Mustangs ice Wolves to earn No. 2 seed in CIC playoffs
Chugiak locked up the No. 2 spot in the Cook Inlet Conference hockey playoffs with a 5-2 win over Eagle River on Saturday night at the McDonald Center in Eagle River.
"I think the two best games we've played this year have been against Eagle River," said Chugiak coach Rodney Wild, whose team will face No. 7 East on Tuesday in the first round of the CIC playoffs.
Combined with a 7-1 win over the Wolves in December, Saturday's victory gave the Mustangs a season sweep over their biggest rivals.
Wild said the rivalry games always seem to bring out the best in Chugiak and Eagle River.
"Both teams don't want to lose to each other because they grew up together," he said.
The Mustangs got goals from Tyler Huffer, Zach Krajnik, Grant Epple, Andrew Beckett and Noah Denny and 20 saves from goalie Jack Walters.
The final CIC game of the regular season was close until the third period, when the Mustangs posted three straight goals to get some breathing room.
After Huffer staked the Mustangs to a 1-0 lead after the first period, Eagle River tied things up on a strike by Aiden Burton early in the second. The game remained deadlocked until the end of the period, when Krajnik — who finished as the CIC's top scorer during the regular season — made it 2-1 when he somehow knocked the puck past Wolves goalie Ryan Gray with a one-handed stab.
Gray stopped 24 shots for the Wolves, who were outshot 29-22.
Epple made it 3-1 with 9:50 to go in the third, and Beckett's tally less than two minutes later took the wind out of the Wolves. Denny tacked on another goal with four minutes left, and by the time Josh Linn struck back for Eagle River with 1:03 to go it was far too late for any hope of a comeback.
Daniel Casey had two assists for Chugiak, which also got helpers from Beckett, Krajnik, Huffer and Zach Plucinski. Sutton McDonald had two assists for the Wolves, who also got assists from Ben Rinckey and Ty McEnaney.
Eagle River coach Bill Comer said the Mustangs were able to take advantage of the Wolves through key substitutions that gave Chugiak advantageous match-ups on the ice.
"Coach (Wild) did a good job of getting all his players in," he said. "He's a very smart coach."
Comer also praised the veteran Walters, a junior who wasn't frequently tested but came up big when needed.
"Jack has been through this over and over again," Comer said of the junior.
Wild said he thinks Walters is the top goalie in the state.
"He was fantastic," he said.
The Wolves fell to the No. 5 spot in the conference and will face No. 4 Service on Monday at 7:15 p.m. at the McDonald Center. Although Service will technically be the home team, Comer said the location of the game is a nice break for his team.
"Playing on our own ice is some help," he said.
Eagle River split its season series with the Cougars, falling 4-1 in November and winning 3-1 on Jan. 17 at the Mac.
A win against Service and Eagle River (7-5-2) will clinch a berth in the state tournament for the second straight year. A loss will send them home, as only the four teams who win their first-round games will advance to state.
Comer said his team should have a lot of confidence against the Cougars (8-5-1) in light of the win earlier this month.
"I'm confident they can beat them," he said. "I think it'll be a fun game."
Just four points separated the second through fifth teams in the conference this season, which Comer said is a testament to the league's depth.
"The parity is so good in this league," he said. "There's no easy games."
The Mustangs finished 9-4-1 in the CIC and will face an East team they defeated twice this season by a combined 16-2 score — including a 5-1 win on Friday.
Wild said if his team plays as well as it did in Saturday's regular season finale, Chugiak should be in good shape against East, which went 4-10-0 in CIC play.
"If we can harness the same enthusiasm and execute as well as we did tonight, whoever we plays it's going to be hard to beat us," he said.
CIC PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
MONDAY, JAN. 30
(1) South vs. (8) Bartlett, Ben Boeke, 6:30 p.m.
(4) Service vs. (5) Eagle River, McDonald Center, 7:15 p.m.
TUESDAY, JAN. 31
(3) West vs. (6) Dimond, Ben Boeke, 6:30 p.m.
(2) Chugiak vs. (7) East, McDonald Center, 7:15 p.m.
FINAL REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
W L T PTS
South 11 2 1 23
Chugiak 9 4 1 19
West 9 5 0 18
Service 8 5 1 17
Eagle River 7 5 2 16
Dimond 5 8 1 11
East 4 10 0 8
Bartlett 0 14 0 0