WASILLA -- Service senior Aaron McInnis gave up an opportunity to play AAA midget-major hockey in Colorado this winter so he could make one last run at a Class 4A state title with the Cougars.
"I didn't want to miss out on something special," he said.
McInnis helped move the Cougars one step closer to a state title Thursday, scoring a game-winning goal in the third period of a 2-1 win over Palmer in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament at the Menard Sports Complex.
"I just called for it and it landed right on my stick," McInnis said of his short-range shot from the left side of the goal. "I didn't even know it went in until I saw Yaw celebrating down low."
Service's Henry Yawit set up the McInnis goal with a pretty pass on a play that Service coach Joel Carter said was a great example of what he likes to see from his team.
"We're successful when we move the puck," Carter said.
The Cougars advance to a semifinal game against South today, a rematch of last season's final won by the Wolverines.
"I can't wait to play South," McInnis said. "I think we're all still a little bitter about that game."
The Cougars are an experienced bunch with 10 seniors on the roster, and McInnis said he thinks the team might be playing better this season than last.
"We only lost five players," he said. "I feel like we click better."
Things weren't clicking early, however, as the Cougars were fighting first-round jitters. Carter said the Cougars settled down as the action progressed, and a scoreless tie was broken in the second period when Service junior Glenn Corey fired a hard shot from about 20 feet out. The puck disappeared over Palmer goalie Ashton Good's left shoulder, and Service held a 1-0 lead through two periods.
The pace of play picked up in the third period, but it was a sneaky, slow shot from Palmer senior Ivan Good that evened the score at 1-1 with 13:41 remaining. Good received the puck around 15 feet from the front of the net, slipped a shot through the legs of a Service defender and watched as the puck slithered past Service goalie Dustin Fritz and into the right side of the net.
McInnis struck for his goal a few minutes later and, despite several opportunities to even the score, Palmer couldn't mount a come back.
"We had two or three quality chances," Palmer coach Brad Hanson said. "You can't fault the effort."
Hanson said his players were a little out of sync early in the game, playing a little tight and nervous, but he knew how to get them loosened up for the later stages of the game.
"We told a couple of jokes between the first and second period," he said. "I thought it was a great game."
Lathrop 4, Chugiak 3
Lathrop's Anders Carlson provided the Class 4A state hockey tournament's first dramatic finish when he notched a game-winning goal against Chugiak with 8.7 seconds left in a first-round game at the Menard Sports Complex. His desperate-looking shot from the left wing gave the Malemutes a 4-3 first-round win.
"It was a circus shot," Lathrop coach Shawn Lundgren said. "I didn't think there was a chance in hell it would go in."
Carlson, a senior captain, said he was shocked to even have an opportunity to make the shot, thinking he had already blown his chance at a game-winner just seconds earlier. Moments before the game-winner, Carlson missed what appeared to be an easy shot from about 15 feet in front of the net. The left side of the net was empty and Carlson was unguarded, but he pushed the puck right into Chugiak goalie Joe Lindquist.
Luckily for Carlson, the puck rebounded right to him on the left wing, where he spun 180 degrees to his left and fired the winning shot into the upper right corner of the net.
"Everything kind of went blank after that first shot," Carlson said. "I put everything I had into that last shot."
The wild goal was the second of the third period for the Malemutes, who trailed 3-2 at the start of the final frame. Carlson had a hand in the game-tying goal as well, earning an assist on Tristan Ramaker's strike with 7:34 remaining. Lathrop's Connor Nilson earned two of his three assists in the third period, and Jacob Walter provided the first two goals for the Malemutes.
Coming from behind was big emotional lift for the Malemutes, Carlson said, and he hopes the emotions provide momentum when they face the winner of Thursday's game between Dimond and Wasilla in a semifinal game today.
South 5, West Valley 0
Two goals from Kody Frantz helped defending Class 4A state hockey champion South to a 5-0 win over West Valley in the first round.
Daniel Sandstrom opened scoring for the Wolverines less than a minute into the game, and Frantz put South ahead 2-0 with nine seconds left in the first period.
Frantz' second goal was one of two late second-period goals for the Wolverines, the other being a shorthanded goal by Steven Orizotti with 21 seconds remaining in the period.
South's Lucas Nokelby added another shorthanded goal in the opening minute of the third period.
South goalie Nathan Wright stopped 10 shots in the shutout, and West Valley goalie Matt Taylor stopped 28 shots.
Contact Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or by calling 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News