The wait is over. Durango High School’s club hockey team will finally get to hang a championship banner inside Chapman Hill Ice Rink.
One day after the Demons were decorated with end-of-year awards, Durango worked its way back to the championship game of the Rio Grande Hockey League that is made up of teams from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The Demons had lost 2-0 in the semifinals to rival Telluride on Saturday at the Chavez Center in Santa Fe. Luckily, it was a double-elimination tournament, and Durango would get another chance to play Sunday.
Durango raced past the Albuquerque Bulls for a 3-0 win Sunday morning to get into the championship game with a rematch against Telluride. With goals from senior Everett Howland, freshman Zac Wentworth and sophomore Luke Petranek paired with 33 stellar saves from freshman goalie Hunter Houle, the Demons won 3-0 to claim the league championship.
“It’s so great for Durango and the hockey community,” said DHS senior captain Braden Lyons, who was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. “We’ve been close so many times, and to finally win it with this group, it’s really special. It was the perfect parting gift for the four seniors, and we’ve been with the program for awhile. The underclassmen really were incredible this year, and they grew so much over the course of the season. We’re so proud to bring back a tri-state banner, a trophy, and it’s something that I think is only going to help Durango hockey become even bigger.”
Durango finished the season 20-4-2. As the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, the Demons were hopeful to reach the championship game after they had placed second in 2017 and 2018, but it was a long road after a 5-2 win Friday against Los Alamos in the first round. Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Telluride came despite the Demons have an advantage in shots. Howland had missed a rare penalty-shot opportunity, and Durango could not find the net on four other breakaway chances.
“Even after the loss, I wasn’t that worried because I thought we were good enough to win the playback semifinal game,” said DHS head coach Brian Ensign, who was named the league’s coach of the year. “We looked fresh (Sunday) morning, and that set another game against Telluride. We played them close all year, and I thought we could pull it off.”
Before the final game, Lyons noticed the team’s demeanor was much more relaxed.
“In the second-round game, we played so uptight and for some reason we were really nervous,” Lyons said. “Right before puck drop in the locker room, we were having so much fun. We were dancing and singing, and it was so much more relaxed. That’s how we played. We had fun on the ice, and after the second period, we were talking about how much of a difference that was making. Telluride wasn’t getting too good of looks, and we kept it up on both ends of the ice.”
After a scoreless first period, Howland got the Demons on the board midway through the second period to take a 1-0 lead against the Miners (20-3-2). Lyons won a face-off, and Howland got a quick shot off that whizzed past the goalie into the left corner of the net before the goalie could even get his glove up.
In the third period, Lyons made a pass that was intercepted in the middle of the ice. But Wentworth poked the puck away from the Telluride player and skated into the zone with the Telluride player hot on his heels. Wentworth ripped a shot into the top right corner of the net to make it 2-0.
“That was an amazing moment because I knew I didn’t have much time to shoot,” Wentworth said. “We were just trying to hang onto that 1-0 lead, but the kid swooped across the middle, I poked it away from him and was in. It was a big goal, but we knew they’d throw more pressure at us.”
Telluride tried to get back into the game, but Houle, the freshman goaltender, and the Durango defensemen stood firm and did not give up any second-chance opportunities.
“We knew we had to keep going even we after we got up 2-0 because Telluride kept pushing, but so did we,” Ensign said.
Petranek added Durango’s third goal by being aggressive late in the game. After a rush into the zone, the puck came around the boards back to him. He got a shot off just before he was checked, and the puck found the back of the net.
On top of the league championship, Durango swept the awards categories. Along with the honors for Lyons and Ensign, defensive player of the year went to Joe Arnwine, and Nathan Howland earned the “Great Wall” trophy as the league’s best goaltender. Nathan Howland went 13-2-3 in net with three shutouts with 1.86 goals allowed per game during the season. Houle also proved large in the championship game and finished the year with a 5-1-0 record with three shutouts of his own.
Lyons finished with 27 goals and 21 assists for a team-high in points. Wentworth scored 32 goals and had 13 assists, while Everett Howland wrapped up his high school career with 16 goals and 18 assists his senior season.
“You couldn’t end a season better than this team has,” Ensign said. “There were a lot of individual accolades and awards, a great regular season, too. To be where we are, which is what we expected, but to win it against a team that was potentially favored because they beat us before, it was really special.”