MONUMENT - Injuries are a normal part of the game in hockey. But the Lewis-Palmer High School squad has dealt with more than its fair share this season.
“I’ve never had so many injuries,” said Rangers coach Steve Fillo. “It made it a challenge for me and the players. I had to ask so many kids to change positions. We had to rely on benchwarmers getting a lot of time.
“But I’m pleasantly surprised. I think we’ve battled through it and we’re starting to play a lot better as a team. And I think this will make us a stronger team next year.”
Lewis-Palmer split a pair of games over the weekend, defeating Pueblo County, 3-0, on Feb. 1, and losing to Mountain Vista, 3-2, in overtime on Feb. 2. The Rangers are 7-6-1 overall, 5-3-1 in the Peak Conference.
Lewis-Palmer’s dominance on the ice is well documented. Since becoming a program in 2006, Fillo’s teams have advanced to at least the Elite Eight each season. The Rangers made four consecutive Frozen Fours, including winning back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011.
But Fillo never had to deal with so many injuries before this season. The list includes losing forward D.J.
Jones (second line center) and Terrance Cavanaugh (third line wing) to season-ending ACL injuries, defenseman Gage Johnson to concussion symptoms for four weeks, and Casey McMullin - the team leader in assists - to Migraine headaches for practices and games.
In addition, Taylor Hill began the season with an injured wrist and was forced to wear a soft cast until January.
“D.J. was the best athlete on that line,” Fillo said.
Fillo reshuffled his second line, moving junior defenseman cam Fraser into Jones’ spot.
“When I first got changed I felt lost as a forward,” said Fraser, who scored the Rangers’ first goal last Saturday against Mountain Vista. “But now that I’ve done it a few games I like it a lot more than defense.”
Fillo has been more than pleasantly impressed with how well Fraser has responded.
“He’s a smart kid,” Fillo said. “He’s book smart and he has good hockey sense. He can understand things. He can see the big picture.”
Senior defenseman and team captain Matt Prudhomme has taken things in stride as the Rangers have worked through the aches and pains.
“I look at it as adversity,” said Prudhomme, who also doubles as the school’s Student Body president. “The only way to face adversity is to keep pushing through.
“We’re definitely figuring things out. Working out the kinks.”
Prudhomme, who scored an unassisted power play goal against Mountain Vista, is supported by three alternate captains - juniors Julian Claudio, Adam Schaefer and McMullin.
“We’ve shown a lot of character,” said Claudio, the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals. “We’ve had to switch some lines around and make some other adjustments on defense, but we’re putting things together.”
Claudio and McMullin have formed a dynamic duo on the first line. McMullin has a team-leading 10 assists and seven goals.
“We’ve been playing hockey together since Bantam Double-A and club,” Claudio said. “We both have a lot of speed. He’s a really great scorer, but he’s really good at getting in the right spot and making great passes.”
The Rangers played Doherty on Monday (results of that game were not available at press game) and finish the season with four more conference games. The top eight teams in the Peak Conference and Foothills Conference advance to the state playoffs later this month.
“Our goal is to make it at least to the Final Four,” Prudhomme said.
“We have the talent. We just have to have the desire to get there. Anything can happen once you get there.”