In less than a year, the Doherty ice hockey team completed a 180-degree turnaround. The team went from winless in 2017-18, to undefeated heading into the final week of the regular season — and it’s all thanks to a culture change put in place by returning coach Will English.
English was at the helm of the Doherty ice hockey program for five years before stepping away recently. But when he announced his return to the Spartans this summer, players said they could feel the change immediately.
“We started to feel it as soon as we heard (English) was coming back,” forward Jordan Cornelison said. “All the boys got excited because we all knew what he was about and we knew what would happen to the team and the change in culture that he brought forth right away.”
English said his culture is built on the desire and willingness to win, which transcends into an expectation of victory.
“Last year we just didn't really have an identity. But this year we really brought forth that culture of being the hardest-working team on the ice,” Cornelison said. “That’s really been the biggest change, and we brought in a couple of young guys who gave us some more depth.”
English said the team has always had the talent to be successful, but the program was lacking the winning culture to produce results.
“The last two years I watched and I saw the skill they had,” English said. “So when I came in I said we have to want to be at the top.”
“One of the biggest things from last year to this year has been commitment, that has made a big difference coming into the year,” said defenseman Tanner Chapman. “Everybody is committed to go out on the ice and compete their best, and last year that was a real struggle.”
And once that commitment was there, it didn’t take long for the results to show.
The Spartans started their season outscoring their first six opponents 34-7 before a game Chapman said signaled that this season was something special — a 3-3 tie against Aspen at the World Arena.
“Usually Aspen is a really tough opponent for us,” Chapman said. “They’re always up in the top-10 RPI every year, so for us to be in that game and come out of that with a tie was a big deal for us.”
Since then, Doherty has won nine straight including a 6-2 win over Cheyenne Mountain on Friday.
The second-highest scoring team in the state with 101 total goals - averaging more than six goals per game - it’s clear Doherty has found its offensive rhythm. But the defense has allowed just 26 goals this season, second only to Valor Christian, which has allowed just 24 through 16 games. Goalie Eric Bucholz has a .933 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average in more than 700 minutes.
“Bringing everyone together as one is just icing on the cake, really,” Cornelison said. “Last year we struggled defensively mostly and having that defensive anchor this year really allows us to play more confidently.”
English said: “For us, our defensive core has been a highlight of our team. They’ve been so strong and we’re proud of them. We’re playing as a five-man unit in the defensive zone and our goaltender Eric, who has played a majority of our games, is standing on his head and making the saves we need.”
The Spartans have three more challenges in the regular season before heading to the playoffs. Coming soon are Coronado, Columbine, and the highly anticipated game against Pine Creek next Thursday — the No. 1 scoring offense in the state.