Thursday’s game way a big one, no way around it.
The area’s two best hockey teams, Doherty and Pine Creek, were on a collision course, and the timing heightened the drama. It was Senior Night for the Spartans. There was a potential eighth seed and first-round bye on the line, as Pine Creek sat ninth in the RPI and Doherty, 11th.
The importance wasn’t lost on the undefeated Spartans, one of the state’s biggest surprises after going winless in-league last season. This was a chance for a total turnaround.
“There was a lot riding on tonight,” coach Will English said. “There was a lot of talk among other coaches, families, players from other teams. There was a lot of hype, a lot of distraction.”
English, who said he’s guilty of overthinking, tries to keep calm to keep his players calm. The strategy apparently worked.
“We weren’t worried,” senior captain Jordan Cornelison said. “We knew what we were capable of.”
Doherty scored two each in the second and third periods to come from behind and beat Pine Creek 4-1 at Sertich Ice Center. Cornelison notched his sixth multigoal game of the season and fourth in six games. Max Gault, tied for the third-highest assist total in the state, finished with three. Both were honored in their final regular-season home game.
The Spartans managed to neutralize the state’s most potent offense and its leading scorer, Alexander Brooks (22 goals, 24 assists). It was the first time all season Brooks was held off the scoresheet.
In the final minutes of the first period, Pine Creek’s Andrew Santos was tripped up and Mitchell Cole got the Eagles on the board on the ensuing power play. The Spartans went into the first break down a goal, but English said there was no panic.
“First thing I said was, ‘Are we all right? Are we good?’ There wasn’t a lot to be said. There was no sense of getting them all riled up," he said.
The Spartans came out hot and Cornelison threw a shot on net that screened Garrett Newlin (27 saves) never saw to tie the game.
The game-winner was one Newlin probably wants back. He was cheating to his right and Tanner Chapman took advantage 43 seconds into a power play.
In the third period, Cornelison picked up the loose change in the crease for his second, and Nicolas Hernandez jumped on a rebound for the final score. Doherty (17-0-2, 10-0 Apex) never let up even as it put the game away. Eric Bucholz made 26 saves for the Spartans.
“We stuck to our guns and played to our identity,” Cornelison said.
Pine Creek (15-2-1, 8-1 Summit) still has a chance to end the regular season on a high note, as it finishes up at Colorado Academy on Friday.