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Regis Jesuit rides stellar performance by freshman goalie Easton Sparks to beat fellow behemoth Valor Christian in Class 5A title

Correction (March 6, 2024, 10:57 a.m.): Due to a reporting error, this story incorrectly stated that video replays showed a shot in the second period that officials ruled was not a goal had gone into the goal. The puck actually hit the post and never crossed over into the goal. The Post regrets this error.

Led by a freshman goalie who stood on his head, Regis Jesuit won its seventh hockey title on Tuesday at Magness Arena by outlasting fellow powerhouse Valor Christian in a 3-1 thriller.

The Raiders used a brick wall performance by goalie Easton Sparks to claim the championship, in conjunction with a second-period goal by senior Reece Peterson and then two empty-net lamp-lighters in the final minute to dethrone the defending champion Eagles.

Sparks stymied the Eagles with 23 saves, including three on one-on-one breakaways and another on a stuffed penalty shot in the opening period. The freshman was sensational in all aspects, and his play was the clear difference in the game.

“He stood on his head all season,” Regis Jesuit’s Reece Peterson said. “Freshman, coming into the biggest game of his life, and he played amazing. He played like a legend.”

Counting Tuesday, either Valor Christian or Regis Jesuit has appeared in the last nine Class 5A/unclassified state title games and combined to win seven of them. The two hockey behemoths met twice earlier this season, with Valor Christian winning 4-1 on Jan. 19 and Regis Jesuit retaliating with a 3-1 victory on Feb. 3.

In the championship rubber-match, the teams played to a scoreless draw in the first period as Sparks and Valor Christian senior goalie Trudeaux Coffey both turned away a number of promising chances.

Sparks’ denial on sophomore Maddux Charles’ penalty shot was an early omen of the goalie’s game-changing performance. After stopping the puck, Sparks got up, skated over to the raucous Regis Jesuit student section, threw his hands in the air and roared.

“I knew that was a big moment in the game, because I knew it was going to be a close game,” Sparks said. “I don’t even know what I was thinking as (Charles approached) — my mind just went blank. It was sort of like that all game. They had a couple more breakaways in the second, and I kept stopping them.”

Peterson got Regis Jesuit on the board with a wrister through Coffey’s five-hole on a breakaway a little over a minute into the second period. Then, about 45 seconds later, he appeared to give the Raiders a commanding 2-0 lead with another goal, but the shot hit the post and the official ruled it was not a goal.

“We focused on the fact that we were getting the chances,” Regis Jesuit head coach Terence Ott said. “It would’ve been nice to bury that one, and we had a couple other odd-man rushes in that period where we elected not to pass the puck and we tried to make a move with it. But we built on the positive of that moment and that we were creating momentum.”

In a tense 1-0 game in the third, Sparks continued to come up clutch, and the Eagles pinged a shot off the crossbar just as they had done in the second period.

“(Sparks) plays with such calm, it really resonates with the team,” Ott said. “He doesn’t get rattled back there. And he’s athletic. He’s not blessed with the size, but what a super performance, and he kept it going (in the third).”

Valor Christian pulled Coffey with 1:20 to play, and the last minute was firework-filled.

Raiders junior Parker Brinner scored on the empty net with 57 seconds left, but Valor Christian finally broke the shutout with 19 seconds to play on senior Brock Benson’s top-shelf shot to cut the score to 2-1. But Regis Jesuit held on in the final seconds, and Ian Beck’s breakaway slap-shot on the empty net with with one second left was the exclamation on the Raiders’ revenge.

“Last year, we played Valor four times and lost every single game (including the semifinals) by one goal,” Peterson said. “So winning tonight, this is the perfect cap to my high school career. They gave us a great game, but I’m so happy this win came against them.”

Ott, in his second year as the Raiders’ head coach after serving the previous 17 seasons as an assistant, said his team — led by seven seniors — “did a great job of re-establishing the hockey culture that we want to have at Regis Jesuit.” The Raiders’ last title came in 2019, when they went back-to-back after beating Valor Christian in the championship the year prior.

“You win six championships, you’ve gone to 14 straight Frozen Fours (before a loss to Fort Collins in the 2022 quarterfinals) — you kind of start resting on the laurels of the men who came before you,” Ott said. “And we got away from being a team and doing the work you need to do to be a champion. This group got us back to where we needed to be.”

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