Wyatt Cirbo (No. 21) and John Larchenko (No. 16) finished No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, in points tallied in the 2019-20 CSHAA season. All photos courtesy of John Larchenko and Denver East Hockey
Sometimes a little peer pressure can turn out to be a good thing.
John Larchenko was going into his senior year prepared to finish his prep hockey career at Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs. He was coming off a 25-point season for the esteemed boarding school.
But once the idea of returning home to play hockey in Denver crossed his mind, the wheels started spinning.
“The rink we play at, Big Bear, they were redoing the ice over there and we were all helping,” Larchenko said of an experience prior to last season.
Larchenko said Cirbo, and Matt McDonald, a player from Denver East, were at the arena and they worked to convince Larchenko to join Denver East.
"I wasn’t even thinking about that, I was just going to finish out at Fountain Valley," Larchenko said. "They got me thinking about it and that kind of led to me coming back.”
Cirbo was planning to skate with the Angels but had played for a club team previously, so he would also be a new addition to the team. Larchenko and Cirbo joining Denver East proved to be a fortuitous break prior to the start of last season.
The duo led the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) in goals, assists and points in the regular season, guiding the Angels to the No. 4 seed in the state tournament.
Larchenko led CHSAA all skaters with 33 goals and 58 points — six and nine more, respectively, than second place. Cirbo led the league with 38 assists — nine more than the competition — and was second to Larchenko in points with 49.
These weren’t empty stats, either. They helped a program in just its fifth year post a .818 win percentage and become a state title contender.
Larchenko, who originally hails from Chicago, fell in love with hockey while playing in a Mites league. His club team won a state title, and that's what really got him interested in the sport, he said.
Larchenko's older sister, Valentina, was a gifted center who played at the University of Denver. His younger brother, Alex, is a defenseman for Denver East.
When the family moved from Illinois to Denver, Larchenko latched on with the Colorado Evolution club team, which is where he and Cirbo became friends.
The duo helped their team to a second-place finish at the 2017 USA Hockey Tier I U14/U15 Nationals and Larchenko's prep career began to take off. He was with the Evolution through his freshman year before bouncing around at the club level, with stints at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a famed prep program located in Minnesota, a return to the Evolution, and then at Fountain Valley.
Larchenko is a formidable presence playing the center position at 6-foot-3 and 176 pounds.
As a seasoned forward used to competing against top national competition, Larchenko dominated his prep opponents, reeling off some eye-popping performances.
Larchenko, who attended Denver South but played for the Denver school district team, Denver East, poured in a season-high five goals in an 8-5 win against Aspen on Jan. 11. A personal-best seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) came in a 9-2 defeat of Chatfield on Feb. 19.
He scored in 16 of 22 total contests, tallying more than one goal in nine games and he had five hat tricks.
The accolades quickly poured in.
Larchenko was selected to the All-Highlands Conference first team after Denver East finished second in the league standings. He also received first team all-state honors.
Larchenko was one of 20 players — 10 of which were seniors —selected to represent Team Colorado at USA Hockey’s CCM National Invitation Tournament this spring in Plymouth, Minnesota, though the event was postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larchenko isn’t quite ready to hang up his skates but he's not pursuing a collegiate career. He’s off to the University of Colorado Boulder, where he plans to focus on academics and perhaps play for the school’s club team.
Denver East's Wyatt Cirbo led the CSHAA in 2019-2020 with 38 assists.
Cirbo played travel hockey for as long as he can remember, and spent several years with the Evolution and a year with the Colorado Rampage before ending up with Denver East.
A 6-foot 170-pound forward, Cirbo has long thrived against elite national competition.
But there was something about sticking close to home and playing for the Angels that spoke to him.
“It’s exciting to play in front of fans in that environment for your school — especially when your school’s doing well," Cirbo said. "It’s fun having that community behind you. That was definitely a big factor in me deciding to play high school for my senior year.”
Cirbo can be credited with an assist in attracting Larchenko to the team, and proceeded to set up his teammates on the ice throughout the season.
Cirbo recorded at least one assist in 17 of his 20 games played and had more than one helper in nine contests. He dished out five assists in a 6-2 win over Columbine on Dec. 21, five more in the Jan. 11 win at Aspen, and another five in a 10-3 victory over Dakota Ridge on Feb. 21.
He also knew where the back of the net was, as he piled up four multi-goal games — including a hat trick in a 9-1 defeat of Castle View in the first round of the state tournament on Feb. 28.
The Angels finished the season with an overall record of 18-4-0 after losing 4-2 to No. 5 seed Regis Jesuit in the second round of the state tournament — an improvement from being 14-5-1 the year prior.
Denver East's program, which formed in 2015, has quickly grown into one of the state’s best.
“There were a lot of great moments this year,” Cirbo said. “I think my favorite, we were up in Steamboat [Springs]. Their whole crowd was there chirping us the whole game. We won 8-2 and it was a lot of fun dealing with their crowd, scoring a lot of goals.”
Cirbo and Larchenko fit in right away with Denver East, despite jumping in as seniors.
“It wasn’t like we were newcomers,” Larchenko said. “These were kids we played with basically our whole lives. We played with these same kids all the time we’ve been in Denver. A lot of these kids played for Evolution, or surrounding Denver area teams where we just knew them.”
Cirbo is in the same position as Larchenko as far as his post-prep career planning goes. He’s also off to Boulder, where he’ll consider playing at the club level while focusing primarily on coursework.
They’re not sure if they’ll wind up as roommates or not. Whatever the housing situation may be, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to reflect on their ice time together as their accomplishments this past season helped elevate Denver East's program to being more competitive.
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