Chugiak hockey knocks off Eagle River in front of festive crowd at the Mac
It’s no secret attendance at high school hockey games isn’t what it used to be.
Unless we’re talking Chugiak-Eagle River.
“It’s night and day, isn’t it?” said Chugiak head coach Rodney Wild after his hockey team pulled out a 3-2 Cook Inlet Conference nailbiter over its biggest rival in front of a spirited crowd inside the McDonald Center Thursday night.
The game lived up to the hype, with Eagle River staging a furious second-period comeback and the Mustangs winning on Luke Momblow’s goal off a Jarett Beckett assist with 6:13 left in the third. Momblow’s goal set off a wild celebration that saw Chugiak’s Josh Boneta lay out his teammate with one of the biggest hits of the evening. Both players got up smiling as the Chugiak half of the strictly divided stands erupted in celebration.
Wild praised his team’s effort.
“Conditioning I think is very important for us,” said Wild, whose team dressed just 13 players and was without both Danny Casey and George Kerr.
The win lifted Chugiak over the .500 mark in the CIC heading into the final game of the year Friday night against West at the Mac. The Wolves fell to 3-7 in the conference and are off until Jan. 9 against East (1-8).
The game featured appearances in the crowd by a number of familiar faces from both teams, including former Wolves Cam and Sutton McDonald and Chugiak’s vaunted Zach Krajnik-Andrew Beckett-John Hammer line from last year’s state championship team. There was also plenty of goodwill in the air, as students from both schools competed to raise money and donated items for Covenant House Teens in Anchorage.
As if that wasn’t enough to lift people’s holiday spirits, the McDonald Center was decked out in Christmas decorations, with holiday lights strung around the ice and giant stockings hung from the plexiglass with care.
After a scoreless first period, Chugiak got on the board early in the second period when Grant Epple redirected a shot by Tyler Huffer softly through the legs of Eagle River goalie Ryan Gray. Chugiak pushed its lead to 2-0 midway through the period on a Riley Lindberg goal that had Chugiak seemingly on the brink of a blowout.
Not so fast.
The Wolves snarled back almost immediately, getting back-to-back goals by Ty McEnaney and Nat Nielsen less than a minute apart to tie things up and give the silver-and-navy-clad Eagle River side of the barn something to shout about.
Although the teams are fierce on-ice rivals, most players are friends off it and it showed as the officials were forced to call just one penalty all night. Eagle River pulled Gray after calling timeout with 1:14 to go, but Chugiak goalie Riley Fugere turned back the only shot he faced with the Wolves’ extra attacker on the ice.
Fugere finished with 23 saves, two more than his counterpart at the other end.
Chugiak and Eagle River play once more this season: the season finale for both squads Jan. 25 at 7:15 p.m. at the Mac.
Mustangs fall to West
Chugiak fell back to .500 heading into the holiday break with a 4-2 loss to West at the McDonald Center on Friday, Dec. 22.
The Mustangs took a 1-0 lead early in the first period on a goal by Grant Epple off assists from Tyler Huffer and Luke Momblow, but West equalized with 2:31 left in the period on a strike by Matthew Patchin.
Chugiak went up again midway through the second on Momblow’s goal off Epple and Jacob Kosinski helpers, with the Eagles again answering — this time just 35 seconds later on a Chase Schwamm goal.
Riley Sloane put the Eagles up for good just 70 seconds into the third period, with Revy Mack adding an insurance goal midway through the frame.
Riley Fugere stopped 19 shots for Chugiak, which was outshot 23-18. Will Simpson stopped 16 shots for the Eagles.
Chugiak (4-4) returns to action at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at Ben Boeke against Dimond (9-2).
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at email@example.com
MUSTANGS 3, WOLVES 2
Chugiak 0 2 1 — 3
Eagle River 0 2 0 — 2
First period — none. Second period — 1. Chugiak- Epple (Huffer), :57; 2. Chugiak- Lindberg (Kosinski, Denny), 7:20; 3. Eagle River- McEnaney (Niemi), 8:27; 4. Eagle River- Nielsen (un), 9:23. Third period — 5. Chugak- Momblow (Beckett), 8:47
Penalties: Chugiak 0 for 0 minutes; Eagle River 1 for 2.
Shots: Chugiak 8-10-6—24; Eagle River 7-10-8—25.
Saves: Chugiak- Fugere 7-8-8—23; Eagle River- Gray 8-8-5—21.