No. 1 no more.
Fort Collins’ hopes of finishing the season unbeaten came to end last week, and so did its run atop the Colorado high school hockey rankings by SportsEngine following a crushing 3-2 defeat to Chaparral on Feb. 8.
The Lambkins will have to regroup, and do so fast fast, if they hope to avoid adding another blemish to their record and falling farther down the rankings, where they are now at No. 3. That's because on Friday they lock horns with a Valor Christian squad that has trampled 11 of its last 12 opponents in a matchup that is easily our Top Game of the Week.
Last Saturday's game against No. 6 Chaparral saw Fort Collins seemingly take control early in the second period with goals from Nolan Williamson and Jesse Corser-James. They gave the Lambkins (13-1-1, 7-0-1) a 2-0 lead that held until the Wolverines pounced with help from Jackson Mundell and JT Waufle. Mundell and John Connolly picked up assists on Noah Younkin's shot that cut the deficit in half with 5 minutes, 30 seconds to play before the second intermission. Nearly five minutes later, Waufle set up Dillon Leonard for the equalizer. The game remained tied until Waufle got his second — and most important — assist of the game, this time it came on Jackson Mundell’s eventual game-winner goal midway through the third and put a dagger into Fort Collins’ unbeaten run.
The Lambkins can't afford to look back and wonder, not with Valor Christian ahead, and the second in a string of four straight games against opponents with winning records for Fort Collins. The squad has the Pinnacle Conference all but wrapped up, but it’s important for players such as Nolan Devine, with a team-best 23 assists, and Tanner Marsh, whose 16 goals leads the team, to finish strong before the playoffs.
Valor Christian is soaring after extending its undefeated run to 12 games, a streak punctuated by the team's biggest victory of the season. The No. 4 Eagles (11-2-1, 6-2-1) defeated Foothills Conference rival and No. 7-ranked Regis Jesuit 3-2 thanks to a fast start. Evan Pahos, Mason Hoehn and Caleb Pallo propelled Valor Christian to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period. And with goalie Trey Hirschfield, who has a 1.18 goals-against average, in net, the Eagles' lead was enough to secure the win and move into first place in the conference standings. The Eagles haven’t lost since Dec. 7, and are riding a five-game winning streak since they tied Regis Jesuit 2-2 on Jan. 24 — their first meeting of the year.
Friday's showdown should be all about the D, as both teams are stifling on defense. Valor Christian has allowed fewer than three goals in all but one game, while the three goals allowed by Fort Collins last weekend was the most it had given up since Jan. 11.