Familiar rivals to meet in CIC hockey championship game

Saturday, February 4, 2017 - 02:35

The best part is, there’s another tournament after this one.

Chugiak and Eagle River will face off against each other tonight in the Cook Inlet Conference hockey tournament finals for the first time after winning semifinal games against a pair of South Anchorage schools Thursday night.

Chugiak head coach Rodney Wild said he’ll probably keep his pep talk short.

“I don’t think I’ll need to do much talking,” Wild said after his second-seeded Mustangs dismantled No. 6 seed Dimond 6-2 at the McDonald Center in Eagle River.

If the Mustangs win tonight, it’ll give the veteran team back-to-back CIC titles and send them galloping into the state tournament in full stride. If the Wolves win, it’ll be their first CIC title since the school opened in 2005.

Upstart Eagle River reached the finals by knocking off powerhouse South, which won the regular season title in the CIC.

The puck drops at 6:30 p.m. at Ben Boeke.

All four teams in Thursday’s semifinals qualified for state, which will be held Feb. 9-11 at the Menard Center in Wasilla. The Mustangs lost to West in last year’s state final — which Chugiak reached by beating Eagle River in the state semis.

Chugiak swept the Wolves during the regular season, including a 7-1 win in December and a 5-2 win in the regular season finale on Jan. 28.

The Mac was buzzing all night Thursday, especially when word spread after the first period that Eagle River had knocked off No. 1 seed South 4-2 earlier in the evening at Ben Boeke to set up the blue-on-blue battle.

The home Mustangs got three goals from John Hammer — his second hat trick in as many tournament games — as well as two from Andrew Beckett and another from Zach Krajnik to overwhelm the Lynx, who upset No. 3 seed West to reach the semifinals and qualify for state.

Beckett was originally credited with one of Hammer’s goals, but he made a point of correcting the official score after the game.

“That’s Andrew Beckett,” Wild said of Beckett’s classy move.

Beckett, Hammer and Krajnik are Chugiak’s three senior captains and they were the game’s three stars. Their line (dubbed the BKH line by Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson on Twitter after the game) accounted for all of Chugiak’s points with the execption of an assist by senior Luke Momblow on Beckett’s first goal. Krajnik had a hand in all six goals, picking up five assists, and his solo strike with 33 seconds left in the second period sent Dimond to the locker room looking like a team looking forward to the state tournament. Hammer also had an assist as the terrible trio terrorized the Lynx all night.

“If you’ve never heard of BKH line google KLM line….it will all be crystal clear!” Sorenson tweeted after the game.

Googling “KLM line” will take an Internet user to tales of the Russian greats Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. The three led Russia to Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988 and are regarded as one of the greatest lines in hockey history.

“The were explosively spectacular players, blessed with incredible skating and puck handling ability,” wrote hockey writer Joe Pelletier of hockeylegends.com in a 2008 article about the legendary Russians.

Such a description could well describe Beckett, Krajnik and Hammer this season. Krajnik led the CIC in scoring during the regular season and now has 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists) in 16 games against CIC competition. Hammer has 21-13—34 totals in 14 games and Beckett has 13-17—30 totals in 15.

The three linemates are looking to add a state title to a resume that already includes a PeeWee Tier II 12-U national championship.

“When our best guys are playing their best hockey we’re tough to beat,” said Wild, whose team is currently ranked No. 1 in Alaska by akhockey.com.

Chugiak’s Zach Plucinski was also a part of that Mustang Hockey Assocation Blue Devils team of preteens that brought a national championship trophy home from Virginia in 2012.

But so were others — many of whom will be wearing a lighter shade of blue come Saturday night.

Sutton McDonald, Josh Linn, Logan Rachow and Ty McEnaney also played on that national championship team, and they’ll line up on the other side of the ice from Chugiak.

“We’ve played with those guys since we were little, so being in the CIC championship is just something we look forward to and are going to have fun with,” Beckett said.

Eagle River has plenty of firepower of its own. The state’s No. 3 ranked team has three scorers in the top 10 in the CIC, including Linn (13-21—34), Sutton McDonald (13-20—33) and Ben Rinckey (14-13—27).

Earlier Thursday night, the fifth-seeded Wolves wasted almost no time letting South know they meant business, getting a Ben Rinckey goal off a Sutton McDonald assist just 36 seconds into Thursday’s other semifinal. South pulled even on a goal by Asa Kinnear, but Linn scored off a Nat Nielsen assist to make it 2-1 heading into the second.

Rinckey got his second goal of the game from a Linn assist in the second period to give the Wolves a 3-1 lead going into the third.

Linn made it 4-1 with an unassisted goal with 5:44 to go, and Corbin Allen’s late goal was all the Wolverines could muster as the Wolves skated into their first CIC tournament final.

Eagle River stayed out of the penalty box all night, and coach Bill Comer said he was proud of the disciplined game his team played.

“In this league you can’t afford to go shorthanded,” he said of his team, which lost to Chugiak in both the CIC and state semifinals last season.

At the Mac, the Mustangs had a step on Dimond all evening. Hammer got the first of his three goals just five minutes into the first period, and Beckett made it 2-0 four mintues later. Dimond briefly closed the gap on a Sean Carey strike, but Hammer finished the period with a flourish to make it 3-1 after one period.

Beckett and Krajnik’s second-period goals came like a bolt of lighting. Beckett got his with Dimond about to take a penalty, and Krajnik converted the power play almost immediately to virtually seal the crosstown final with a period still to play.

Dimond picked up a power play goal early in the third, but Hammer slammed the door with his final tally with 9:45 to play.

Chugiak goalie Jack Walters made 24 saves for the Mustangs. Dimond got 20 saves from started Ted Stevens, who was replaced in the third period by Blue Hildebrand. Hildebrand has six saves for the Lynx, who were outshot 32-36.

Wild said his team is firing on all cylinders at the right time of year.

“This is the time of year they better be playing good,” he said.

Wild said he wasn’t shocked to find out his team would be facing the Wolves in the conference finals.

“Somebody before the season asked me, ‘How do you think you stack up?’” Wild said. “I said, ‘I think Chugiak and Eagle River will be the two best teams at the end of the year.’ Now, I don’t want to say I’m a prophet or anything, but I’m not surprised that we’re where we’re at right now.”

The only disappointing thing about playing Eagle River in the conference final, he said, is that it can’t be at the McDonald Center.

“It’d be nice if it was out here,” he said.

The game was already scheduled for Ben Boeke regardless of the finalists and school district officials at the game said it wouldn’t be moved.

No matter the venue, Saturday night’s showdown is likely to be the talk of the town.

“Obviously it’s Eagle River, crosstown rivals, it’s always a big crowd,” Beckett said.

Wild said he doesn’t think the drive to Midtown Anchorage will keep the attendance down a bit, and prophesized the 1,000-seat Ben Boeke will be packed to its rafters.

“It’ll be a well attended game,” he predicted.

Star contributing photographer Michael Dinneen contributed to this story.

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