretch that Strom hopes will pay dividends. 

"We had a lull when we were playing Valor and Chaparral and Regis," he said. "Facing that adversity and those things that we were going through, those have been keys to our success."

The puck drops for the state championship game at 7:30 p.m. at Pepsi Center. Tickets can be purchased through the Colorado Avalanche.

Fort Collins Chaparral hockey

More photos. (PaulDiSalvoPhotography.com)