Chugiak hockey overwhelms Wolves

Monday, December 19, 2016 - 17:30
Pair of shorthanded strikes take life out of Eagle River
  • Eagle River goalie Ryan Gray sprawls to make a save as Chugiak's Zach Plucinski and Andrew Beckett converge during the Mustangs’ 7-1 win at the McDonald Center, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. (Photo by Michael Dinneen for the Star)

If Friday’s primetime showdown between Chugiak and Eagle River at the McDonald Center were a boxing match, it likely would have ended early.

The Mustangs turned a highly anticipated bragging rights battle between crosstown prep hockey heavyweights into a TKO with a pair of shorthanded goals 29 seconds apart late in the second period to key a 7-1 Cook Inlet Conference win at the teams’ shared home ice in Eagle River.

“I don’t expect this to happen next time,” said Mustangs coach Rodney Wild, who said the Wolves are a better team than showed up Friday. “It’s not that I think we won’t play well, but Eagle River is going to up their game.”

Chugiak got points from six different players, including a goal and four assists from CIC scoring leader Zachary Krajnik and three goals and an assist from John Hammer.

The game was played in front of a standing room only crowd at “The Mac,” which was rocking with back-and-forth chants from the rival student sections as the game began. Technically a home game for the Wolves, the crowd was evenly divided between fans of the teams, which last played in the state hockey semifinals in February, a 3-1 Chugiak win.

The first period lived up to the hype, delivering all the freewheeling action, bone-rattling hits and occasional chippiness fans have to come to expect in what is rapidly becoming one of Alaska hockey’s biggest rivalries.

“Game days are always the best,” said Mustangs goalie Eric Yancey.

Yancey stopped 20 of 21 shots for the Mustangs, who improved to 6-2-1 to take over sole possession of second place in the Cook Inlet Conference.

Chugiak jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals by Andrew Beckett and Hammer, but the Wolves broke through with a power play goal by defenseman Cam McDonald. The Mustangs took a 3-1 lead into the first break when Daniel Casey took advantage of an Eagle River turnover and beat Wolves’ goalie Ryan Gray on the breakaway.

The Wolves still had plenty of bite left though, with Ben Rinckey delivering the game’s biggest hit when he laid Hammer out with a clean hit at mid-ice just before the intermission. Hammer gamely got to his feet, but the hit sent Eagle River into the locker room with some much-needed swagger.

Things slowed down in the second until a holding penalty against Chugiak’s Grant Epple with 2:30 left in the frame that turned out to be the biggest play of the game.

That’s because the Mustangs parlayed a one-skater deficit into a four-goal lead in roughly the amount of time it takes to complete a “Chu-Chu-Chugiak” cheer. The shorthanded onslaught began 15 seconds into the power play when Gray bobbled a Krajnik shot attempt and the puck softly trickled across the goal line. Just 29 seconds later, Casey got his second goal of the night with a Beckett-assisted shortie.

That sent Gray to the bench in favor of Brendan Whetsell, who saved one shot in the period.

Gray returned for the third, but things didn’t get much better for the white-clad Wolves, who gave up two more Hammer strikes to close out the night. Gray finished with 28 saves for fourth-place Eagle River, which dropped to 4-3-2 in the CIC.
The teams play their second and final regular season game on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 7:15 p.m. at the McDonald Center.

MUSTANGS 7, WOLVES 1

Chugiak 3 2 2 -- 7
ER 1 0 0 -- 1

First period – 1. Chu- Beckett (Krajnik), 4:56; 2. Chu- Hammer (Yockey, Krajnik), 7:20; 3. ER- C. McDonald (Linn), 8:55, pp; 4. Chu- Casey (un), 9:24
Second period – 5. Chu- Krajnik (Hammer), 12:45, sh; 6. Chu- Casey (Beckett), 13:14, sh
Third period – 7. Chu- Hammer (Krajnik), 4:26; 8. Chu- Hammer (Krajnik), 10:07, pp.
Penalties – Chugiak 6 for 12; Eagle River 3 for 6. Shots – Chugiak 13-14-8—35; ER 10-6-5—21. Saves – Chugiak: Yancey 9-6-5—20; ER: Gray 10-11-6—27, Whetsell x-1-x—1.

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