Coming off its first championship last season — and the program’s fifth straight title appearance — the Monarch hockey team has every reason to be confident about the prospects of a repeat.
The No. 3 Coyotes (7-0) returned 14 contributors and are averaging an eye-popping 7.14 goals per game behind an offense paced by seniors Connor Akerson and Leo Felt.
But Monarch, all-too-familiar with hockey heartbreak following four straight runner-up finishes from 2013-16, realizes nothing is guaranteed in a top-heavy prep landscape.
“The year before last was the best team I’ve ever had — we went undefeated all season, it just wasn’t our day in the final,” Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter said of the 6-1 loss in 2016. “I think we would’ve beaten Regis most of the time that year, but that’s the thing with one-game elimination — it’s a piece of rubber on the ice and if you run into a hot goalie or don’t have your best day, that could be it.”
And despite lopsided box scores to open the winter, a narrow 4-3 win over No. 6 Dakota Ridge to send the Coyotes into the winter break undefeated highlighted the program’s deficiency: discipline on and off the ice.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit with academics the last couple games,” Dexter explained. “Against Denver East, I actually sat nine kids because of grades, and we also took some really stupid penalties — we were down for seven minutes in that game. We do that against Regis or Valor, we’re not going to come out on top.”
Second-half battles versus No. 1 Regis Jesuit — first at the Sports Stable on Jan. 27, then at Family Sports Center on Feb. 9 — are followed by another road test against No. 2 Valor Christian on Feb. 10.
All three games will likely reveal whether Monarch is ready to defend its title March 6 at the Pepsi Center.
“We have some momentum, but we’re also trying to write our own story aside from last year,” Akerson said. “In addition to the veterans, we also have a bunch of new faces, so we have to figure out our identity as this team, too, especially as we get into some tough games on the back end of the schedule.”
A defense headed by senior Yuta Young and goalie Reese Kelly will help stabilize the Coyotes, who are in action next on Jan. 5 against Denver East.
“We have a really motivated group of kids,” Dexter said. “After the disappointment in the years past, now that they’ve won the title, they want to get it again.”