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Luke Wheeler looked anxious on the Valor Christian bench during the Eagles' state championship hockey game against Regis Jesuit on March 6 at the Pepsi Center.
Wheeler was wearing his helmet but he also had donned a suit and tie, and his arm was in a sling. The state's leading scorer suffered a dislocated shoulder in the closing minutes of the Eagles' 4-0 semifinal victory over Monarch.
He was forced to watch from behind the players' bench as undefeated Regis blanked the Eagles, 2-0, in the state championship game played in front of a crowd of 3,561.
“Having the state's leading scorer out of our lineup was obviously a challenge that we failed to overcome,” said Valor coach George Gwozdecky.
Wheeler, the senior team captain who resides in Golden, looked a little like a young coach standing behind the players in the Valor bench area during the game and he definitely sounded like a coach after the contest.
“There is always disappointment, but we had the best year our program's ever had and we are proud of where we went,” said Wheeler, who had 30 goals and 26 assists for 56 points in the season. “It wasn't our worst game but it wasn't our best game. There were things we could have done better but so could have Regis. There were just a couple mistakes they capitalized on.
“We are not done. We are going to nationals and hoping we can do pretty good there. I'm not 100 percent sure if I will be able to play. I've heard all kinds of stuff from two weeks to eight weeks and everything in between.”
Valor finished the season with a 20-3-0 record and the state runner-up trophy.
“Although the outcome was disappointing, it was a great experience for our team, the Valor hockey program and high school hockey,” said Gwozdecky. “I am assuming the announced attendance was an all-time high for a state championship game, which is more evidence that high school hockey continues to grow.
“We will take a week off to heal bruises, decompress and then begin preparing for the USA Hockey High School National Championships.”
Valor earned the invitation to play in the national championships that will be held March 22-26 in Minneapolis by topping Regis, 6-5, in the Colorado Prep Hockey League championship game last fall.
In the CHSAA title game, Valor's special teams didn't fare well and the Regis defense limited the Eagles to a season-low 11 shots on goal. Regis finished with 16 shots on goal.
The Eagles were awarded the first power play of the game in the first period, but Connor Kilkenny of Regis scored on a shorthanded breakaway at 12:16 before Valor had a chance to set up its power play. Then at 6:20 of the second period, Kale Lone gave Regis a 2-0 lead with a power play goal.
Regis ended the season at 23-0-0 and the school's fifth state championship. Valor has gone 46-16-2 in the past three seasons under Gwozdecky, the former University of Denver coach.
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