Cheyenne Mountain's Austin named Gazette's Coach of the Year for ice hockey

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Conference realignments tend to draw strong reactions. Cheyenne Mountain hockey coach Erik Austin was a fan of this one.

"I thought it was a great first year," Austin said. "CHSAA (Colorado High School Activities Association) and the hockey committee have really looked to establish competitive balance.

"It was 20 great games. I don't think we were ever overmatched and I think that's great for kids and great for the experience."

Second-generation Indians coach Austin, who played on one of Cheyenne Mountain's 14 state title teams in 1996, is The Gazette's Coach of the Year for ice hockey. He and the Indians took a stride toward their first championship since 2004.

Paced by first-team Peak Conference all-state selection Shawn Herlihy's 43 points and 25 from second-team pick Dakota Henn, a defenseman, the team started strong with six wins in its first seven games and finished 11-8-1 overall, almost reversing their 7-11-1 mark in 2015-16.

They lost in the first round of the playoffs to Pueblo County, 6-4.

The sixth-year head coach chalked up the coming together of his experience-laden squad to the growth of the program and the "natural ebb and flow" of high school athletics, which he welcomes.

"We had a big senior class," Austin said. "I think we had 10 seniors and a majority of them were in the program for all four years. I was very proud to see them reap the benefits of their hard work."

Next season may be more ebb than flow. Austin is expecting three seniors back.

"We get what we get and we coach them up," Austin said.

"We continue to try to do more, be in the ice and weight room all summer. Keep building."