Valor Christian beats Fort Collins in five-overtime thriller, 1-0 – The Denver Post
George Gwozdecky took over the Valor Christian hockey program in 2015 intent on turning a lowly three-win team into a Colorado high school powerhouse.
Five years later, Gwozdecky, the former longtime University of Denver coach and winner of consecutive NCAA titles (2004-05), has fulfilled his mission and added a new line to his long coaching resume: 2020 CHSAA hockey state champion.
“From a few years ago when hockey was unofficially dropped from Valor, to the point where now we just won a state title, I’m really proud of these kids,” Gwozdecky said. “It’s great to be able to bring a trophy like that back to the school.”
No. 1 Valor Christian defeated No. 3 Fort Collins 1-0 on a goal by forward Evan Pahos in a five-overtime thriller for the state championship Tuesday night at Pepsi Center. It was an especially tough result for losing goaltender Sam Simon, who had a remarkable 84 saves on the night.
Call it sweet redemption for an Eagles team that lost in the state final just two years ago. The Valor hockey program (20-2-1) now joins the school’s growing list of athletic high achievers.
The title game was a clinic on goaltending excellence from both schools, going scoreless through regulation and four eight-minute sudden death periods. Simon faced an onslaught of Valor offense and couldn’t be beaten. Even his opposing goaltender, Valor senior Trey Hirschfield, gave due respect to Simon. Hirschfield said: “That was one of the best games I’ve ever seen a goalie play.”
Hirschfield was equally impressive, but faced far less pressure, making 36 saves in a shutout win. Valor failed on five power-play chances and the Lambkins did not convert two opportunities. And, as the game drug into a third hour, players were visibly gassed on the ice.
“Gatorades, oranges and things like that, we ran out of that after the first overtime,” Gwozdecky said. “The biggest concern was if we had enough to keep going. You’re starting to cut your shifts shorter and even the guys on the ice are starting to pace themselves. The game really slowed down. But it was just a matter of time before someone was going to make an error and take advantage of it.”
Added Pahos: “Some of the guys were cramping up and we had a lot of blade replacements; some of them broke and some of them lost their edges. It was really draining on us. We’re all just so relieved to finally be done. It took everything out of us.”
The dam finally broke at the 2:12 mark of the fifth overtime, switched to four-on-four play, when Pahos snuck the puck past Simon’s left leg pad unassisted for the winner. Pahos celebrated by immediately throwing his gloves and stick into the air before getting mobbed by teammates on the ice.
For Gwozdecky, that championship feeling never gets old.
“It’s always fun to see the kids — whether they’re in high school, college or the pros — celebrate and feel good about their success,” Gwozdecky said. “I’m really proud of these guys.”
— Colorado HS Hockey (@ColoHSHockey) March 11, 2020