Service's Aaron McInnis (27) reacts after giving his team a 2-1 lead in the Cougars' eventual 4-2 win over Chugiak on Feb. 1 at Ben Boeke Arena. Chugiak's Josh Smith (background) argued that a Service's Conor Deal (41) was in the crease at the time of McInnis' goal, but the goal was allowed to stand.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH
Sometimes, Cinderella doesn't get to go to the ball.
The Chugiak Mustangs learned that lesson the hard way, falling 4-2 to Service Feb. 1 at in the opening round of the Cook Inlet Conference playoffs at Ben Boeke Arena.
"I've got to give it to Service, they played a great game," said Chugiak captain Sean Casey.
The sixth-seeded Mustangs were hoping to score an upset, especially after defeating the No. 3 Cougars in their final regular season game, and early on it looked like they might do just that.
The Mustangs took a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a goal that seemed to shock everyone in the arena not the least the man who scored it. With the teams skating 4-on-4, The Mustangs' Jake Wells sent a low shot toward the Service net. The puck deflected off Casey's stick and snuck past Service goalie Tanor Bradison. Casey appeared to be looking for a rebound as the crowd began to cheer.
"I didn't realize I'd tipped it in at first," Casey said. "I'll take it."
Chugiak netminder Joe Lindquist was stellar in the early going, stopping all 10 shots he faced in the first period and helping his team keep the Cougars off the board despite a couple dangerous power play opportunities.
Things heated up during an intense second period that saw plenty of chippy play and a controversial goal by the Cougars.
Service tied things up on a point-blank wrister from a streaking Alex Prestegard midway through the frame, and two minutes later, the Cougars went in front when Aaron McInnis beat Lindquist after a wild scrum in front of the Chugiak net. Lindquist had little chance to make a play, as Service's Conor Deal was on top of the Chugiak netminder as McInnis's shot went in. Despite loud protests from the Chugiak players on the ice, the goal stood and the Cougars took a 2-1 advantage into the third.
Unlike in the teams' last meeting a 3-1 come-from-behind Chugiak win on Jan. 29 the third period belonged to the Cougars. Jeremy Smith made it 3-1 on a deflection early in the period, and Deal put the southsiders up 4-1 less than a minute later.
But the Mustangs refused to give up, and the team began to tilt the ice as the period wore on, earning anxious glances at the clock from the Service bench, especially after Jake Wells lit the lamp with 2:42 to go.
"A lot of teams down like that would have given up," said Chugiak coach Rod Wild. "They actually picked it up another notch."
Chugiak finished its season 9-12.
Wild said he's optimistic about the core group of players returning to the blue and black, especially Lindquist, a junior who was the most consistent player all season for the Mustangs.
"That young man played three great games in a row," Wild said of Lindquist, who finished with 27 saves.
Although the Mustangs' strong play in their final few games gives the team hope for next season, Casey one of nine seniors on the team said missing out on a trip to state was a tough way to end his career.
"What can I say? It's a tough one," he said. "I love every one of the guys on that team."
Service 4, Chugiak 2
Feb. 1, Ben Boeke
Service 0 2 2 4
Chugiak 1 0 1 2
First period 1. Chu- Casey (Wells), 13:54
Second period 2. Ser- Prestegard (Cummings), 6:02; 3. Ser- McInnis (un), 8:08
Third period 4. Ser- Smith (Brown, Young), 3:58; 5. Ser- Deal (Smith), pp, 4:46; 6. Chu- Wells (Jones), 9:18.
Shots on goal: Chugiak 4-3-714, Service 10-11-1031. Saves: Chu- Lindquist 10-9-827, Ser- Bradison 3-3-612. Penalties: Chu 9 for 26, Ser 7 for 14.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, February 3, 2011.