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Battle Mountain hockey ready to roll in Class 4A

New classifications a long time coming

Battle Mountain hockey will be punching at its own weight this season as Colorado high school hockey will have two divisions, splitting up big schools like Cherry Creek and Monarch and smaller ones like the Huskies and their counterparts. (Daily file photo)

The biggest development for Battle Mountain hockey as it approaches its opener against Steamboat Springs on Jan. 30 at Dobson Ice Arena in Vail has absolutely nothing to do with COVID-19.

Isn’t that refreshing?

Before a mask became an everyday piece of clothing, before we had ever heard of social distancing and before hand cleanser became a way of life, CHSAA had finally split up Colorado high school hockey.



Hallelujah.

Dating back to its founding as an official sport, hockey has had only one classification for the sport, meaning that small schools like Battle Mountain, Steamboat Springs, Aspen and Summit played for a state title against all comers including huge schools like Cherry Creek, Standley Lake, Ralston Valley and so on.



Not surprisingly, as more schools and bigger ones have joined the fray, Battle Mountain, aka Team United Nations with players from high schools all over the valley, has competed well against its counterparts and made the playoffs before running into a brick wall in the playoffs against bigger schools.

With 36 schools in the state now fielding hockey teams — Battle Mountain was the 17th to join back during the 2001-02 season — CHSAA has enough teams for two classifications and Battle Mountain has dropped down to the new 4A division. The Huskies will — in a novel concept — play schools their own size for the foreseeable future.

“The shift is good for hockey,” Huskies coach Derek Byron said. “It brings a lot more parity and more opportunities for our kids. It’s going to produce great hockey at both levels.”

We weren’t kidding

A glance at the record book illustrates why Battle Mountain is so thrilled to be playing 4A hockey. Would-be 5A teams have won the unified state title for 13 straight years dating back to 2008. Regis has six titles. Cherry Creek, Ralston Valley and Lewis-Palmer have two banners each and Monarch raised the trophy in 2017.

Aspen was the last now-4A team to win the title back in 2007.

What’s more, during the past 10 seasons dating back to 2011, 39 of the 40 Frozen Four participants have been 5A schools. Fountain Valley (2011) in Colorado Springs is the one exception and has since dropped the sport.

It’s not only that Cherry Creek, Regis and the others have bigger student bodies than Battle Mountain and other small schools. The big schools not only double-roster — the practice of keeping a high school team together not only for the CHSAA season, but maintaining those 20 players or so on the same club team in the fall to get in more practice and games than allowed — but also attract players from schools who do not have hockey programs in metro areas like Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs.

When Battle Mountain joined CHSAA hockey, the Huskies were immediately competitive on the state level. The Huskies made the Frozen Four five straight seasons from 2002-06 and in 2008. Some kid named Derek Byron scored the game-winner in overtime in 2006 against Palmer to send the Huskies to the Frozen Four.

Battle Mountain made the finals in 2002, 2005 and 2008, and lost heartbreakers to Cheyenne Mountain, Air Academy and Regis, respectively.

Meet the team

With split divisions, the Huskies hope to find themselves back on the Front Range come the Frozen Four. Not that anyone would have looked, but Summit was the top-ranked 4A team in the rating-percentage index (RPI) last season in 13th with Battle Mountain No. 14 overall and second among 4A teams.

The Huskies like their chances in this new format. Battle Mountain was 11-8-2 last season. Of those eight losses, six came to now-5A schools.

Battle Mountain returns goalie Logan Gremmer and most of the blueline crew, headed by Jack Estabrooks and Kyler Hill. The big challenge will be scoring goals, a strange thing to say for a program whose history was built on prolific offense.

Forward Jensen Rawlings is wearing the C this season and is expected to be part of the evolving offense along with returnee Kyle Parliament and other names we will get to know as the season starts.

In what will be a theme for every preview of any sports team, a quick start is important. In hockey, the way the schedule sets up it’s even more vital. While all 12 games on the slate are among traditional conference foes: two against Crested Butte, Glenwood and Summit; three against Aspen and Steamboat.

But only five of those 12 games are designated league games. The season starts with the league games against Steamboat, Summit (Feb. 5) and Glenwood (Feb. 6) — all at Dobson — during the first week, even though everybody plays again later in nonconference tilts.

Battle Mountain plays at Aspen Feb. 20 and heads to Crested Butte on March 5-6 with the first contest rounding out Mountain Conference action.

With only four playoff spots available and three conference champions (North, South and Mountain) automatically getting berths, only one wild card via RPI is available for the the team that does not win its circuit. Anticipate a mad scramble.

“It’s a dead sprint,” Byron said.


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