Pine Creek's Colorado Prep Hockey League regular-season schedule concludes Saturday night with a matchup against Valor Christian — three weeks before most other teams are set to finish tuning up for the postseason. Eagles coach Ed Saxer said he and his team are ready for a break.
It's been a bumpy road for Pine Creek (3-8-0, 3-5-0) this fall after the Eagles reached the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) state tournament quarterfinals before falling 3-0 to eventual state champion Valor Christian last spring. Injuries, illness, COVID-19-related issues, and the loss of a talented senior class have made this fall an intense challenge.
At Pine Creek, Saxer said none of his players have contracted COVID-19, but many have been forced into quarantine. Throw in a broken bone or two, and the Eagles have played most games with nine to 14 players.
"Usually, we have players and parents who complain about ice time, as in they're not getting enough time," Saxer said. "Now we get complaints, but it's about too much time."
The whole situation has made for some lopsided affairs, such as a 19-1 loss to Ralston Valley on Oct. 17.
Junior goalie Stratton Miller played the entire game because he had no relief. It was the kind of situation that can damage the confidence of a player or team. Saxer said he does his best to keep his team's focus on the little victories and on the effort. Miller has a 1-4 record and a 7.61 goals-against average (GAA), but Saxer said the junior has not been discouraged.
"He has a great short-term memory," Saxer said. "It's like a relief pitcher who gives up a big home run. He's back out there the next time like nothing happened. I don't think his pulse went up or down the entire game."
Freshman goaltender Logan Hunter is 2-3 with a 5.27 GAA. Senior Brett Zahn leads the team offensively with seven goals and an assist, and has played in all 10 games, which makes him a bit of an anomaly.
Saxer said the Eagles might play again before the league playoffs, but only if another team calls looking to fill a hole in a schedule. He, like his players, has been worn down by a difficult season. Saxer said his team needs a chance to recharge for the CHSAA season, where the road won't get any easier. Pine Creek, which had 28 players at tryouts, will compete at the 5A level this year in part because of the school's success the previous two seasons.
"It's been a constant struggle," Saxer said.
Valor Christian (6-1-1, 3-1-1), meanwhile, glided from its CHSAA state championship season into this fall's CPHL campaign with another strong roster led by forwards Evan Pahos and Jack Majewski, and the goaltending duo of Jace Ruth and Cooper Robinson.
Pahos had a goal and an assist in Valor Christian's 3-2 defeat of Regis Jesuit on Oct. 31, which is the last time Pahos' Eagles played. The forward is his team's top points producer this season with seven goals and four assists.