Eagle River's Dacota Wood collides with West's Kieran Kuiper during the Wolves' 4-1 Cook Inlet Conference win on Jan. 15 at the McDonald Center. Wood notched an assist in the game for the fifth-place Wolves.
STAR PHOTO by Matt Tunseth
Eagle River's hockey team got its playoff momentum back with a 4-1 win over West on Jan. 15, sweeping the season series with the Eagles and putting a stranglehold on the coveted fifth-place spot in the Cook Inlet Conference standings.
"I think it was the first time we've cracked a smile in the locker room in a while," said Wolves coach Kirby Senden, whose team hadn't won since Dec. 17.
It wasn't that Senden's team had been playing bad, but since returning from holiday break the Wolves had to face three of the four teams ahead of them in the standings a string that culminated in a 10-1 dismantling by third-place Service on Jan. 13.
"We've had a rough stretch where we've played some good teams, so we needed a game like this where we could come out and move the puck and build our confidence in each other," Senden said.
Eagle River had to play two of those games without leading scorer Ben Russell, who was suspended after slashing a Dimond player on Jan. 7. But Russell was back against West, and the team captain wasted little time announcing his return.
Russell opened the scoring with a power play goal and later notched an assist against the Eagles, who dressed just 10 players.
Eagle River took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to James Cross, whose slap shot to the top left corner of the net left West goaltender Darien Dahl waving at air.
Carter Jesiel and Hunter Gally added goals in the second period, with Gally's goal coming with just one second showing on the clock.
West broke up Brandon King's shutout bid when Jason Marks struck with 2:31 left and the teams skating four-on-four.
King finished with 11 saves; Dahl made 30 for the Eagles.
The victory gave Eagle River (8-7 overall, 4-7 CIC) eight points in the league and put them four points clear of both Chugiak and West for fifth place. That's key, because a fifth-place finish would mean a likely first-round playoff date with East, a team regarded as far less dangerous than Dimond, South and Service.
"It's huge," Senden said.
Though the victory gave the Wolves crucial points, the regular season isn't over. Sixth-place Chugiak can still catch their crosstown rivals for fifth, and the coveted spot could be decided in the teams' season-ending showdown at the end of the month.
"The importance of each game continues to go up at this time of year," Senden said.
Chugiak/Eagle River drops a pair
The Chugiak/Eagle River girls haven't been winning many games lately, but coach Jesse James said that doesn't mean the local girls' hockey team isn't skating in the right direction.
"The girls played pretty well tonight, and everybody got ice time," James said after his team fell 2-0 to Bartlett/South on Jan. 12.
Goalie Sophie Mundell stopped 20 of the first 21 shots she faced through the first two periods. Shot and save totals weren't kept for the final period, though Mundell gave up just one more goal in the third.
"Sophie was outstanding," James said.
Chugiak/Eagle River also lost on Jan. 14, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Mat-Su Ravens at the Brett Arena in Wasilla. Susan Taylor and Tilly Cantor scored goals in the loss for Chugiak/Eagle River, which got 26 saves from Sierra Carr. Heather Gray scored all four goals for the Ravens.
Though the losses dropped his team to 3-12-1 this season, James said he believes the squad is capable of playing with anyone. The team has lost some tight battles four of the squad's losses have come by two goals or less and James said he thinks Chugiak/Eagle River can be dangerous come playoff time.
"We could possibly steal a game," James said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or 694-2727 Ext. 215.
Eagle River 4, West 1
Jan. 15 at McDonald Center
West 0 0 1 1
Eagle River 2 2 0 4
First period 1. ER- Russell (Thompson), 6:27; 2. ER- Cross (D. Wood), 12:38.
Second period 3. ER- Jesiel (un), 1:19; 4. ER- Gally (Russell), 14:59.
Third period 5. West- Marks (Kelly), 12:29.
Shots on goal: West 5-1-612, Eagle River 7-15-1234. Saves: West- Dahl 5-13-1230, Eagle River- King 5-1-511. Penalties: West 5 for 10, Eagle River 10 for 10.
Mat-Su 4, Chugiak/Eagle River 2
Jan. 14, Brett Arena
Mat-Su 1 2 1 4
C/ER 0 1 1 2
First period 1. Mat-Su- Gary (Srebernak), 3:16
Second period 2. C/ER- Taylor (Pendelton), 2:29; 3. Mat-Su- Gray (Fujimoto, Srebernak), 4:16; 4. Mat-Su- Gray (Fujimoto), 9:32.
Third period 5. C/ER- Cantor (un), 9:23; 6. Mat-Su- Gray (un), en, 11:35.