Chaparral hockey coach Ryan Finnefrock knows the value of having a good team captain.
He was a captain when he played for Ralston Valley over 10 years ago and now he has three captains on his Chap team, which is a squad composed of players from Chaparral, Legend and Ponderosa high schools.
“Leadership is the engine for the culture of our program,” said Finnefrock. “It makes us go. Good leaders will help control the engine at the right times and make it go at the right times. We cannot reach our goals without great leadership.”
This season, seniors Jackson Mundell, John Connolly and Landen Shay are the three Wolverine captains on a team ranked fourth in the CHSAANow.com 5A hockey rankings.
“They have been huge,” Finnefrock said about the captains. “They have had different roles for sure. This year it is going to be a bigger role for them in a leadership position. All three were key contributors for us last year. This year it is definitely a different role in terms of taking on the leadership.
“It is always a pleasure as a coach when your best players are also your best human beings. That is definitely these guys. These are three quality individuals who just happen to play hockey.”
Mundell attends Chaparral and stepped right in to his role as a captain.
“I was actually named captain in September for the fall season so I’ve had a couple months to get used to it,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about it at all. I’ve played with most of the players for years now. I know what they are about and they know what I am about. I know their strengths and weaknesses and I know about their personalities, so I am able to be comfortable around them.”
Connolly is a Legend student who was Chap’s leading scorer last season as a center but he has been moved to defense this year.
“I don’t think it was difficult for me to take the leadership role,” explained Connolly. “Even before that I had the letter (C) on my chest, I was pretty vocal with the guys. I was a little bit of a leader before and this bigger role is nice but it hasn’t been a challenge for me.
“I think there are two kinds of captains you can have. The one that just goes out and plays and you just watch him and he leads by example. I think I am more vocal and I can lead by example but definitely you need the personality to be a leader.”
Shay, who goes to Chaparral, is the team’s first four-year letterman and he is also currently playing for the Littleton Hockey Association’s U18 AA team.
“I am proud to be a captain and being here for four years it is something I feel I’ve grown into and I’ve learned a lot from past captains,” said Shay. “I feel like I am prepared for it.”
Chaparral has made it to the Frozen Four the past three years and hopes to go further in this season that has been shortened by the COVID pandemic.
“If we all work together and work towards a common goal, which is getting into the Frozen Four and winning the state championship, I think that will do it,” said Mundell.
Connolly pointed out the small things that could help the Wolverines this season.
“It’s going to be a lot of the little things, winning those little puck battles and each play by an inch because once you get down to the Final Four teams, they are all good,” he explained. “You have to do the little things better than the other team to win.”
Shay feels the team will need to battle.
“We have a really good group of guys and we all kind of mix well together even being from three different schools,” said Shay. “I definitely feel unity is going to play a big part with our team.
“We have the talent and skill to go all the way but we have to trust we are going to build from each other. We have to battle through good days and bad days. I expect Chaparral to return to the Frozen Four this year.”
This year might be tougher to reach the Final Four since there will only be a four-team state tournament bracket. Each of the three 5A leagues will have one automatic qualifier and the fourth team will be an at-large pick.
Chaparral is in the South League with defending state champion Valor Christian along with Castle View, Doherty, Lewis Palmer, Mountain Vista and Pine Creek.
“We want to make a step forward,” said Finnefrock. “We’re tired of just making the Frozen Four. We want to have a chance to compete for the state title.”
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