Thin on the blue line — not on heart
Nearly every forward is back for Chugiak’s hockey team, but the Mustangs are thin on the blue line.
So Tyler Painter did what a captain does.
One of the Mustangs’ top offensive threats last season, Painter made the transition to defense as a senior. He’s one of a few converted blueliners on Chugiak’s roster.
So far, the transition is going better than anticipated, said Mustangs’ head coach Rod Wild.
“They’re picking it up really, really quickly,” he said.
Chugiak graduated three defensemen and goaltender Joey Lindquist, a 2011-12 All-Cook Inlet Conference selection. But Matt Bennett is more than ready to take over between the pipes, Wild said.
“He’s waited patiently for his opportunity in net,” he said.
Bennett showed he’s up to the task, turning aside 23 of 24 shots in Chugiak’s 3-1 win over Bartlett on Friday, Nov. 2. Bennett made 13 saves in the third period, during which Chugiak was shorthanded nearly the entire 15 minutes.
Chugiak is also without all-conference forward Josh Smith, who’s playing Midget AAA in Michigan. With Painter at the point, Kris Tomazevic — who’s tallied four points in the season’s first two games — will likely carry the offensive load for the Mustangs.
Wild said he expects Dimond, South and Service to have strong teams, but the rest of the conference isn’t as predictable.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty where we’ll stack up against the other teams,” he said.
One thing Wild is sure of is that Chugiak’s compete level as this point in the season is higher than it was the same time last year.
“The first half of the year it was almost OK to get beat,” Wild said.
That’s not the attitude in the locker room this season, he said.
“We’re already way ahead,” Wild said.
That was evident in Chugiak’s season opener against Dimond. Though they lost 10-2, the Mustangs never let up, Wild said.
“They didn’t play the scoreboard,” he said. “They played the shift.”
Chugiak played Palmer on Wednesday, Nov. 7, but a score was not available when the Star went to press.
Chugiak earned the conference’s fourth and final seed to make state last season for the first time since 2009. Lathrop scored with under 10 seconds in regulation to hand Chugiak a heartbreaking 4-3 loss in the opening round.
Wild said he wants nothing more than to return to Wasilla three months from now.
“We’d love to get back to the state tournament again,” he said.
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected].